Benfica and Atletico Madrid slug it out to head Group C
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Atletico Madrid and Benfica will have to slug it out at the Stadium of Light in Lisbon to see who emerges top the group and will therefore be more likely to avoid a top team in the last 16 of the Champions League.
The two are level on 10 points in Group C and the only thing separating them is that the Portuguese club has conceded four more goals.
However, Benfica won the clubs’ previous encounter 2-1 so a draw would see it finish top by virtue of a better head-to-head record.
Atletico arrives at Benfica in second-place in the Spanish league after a four-match winning streak and coach Diego Simeone’s will endeavor to keep the visitors motivated with his renowned pep talks.
Forward Antoine Griezmann will aim to increase his Champions League tally this season to five, while Fernando Torres will need few incentives as he is looking to crown his career by scoring an elusive 100th for Atletico.
TOUGH TO BEAT
Atletico has gone unbeaten in 12 games, with much of the credit going to defender Diego Godin, who even opened the scoring in the team’s 2-0 win at Granada at the weekend.
“We have to continue along this path,” the Uruguay international said. “We are strong this way.”
Alongside Juanfran, Jose Maria Gimenez and Filipe Luis, Godin has enabled goalkeeper Jan Oblak to avoid conceding in his past six matches.
BENFICA’S NEW WEAPON
Renato Sanches has become the player to watch at the Stadium of Light.
The 18-year-old midfielder has started only twice for Benfica but the buzz around him was amplified with his first home goal last weekend — a thundering long-range shot that secured the club’s 3-0 win against Academica in the Portuguese league.
Sanches made his Champions League debut at Astana two weeks ago, and the crowd favorite is likely to start against Atletico.
Benfica will be without injured captain and central defender Luisao as well as winger Salvio and defender Nelson Semedo.
But Silvio should return to midfield where Ljubomir Fejsa is tipped to make way for Andreas Samaris.
Atletico and Benfica are rivals on the field, but off it they have had close connections in player transactions for more than 20 years.
The current Benfica team has four players who arrived from the Vicente Calderon stadium — Salvio, Silvio, Pizzi and Raul Jimenez.
Atletico has in recent years taken some of its best players from the Portuguese capital — Simao Sabrosa, for example, as well as Oblak.