FC Barcelona may have suffered a scare when they lost to Celtic 2-1 in Glasgow but with victories in every other game in the Champions League, qualification as group winners has been secured. Benfica, on the other hand, have it all to do as they attempt to create the biggest victory in their history to qualify as runners-up in Group G.
Since the Champions League final in 2009, where Barcelona comfortably beat Manchester United 2-0 and in a season where they went on to life five other trophies, including the league title, it has been declared that the Spanish side were the best in the world. Since then they haven’t failed to reach the semi-finals of the European competition and you wouldn’t bet on them failing this season either.
Six points clear of second-place Real Madrid in La Liga and with Celtic being the only team to defeat them in Europe and in the league, Pep Guardiola’s successor Tito Vilanova has already set them on course for a successful season. With four wins out of five, Barca know they are only playing for pride when they meet Portuguese outfit Benfica in the next fixture.
With someone like Lionel Messi in the side, five wins out of six looks very likely indeed. Whether or not Vilanova looks to rest the man who is seeking to break all goal-scoring records this calendar year, remains to be seen but Benfica will be happy to see him on the bench. As the Argentinian is only a single goal away from equalling the 40-year-old record of most goals in a year, he is expected to get as many games as he can get before 2012 is out.
Rested last week in Barcelona’s Copa Del Rey game, Messi is more than likely to make an appearance tonight whether it be off the bench or from the very first minute. However, Benfica will be reassured knowing the likes of Cesc Fàbregas, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Pedro will be rested as the Spanish giants look to play fringe players in a game that ultimately means little to them.
Getting their first victories in the last two games has seen Benfica challenge for second-place in Group E when qualification looked to be out of the picture just under a month ago. With wins over Spartak Moscow, who are effectively out of the competition, Celtic provide the biggest contest for Jorge Jesus and his men. If the Primeira Liga side were to match or get a better result than Celtic tonight at Camp Nou, they will go through.
Knowing a draw won’t be enough as Celtic take on Spartak at home in what will seem to be three points for the Scottish club, a victory over Barcelona will be everything to aim for. However, if Celtic were to draw tonight and Benfica can manage a point too, the Portuguese side will qualify as runners-up due to a better head-to-head difference than their SPL counterparts.
In what will be a tense game with Lionel Messi looking to grab his 85th and record-breaking 86th goals of the calendar year, Benfica will have to play at their very best to deny a free-scoring Spanish side three points. If they can get something out of the game and better Celtic’s result, they reach the knockout stages for the second year running.
Benfica beating Barcelona at home may seem impossible but who would have seen Celtic beating the four-time Champions League winners at home? Nothing is impossible and tonight, Benfica have to believe that.
Where To Watch Online: FC Barcelona vs. Benfica