Good evening! Benfica and Bayer Leverkusen
will both be looking to put losing starts to the Champions League
group stage behind them this evening, with kickoff just an hour away.
Ahead of kickoff, Leverkusen coach Roger Schmidt told reporters: "There are just six matches in the group stage, so we have to start winning as soon as possible. In Monaco, we saw that we can play our football in European games as well as in the Bundesliga, but playing well is not enough, now we have to win. Against a team like Benfica, who have a lot of excellent counterattacking players, we have to replicate the good defensive work we have done in recent matches."
Meanwhile, Benfica manager Jorge Jesus said in his pre-match press conference: "We played Leverkusen in the Europa League a few years ago and they still have six or seven players in the squad from that match. But they have a new coach, who has brought new ideas and they are playing very well in the Bundesliga. It's going to be a tough challenge and we have to be at our best to take three points from Germany. But we have the quality for that. It is a difficult but fairly even group, and every team can lose once. In the end just four or five teams will be able to win the Champions League. The rest of the teams will be happy to make it through the group stage or qualify for the quarter-finals. This is also our aim."
These two teams last met during the 2012-13 Europa League. On that occasion, the Portuguese side secured a 3-1 aggregate win over Leverkusen. The Bundesliga side reached the knockout stage of this competition last year, eventually losing to Paris Saint-Germain, while Benfica dropped into the Europa League after finishing third in their group.
The other two sides in Group C, Zenit St Petersburg and AS Monaco, have already been in action this evening, playing out a goalless draw to leave them both on four points at the top of the table. You can read our match report
LEVERKUSEN STARTING XI: Leno, Spahic, Hilbert, Wendell, Toprak, Reinartz, Bender, Calhanoglu, Bellarabi, Son, Kiessling
BENFICA STARTING XI: Cesar, Luisao, Eliseu, Jardel, Almeida, Gaitan, Salvio, Cristante, Perez, Derley, Talisca
LEVERKUSEN SUBSTITUTES: Kresic, Donati, Boeder, Oztunali, Yurchenko, Drmic, Kruse
BENFICA SUBSTITUTES: Varela, Lopez, Pereira, Samaris, Lima, John, Pizzi
Wendell and Stefan Reinartz come into the side for the hosts as Gonzalo Castro and Sebastian Boenisch picked up knocks in the league at the weekend. However, Emir Spahic comes back in after serving a Bundesliga suspension.
For the visitors, former QPR goalkeeper Julio Cesar comes in between the posts, as Artur is suspended after being sent off in their previous Champions League outing. Enzo Perez passed a late fitness test to be included in midfield, while Talisca and Derley will lead the attack.
Leverkusen don't have the best record against Portuguese opponents in European competition, winning just four of their previous 12 meetings against sides from the Primeira Liga. The German side have also been struggling for form recently, winning just once in their last five matches in all competition, including a goalless draw with Freiburg at the weekend.
Benfica's form is more favourable coming into this match. They've lost just one of their seven matches in all competitions this season, and come into this match following back-to-back wins in their domestic league. In their last five matches away from home Europe, the Portuguese champions have won four times, and drawn just once.
Benfica have had a frustrating couple of seasons in Europe. Having missed out on the knockout stages of the Champions League last year, they reached the Europa League final for the second season in a row, but once again finished as runners-up.
Here are the hosts taking part in their pre-match warmup at the BayArena:
is the German side's top scorer so far this season, netting six times so far. However, five of those goals came in the team's 6-0 thrashing of Alemannia Waldalgesheim in a cup game at the start of the campaign. The forward is currently enduring a bit of a drought, having not found the back of the net since August 19 against FC Copenhagen in a Champions League qualifier.
Talisca is the leading goalscorer for the visitors so far this season with five, all coming in their last four matches, but a variety of names have been among the goals early this year, including Lima, Maxi Pereira and Salvio.
REFEREE WATCH! There will be a familiar face for Premier League followers in charge of this match tonight, as Martin Atkinson officiates the game. The Englishman has refereed in the Champions League since 2008, and was the fourth official in the 2010 final, which was refereed by Howard Webb.
With just over 10 minutes until kickoff, there's still plenty of empty seats around BayArena, so it doesn't look like it's going to be a sellout crowd for the German hosts
PREDICTION! Before the players make their way out to the pitch, let's make a quick prediction. On paper, this should be a pretty close match, Benfica come in in better form, but Leverkusen benefit from playing at home. With that in mind, I'm going for a 2-2 draw.
The players gather in the tunnel before heading out onto the pitch ready for kickoff. As home supporters continue to make their way to their seats, the atmosphere is building nicely in the BayArena.
The handshakes are complete, team photos taken and the players lined up ready for kickoff, we should be just a few moments from action now.
KICKOFF! The hosts get the match underway.
Leverkusen make a bright start as they looks to test the visitors inside the opening minute of the match, but Stefan Kiessling drifts offside while waiting for a Bender cross. Karim Bellarabi tries to drill a low effort in from the edge of the box moments later, but it drifts wide.
Bender and Bellarabi are involved again as the home side continue to enjoy the early possession, but Perez halts their progress on the edge of the box before Cesar comes off his line to boot the ball well clear for Benfica.
