Much-hyped Benfica look to come of age at Anfield

Benfica face Liverpool tonight in one of the biggest matches in their recent history.

At the legendary Anfield, the Eagles are fighting for more than a place in the Europa League semi-finals; they’re fighting to return to the glory days of the 1960s, when the club was respected and feared in equal measure worldwide.

In the first leg, Benfica recorded a narrow 2-1 victory courtesy of two penalties from Paraguayan striker Cardozo, but the result has left the tie very open, everything to play for.

Considering what happened in that game and taking into account their most recent performances, The Portugeezer would say the clash between the two teams is a 50-50 bet, but the Portuguese side will be rightly cautious ahead of the game.

Even though Benfica beat a plucky Naval side 4-2 at the weekend, they had to overcome a two-goal deficit and looked sluggish at times.

The match will certainly have drained the Reds’ stars and coach Jorge Jesus admitted some of the players are a bit tired, but in all honesty he only has himself to blame.

Squad players such as Sidnei, Ruben Amorim or Weldon could and should have been used more often to ensure the team could match their ambitions in every competition.

The Eagles played on Monday and had one day less to rest which on paper may give Liverpool a slight physical edge.

Benfica will also be missing Javier Saviola. The pint-sized Argentinean forward has been a revelation this season and is usually the key to open defences and free Cardozo.

Unfortunately, he fractured a toe a fortnight ago and will be sorely missed.

Weldon is injured, Vélodrome hero Kardec is not ready to start and Nuno Gomes does not possess the required match fitness either which means Pablo Aimar will likely be deployed in the supporting striker role.

Liverpool also hold home advantage, and playing at Anfield is a tough job for any visiting team.

The incredible atmosphere at the stadium lifts the team and guides the players to a better performance, especially on a European night.

When the Scousers start a rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alones” one realises they actually mean it.

Yet there are also reasons for Benfica to feel optimistic going into tonight’s game.

Liverpool and Rafa Benítez are not exactly enjoying their happiest days.

They stumbled at Birmingham City last weekend and the Spanish tactician shocked everyone when he decided to replace the prolific Fernando Torres with the ineffective David N’Gog.

Captain Gerrard, in particular, was astonished by a decision that may have affected the team spirit. After all, Liverpool are in real danger of missing out on a UEFA Champions League spot for next season.

Benfica will also go into the tie with that goal advantage. If they play a clever game, they’ll invite Liverpool to go forward so that they can hit the English side on the counter, which is certainly one of their strengths with the likes of Angel di Maria in the side.

Expect through-balls similar to the one made by David Luiz against Naval to be employed in order to exploit Di Maria’s pace.

Prediction: Liverpool 1 Benfica 1

This is a tricky affair but The Portugeezer is making a bold prediction.

Both sides on their day are able to kill off a match, but it may well be that both lack the mental and physical strength to deliver a knock-out blow tonight.

Though previously rated as a 50-50 encounter, should Benfica survive the expected initial onslaught from the home side, they’ll have a better chance of going through.

They’ll have to sweat blood and tears, but if they play like they did against Marseille, they will be in the semi-finals.

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