Benfica head coach Rui Vitória has stressed that his side will again have to be fully focused defensively if they are to upset Bayern Munich and secure a first semifinal berth in Europe’s top competition since 1990. Bayern, who have reached at least the semifinals of the Champions League for the past four years, took an early lead in the first leg of their quarterfinal in Munich last week.
But Benfica, who have conceded more than one goal in a game only once in 2016, refused to buckle, leaving the tie firmly in the balance heading back to the famed Estádio da Luz for Wednesday’s second leg. Despite the Lisbon giants needing to score, Vitoria, who has guided Benfica to the top of the Portuguese Primeira Liga in his first season in charge, believes limiting Bayern’s chances will be the key.
“We have to play well defensively as we're facing one of the best teams in the world, one of the favorites to win the competition and a side who set up the same home and away,” Vitoria said on Tuesday. “We didn't win there, but tactically we did well and were very organized. However, we know Bayern are tactically very versatile with lots of resources at their disposal, so if they don't achieve what they want playing one way they'll try something else.”
Benfica’s goal-scoring potential has been dealt a significant blow by a suspension that rules out Brazilian forward Jonas, who has scored 30 goals in the Primeira Liga this season. In addition, key Argentine playmaker Nico Gaitán is struggling with a thigh injury and remains a major doubt.
It is far from an ideal scenario for the biggest match of Benfica’s season, but Vitoria won’t be getting any sympathy from his counterpart on the Bayern bench.
“Regarding Benfica's absentees, we have had the same problem ourselves,” Pep Guardiola said. “For example, Javi Martínez was out for five months and we had to play without genuine central defenders during that time, so that's football.”
Bayern continue to be without a fully fit squad. As well as a trio of center-backs, in Jerome Boateng, Mehdi Benatia and Holger Badstuber, winger Arjen Robben also failed to make the trip to Lisbon.
And Bayern have reason for disappointment at only carrying a single-goal advantage to Portugal after Arturo Vidal fired them into a second-minute lead at the Allianz Arena. The failure to add to that goal could be a particular concern given that on Bayern’s last visit to Portugal, at the same stage of the Champions League last season, they lost 3-1 to Porto.
Indeed, in Bayern’s last five away matches in Champions League knockout ties, they have lost three and drawn the other two. Guardiola, though, has stressed his team are fully aware of what is required to seal their progress.
“We intend to defend well, score a goal and qualify for the next round,” he said. “The teams know each other well as they just played last week, but tactically we know what to do.”
Prediction: A 1-0 result at home and avoiding conceding an away goal is generally a fine result in a European knockout tie. However, Guardiola’s record away from home makes their position less secure. With Bayern still weekend defensively, Benfica’s chances are increased yet further. However, the loss of Jonas and potential absence of Gaitán would severely hamper Benfica’s goal-scoring potential and Bayern should make it through.
Predicted score: Benfica 1-1 Bayern Munich (Bayern to progress 2-1 on aggregate)
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Deportes