FC Barcelona (2nd, 6pts) vs SL Benfica (3rd, 4pts)
Competition/Round: 2021-22 UEFA Champions League, Group E, Matchday 5
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Ansu Fati, Pedri, Sergio Agüero, Martin Braithwaite, Sergi Roberto, Dani Alves (out), Sergiño Dest, Ousmane Dembélé (doubt)
Benfica Outs & Doubts: Lucas Veríssimo, Diogo Gonçalves, Nemanja Radonjic, Rodrigo Pinho (out)
Date/Time: Tuesday, November 23, 2021, 9pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 8pm GMT (UK), 3pm ET, 12pm PT (USA), 1.30am IST (India, Wednesday)
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Referee: Sergei Karasev (RUS)
VAR: Massimiliano Irrati (ITA)
How to watch on TV: TUDN (USA), BT Sport ESPN (UK), Canal+ Sport 5 (Nigeria), SONY TEN 1 (India), Movistar Liga de Campeones (Spain), others
Following a dramatic win in the Catalan Derby against Espanyol on Saturday night, Barcelona return to action for a gigantic Champions League group stage match as they welcome Benfica to the Greatest Stadium on Earth in the penultimate game of Group E for both sides.
After a dreadful start to the group with a pair of 3-0 losses to Bayern Munich at home and Benfica in Portugal, Barça took advantage of the schedule and won both of their games against Dynamo Kiev and saw Bayern defeat Benfica twice in a row, which put the Catalan giants in second place ahead of this week’s games.
Thanks to the results in the last two matchdays Barça arrive in this one with a simple job: win, and they’re in. A victory will extend their gap to Benfica to five points with just one match left, enough to eliminate the Portuguese side from contention and confirm the Blaugrana as one of the Last 16 with a game to spare. The final match in the group is a trip to Munich to face Bayern, and going into that one without needing any result would be the perfect scenario against the Bavarian Thanoses.
The task is simple, but it doesn’t mean it will be easy. Even though Xavi Hernández had a winning debut as a manager and we saw several encouraging signs from his troops, the second half display made it clear this team still has a lot to work on. And despite their two big losses to Bayern, Benfica were competitive for most of those two games and thoroughly dominated Barça in Portugal six weeks ago, which proves they won’t go down without a big-time fight.
Xavi still has several issues with the squad when it comes to injuries, but all signs point to Ousmane Dembélé being available to come off the bench which could be a game-changer if the Frenchman is able to go for at least 15 to 20 minutes in the second half. If the team is able to build upon their amazing first half on Saturday and put together a complete performance, they are absolutely capable of getting the job done.
But Benfica know their Champions League lives are at risk, and Jorge Jesus’ team will bring their absolute A-game to Camp Nou. This will be a 90-minute fistfight and Barça must be prepared for war.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Mingueza, Piqué, García, Alba; Nico, Busquets, De Jong; Demir, Memphis, Gavi
Benfica (3-4-3): Vlachodimos; Morato, Otamendi, Vertonghen; Lazaro, Weigl, Mário, Grimaldo; Silva, Yaremchuk, Núñez
The performance against Espanyol gave me reasons to be optimistic for this one, but it still won’t be easy at all with so much at stake: 1-0 Barça in another nail-biter.