SpainBarca is second in Group E Champions League. They can win a place in the 1/8 round, but also face disaster if they lose to Benfica.
*Barca – Benfica: 3 a.m. Wednesday, November 24, Hanoi time.
Right in the first match leading Barca in the Champions League, Xavi was faced with a must-win situation despite being two points ahead of Benfica. The result of drawing or losing to Benfica will put Barca at high risk of being eliminated from the group stage, because they will have to meet Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in the final round. Xavi’s army is difficult to earn points from Bayern at the moment, while Benfica has a great chance to get three more points when playing at home against Dynamo Kyiv.
Barca lost to Benfica 0-3 when as a guest in Lisbon on September 29, but the Camp Nou team has changed since then. The arrival of Xavi in place of Ronald Koeman brought a new atmosphere in Barca. That is partly reflected in the victory against Espanyol on November 21. Teams tend to play more excitedly when changing coaches, and Barca can take advantage of that to win positive results against Benfica.
Benfica has also changed since thrashing Barca at Da Luz. They won only two of the next seven games, including two in a row inevitable defeat to Bayern. Jorge Jesus’ teachers and students were able to regain their form with the last two victories in Primeira Liga, as a springboard to march to Barcelona.
The last time Barca was eliminated in the Champions League group stage was the 2000-2001 season, which is 21 years ago. In the first season without Lionel Messi after more than 15 years, Barca is in danger of ending the circuit to pass the group stage. The host’s strength is still superior to Benfica, but football is still a collective game and there is no guarantee that Xavi will win the second match with Barca.
Xavi is even more difficult when missing players like Martin Braithwaite, Pedri, Ansu Fati or Ousmane Dembele because of injury. He denied rumors that Sergio Aguero had to retire due to heart disease, but the Argentine striker has not yet been able to return to play. In the Catalonia derby, Nico Gonzalez, Oscar Mingueza and Sergio Busquets also have fitness problems and are not sure to play against Benfica.
On his debut, Xavi introduced 17-year-old striker Ilias Akhomach. But given the importance of the Champions League, he may return to using veterans like Philippe Coutinho. Defender Sergino Dest also returned to normal training, along with midfielder Ronald Araujo.
Benfica’s team situation is better, when Valentino Lazaro and Andre Almeida recover from injuries. Pillars like Joao Mario, Roman Yaremchuk and Pizzi could also return to the main lineup. Coach Jesus only lacks midfielder Nemanja Radonjic and midfielder Lucas Verissimo.
Xavi will not want to have to find a place to continue by defeating Bayern, so he will have to calculate to win Benfica at all costs. This is also a way for Barca to collect debt from the defeat in the match at the end of September.