Kiessling makes a quick burst down the left before pulling the ball back for Son Heung-Min
, but the South Korean's shot was straight at Cesar, allowing the keeper to make a comfortable block.
Calhanoglu and Kiessling team up down the right flank, with the latter eventually weaving his way into the centre, but he loses possession just outside the box while trying to line up a shot. It's certainly been a positive start for the home side, while Benfica have barely been out of their own half so far.
CHANCE! Bellarabi looks a real threat for Leverkusen at the minute and he's just forced another save from Cesar. The Brazilian keeper initially spilled the ball, but Eliseu was there to help get the ball away.
OFF THE POST! Leverkusen are denied the opening goal of the night by the woodwork as a blocked Calhanoglu effort falls to Bender, who curls it superbly, but strikes the left upright.
Benfica are still yet to create a chance, having barely had a touch in the Leverkusen half. So far, there have been six shots for the hosts, including two on target.
Leverkusen have a free kick in a strong position. The initial delivery is cleared, but it drops to Calhanoglu just outside the area, but his powerful strike is just off target.
Benfica win a throw inside the Leverkusen half, but Almeida's delivery towards Derley is swiftly dealt with by Hilbert, before Son wins a free kick while trying to launch a quick counter-attack. Calhanoglu whips it in, but it's easily cleared.
BOOKING! Nicolas Gaitan receives the first booking of the night for kicking the ball away in frustration after being flagged for offside.
Leverkusen are back on the attack following a slightly better couple of minutes from Benfica. Kiessling sends a superb cross in towards Son, but the midfielder can't quite reach it in time to turn it in.
GOAL! Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 Benfica (Stefan Kiessling)
Well it's been coming for the majority of the match, and Leverkusen now have the lead. Son Heung-Min is involved again as he carves out some space on the edge of the box to unleash a powerful strike. Cesar gets his hands to it but parries it straight to Kiessling, who blasts the rebound in. It's a thoroughly deserved lead for the hosts.
CHANCE! Bellarabi has a chance to double the home side's leads as he unleashes a thunderous strike from out wide, but Cesar is ready this time, and manages to hold on for the save.
Calhanoglu wins the ball on the edge of the box as Leverkusen continue to create all the chances, but he's marked closely by Jardel, forcing the winger to put the ball behind for a goal kick.
Benfica finally have some possession near the Leverkusen goal as they win a throw in level with the edge of the penalty area. Jardel takes is, and tries to get the cross in, but Spahic hooks it clear for the Bundesliga side.
GOAL! Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Benfica (Son Heung-Min)
Following a long free kick forward, a one-two on the right of the box from Kiessling and Bellarabi sees the latter pull the ball back for Son Heung-Min to slam into the back of the net, hitting it first time while sprinting into the box. It's a superb finish from the midfielder, who has been heavily involved since the start of the match.
Benfica finally seem to be getting into this match as they force a corner down the other end. Gaitan curls the ball in twice after Bender turned the first effort behind, but Reinartz got the ball clear at the second time of asking.
Leverkusen are back down the other end looking to add to their two-goal advantage. Calhanoglu slices a chance just wide, before Kiessling is almost through when Cesar comes out to try and make the clearance, but the keeper just beats the scorer of the first goal to the ball.
Bender wins the ball back for the hosts with a well-timed tackle in midfield before Son wins a corner, but Perez manages to clear the danger to prevent Benfica falling further behind.
CHANCE! The hosts are still pushing as half time approaches, but Bender is offside while chasing down a long ball forward from Calhanoglu. Son has a chance to add his seconds just moments later after a Kiessling delivery from the half-way line falls kindly for the South Korean, but he rushes his shot and blasts it wide.
HALF TIME: Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Benfica
Contrasting expressions fall on the managers' faces as the sides make their way down the tunnel at half time. Leverkusen could not have done much more in the opening 45 minutes, although may feel like they could be more than two goals ahead, while Jorge Jesus has plenty of work to do with his Benfica side as they barely troubled the home side's defenders.
Let's take a look at some of the stats from the opening 45 minutes. Leverkusen have had by far the more chances with 14 shots to Benfica's two. Six of the hosts' efforts have been on target, including the two goals, while the visitors are yet to test Bernd Leno. Both of Benfica's chances came from corners late in the first half after the Portuguese side had already fallen two goals behind.
While much of the attention before the match was on Stefan Kiessling and the threat he posed up front, it's been Son Heung-Min who has had the greatest impact so far tonight, setting up the first goal and scoring the second.
Benfica goalkeeper Julio Cesar has looked shaky at the back, spilling the ball to Kiessling for the opening goal, and parrying another couple of efforts that probably could have been saved. The former QPR player is at a new club, and is only playing tonight because Artur is suspended, but he really hasn't been good enough in the first half.
Here's a shot of Kiessling celebrating his goal with teammate Hakan Calhanoglu
in the 25th minute. Both have been heavily involved so far, and will surely be keen to put more pressure on Cesar once the action gets back underway in a few minutes.
© Getty Images
The players are making their way back out, and it looks like there's going to be a change for Benfica.
