Boosted by their 3-0 win over Levante at the weekend and the return of Ansu Fati, FC Barcelona return to the site of their worst defeat in European history to try and get back to winning ways in the Champions League.
In the summer of 2020, it was of course at the Estadio da Luz where eventual winners Bayern Munich dismantled them 8-2 in the quarter-finals of a special one-and-out format that had been brought in due to covid complications.
The Bavarians of course are in the same group this time round and with no disrespect to Dynamo Kiev, a tie between the Blaugrana and Benfica this evening in Portugal could be in effect a battle for who will take second place and avoid an embarrassing demotion to the Europa League.
Unlike Barca, the Lisboans are unbeaten after drawing 0-0 with Kiev whereas the Catalans were soundly beaten 3-0 by Bayern.
“I have the experience of having managed Benfica, so I know what a great club they have,” said Ronald Koeman at his prematch press conference.
“And they have some very experienced players like [Jan] Vertonghen … We have analyzed them and know how quick they are and how they use space. It’s important for us to keep as much possession as we can and keep things tight at the back … I don’t think Benfica will give us much space. Portuguese teams like to govern games and fill the defence,” he added.
As for is approach against Jorge Jesus’ men, Koeman noted that “against Levante the other day we barely had anyone on the right wing”.
“We are missing wingers so we need to pack the midfield instead. The system doesn’t matter. You can always attack with any system. Everything worked great against Levante, but the intention to win the ball and create pressure is always there,” he said.
Helping him to try and achieve this will indeed be a packed midfield of four men, with Sergio Busquets providing pivot support to Gavi and Frenkie de Jong while Pedri is not fit enough to start and Philippe Coutinho employed as a CAM.
Further back, Marc-Andre ter Stegen starts between the sticks protected by Sergino Dest, Ronald Araujo, Gerard Pique and Oscar Mingueza.
And up top, while Ansu Fati is still not fit enough to start from the get go, Luuk de Jong and Memphis Depay will form a two-man partnership as strikers.
“Ansu Fati was very tired yesterday. It had an impact on him emotionally,” Koeman clarified, regarding the youngster’s 10 minute cameo against Levante where he bagged the third and final goal at Camp Nou.
“The mental factor needs careful monitoring with him … We want to give him more and more time, but I’m not going to tell you before every game how many minutes he will play for.”