Manchester United, the 2010 Champions League finalist, start their 2011 UEFA season on Wednesday when they face Benfica in group play at Estadio da Luz.
At the moment, it would not be a stretch to consider Manchester United the best club in the world after convincing victories in the Premier League and following an outstanding preseason. The Red Devils' three Premier League matches were against Tottenham, Arsenal, and Bolton, all of which finished with rather respectable seasons in 2010, and Sir Alex Ferguson's squad soundly defeated all three by combined score of 16-2.
Manchester United will have a major test on Sunday when they host Chelsea at Old Trafford, but can't look past Benfica. The Portuguese club finished in second place last season, and left third-place Sporting Lisbon in the dust. Benfica are led by captain Luisiao, an imposing veteran centre back who has 42 caps with Brazil.
Benfica also have an excellent wing back in Maxi Pereira, an Uruguayan star who is coming off a solid performance in Copa America. There are other notable names on the club, including former Barcelona and Real Madrid striker Javier Saviola, and fellow Argentine Pablo Aimar.
Despite some big-name departures, Benfica made a major addition this summer in Axel Witsel. The 22-year-old attacking midfielder expects to figure prominently for Benfica and his home country Belgium.
Benfica will have a challenge ahead of them with the Red Devils. Star forward Wayne Rooney has played perhaps the best football of his career in 2011, and has been red hot in the Premier League.
Rooney is the best British player but doesn't seem like a British player, said Benfica manager Jorge Jesus, according to The Guardian. He's like an Argentinian or Brazilian. He can decide the match in the final third and so we have to pay special attention to him.
Rooney may have to perform at his best with some prominent names missing from the lineup. Centre backs Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic will not suit up for the Red Devils, and neither will right back Rafael, midfielder Tom Cleverley, and forward Danny Welbeck.
Benfica are a force at home, having scored at least twice in all their matches this season at Estadio da Luz.
PREDICTION: Seeking a draw, Benfica will hang tight in the first half and frustrate Manchester United, but they can only do that for so long. In the second half, Rooney, Javier Hernandez, and Ferguson's substitutes will wear down Benfica, and find the back of the net.
PREDICTED SCORE: Benfica 0, Manchester United 2
D: Pereira, Luisao, Garay, Emerson
M: Garcia, Witsel, Gaitan, Nolito, Aimar
G: De Gea
D: Jones, Smalling, Ferdinand, Fabio
M: Nani, Carrick, Anderson, Young
F: Rooney, Hernandez