KICKOFF! Benfica get the second half underway.
SUBS! It's a double change for the visitors, with Lima and Maxi Pereira coming in for Cristante and Talisca, neither of whom made much of an impression in the first half. It gives the visitors a more attacking system for the second 45 minutes.
Leverkusen are on the attack again early in the second half as Kiessling wins a free kick, which Spahic launches forward for Bellarabi, but the hosts are unable to get the shot away.
Benfica have a free kick of their own in a dangerous position, but Perez puts too much on his curling ball into the box, and it's eventually cleared by Spahic.
CHANCE! What a miss from Calhanoglu! Kiessling slices the ball across the face of goal, leaving his teammate the simplest of tap ins at the far corner, but inexplicably he somehow managed to slice it wide. That really was easier to score than miss!
BOOKING! Enzo Perez is the second player to be shown a yellow card after clattering in Bellarabi. The challenge has left the midfielder in some pain, along with his teammate Kiessling, who he caught as he went down.
CHANCE! After shaking off a bit of a knock, Kiessling is quickly on the attack again, but rather than crossing the ball for Reinartz, the striker takes the shot on himself, and fires high and wide from a tight angle.
BOOKING! Luisao gets a booking for a reckless challenge on Bender.
CHANCE! Julio Cceasr makes a solid save as Son Heung-Min unleashes a low drive in a bid to score his second of the night. That will be a timely confidence boost for the keeper, who was far from his best in the first half.
BOOKING! Roberto Hilbert is the first Leverkusen player to go in the book after bringing down Gaitan. The resulting free kick is easily cleared by the hosts.
GOAL! Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Benfica (Eduardo Salvio)
PENALTY TO LEVERKUSEN!
pulls one back against the run of play by carving out some space on the edge of the box but Jardel pulls Kiessling down in the box straight from the restart.
GOAL! Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 Benfica (Hakan Calhanoglu PEN.)
Benfica were back in the game for all of 45 seconds after Salvio made the most of a rare slip at the back from the hosts, but Hakan Calhanoglu makes amends for his earlier miss by calmly slotting the ball in from the spot. Martin Atkinson actually took a little while to award the penalty, having consulted with his assistants before doing so, but Kiessling was clearly tripped by Jardel. It certainly hasn't been a dull few minutes!
Leverkusen's third goal just seems to have calmed the pace of the match down a little, with the home side now seemingly focusing more on keeping the ball rather than attacking as relentlessly as they have been doing through tonight.
SUB! The hosts make their first change, taking off Karim Bellarabi, who has put in quite a shift, and introducing Levin Oztunali.
BOOKING! Benfica goalscorer Eduardo Salvio is shown a yellow card for a heavy tackle on Calhanoglu.
CHANCE! Kiessling takes advantage of a slip from Jardel to try and slot in a fourth, but Luisao is back to spare his colleague's blushes with a well-timed block.
CHANCE! The home side win a corner, which Son tries to volley in from out wide, but he mis-hits the shot, allowing it to bounce harmlessly to Cesar.
SUB! Leverkusen make their second change, as Josip Drmic takes the place of Stefan Kiessling.
The hosts have yet another corner, which this time falls to Bender, but the captain's attempt to nod the ball down is blocked and eventually cleared.
SUB! Benfica make their final change of the evening, bringing on Andreas Samaris in place of Enzo Perez.
Drmic looks to make a quick impact and give the visitors some late hope as he times a run for an Eliseu free kick, but the substitute is judged to be offside.
SUB! The hosts also make their final change, taking off captain Lars Bender, and bringing on Giulio Donati.
Leverkusen are continuing to attack when the chances present themselves, but Calhanoglu gives the ball back to the visitors when he's caught offside. Lima tries to create something down the other end, but he can't find the space to break into the home side's box. The striker, who came on at half time, hasn't had much of an impact this evening.
Benfica win a free kick just a couple of yards outside the box when Spahic is penalised for a foul on Derley. Gaitan curls it into the area, but Wendell heads it away.
BOOKING! Andreas Samaris is shown a yellow card for a high challenge on Reinartz. He's the sixth player to be booked, and the fifth for Benfica.
CHANCE! Derley tries to put Leverkusen under pressure in the final moments of the match, before Luisao hits the rebound on the half volley. The defender's strike is deflected behind for a corner, but Leno calmly collects from Gaitan's delivery.
Benfica are finishing the match well, and manage to win another corner, but Luisao fails to trouble Leno with his header.
FULL TIME: Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 Benfica
So Bayer Leverkusen are off the mark in Group C with a comprehensive 3-1 win over Benfica, with goals from Stefan Kiessling, Son Heung-Min and Hakan Calhanoglu for the Bundesliga side.
With AS Monaco and Zenit St Petersburg sharing a goalless draw earlier this evening, this result leaves the German side third in the group, just a point behind the other two sides, while Benfica are yet to score a point, leaving them last.
Well that's all from the BayArena this evening, but stick around for match reports, reaction and player ratings to all of this evening's Champions League ties, and join us again tomorrow as the Europa League continues. Until then, thanks for joining me this evening, goodbye.