MX23RW : Wednesday, June 29 23:48:07| >> :600:106635:106635:
[monks data]
Feb 23, 2022 at 8pm UK at Estádio da Luz
Benfica
2 - 2
Ajax
Haller (26' og.), Yaremchuk (72')
Nunez (46'), Ramos (49'), Yaremchuk (72')
FT(HT: 1-2)
Tadic (18'), Haller (29')
Mazraoui (23'), Berghuis (45'), Antony (87')

Preview: Benfica vs. Ajax - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Wednesday's Champions League clash between Benfica and Ajax, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Two unfancied names for the Champions League crown will lock horns in the first leg of their last-16 clash on Wednesday, as Benfica play host to Ajax at the Estadio da Luz.

Nelson Verissimo's side finished second in Group E to advance to the knockout rounds, while their opponents strolled through Group C without dropping a single point.


Match preview

Benfica coach Nelson Verissimo reacts on January 9, 2022© Reuters

Many would believe to have correctly predicted the outcome of Group E before the first ball was kicked, but while Barcelona continued to under-perform under Ronald Koeman, Benfica took full advantage to pip the Catalan giants to second place behind Bayern Munich.

The Bavarians rode off into the sunset as expected, but Benfica claimed two vital wins over Barcelona and Dynamo Kiev - the 3-0 thumping of the former will live long in the memory - as well as claiming a goalless draw at Camp Nou to advance based on their head-to-head record.

The days of Jorge Jesus are long gone, though, as former Benfica youngster Verissimo seeks to steer his side through to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2015-16, but his first 10 games in the dugout have produced a mixed bag of results.

Indeed, the Portuguese giants enter the first leg on the back of a 2-2 league draw with Boavista and have won five of their 10 games under the 44-year-old's tutelage so far, but they have not failed to score on their own turf in any competition since October.

Three group-stage finishes preceded Benfica's progress to the last-16 stage this time around, but they ought to have their work cut out against one of only three sides to advance with a perfect record from their six group games.

Ajax manager Erik ten Hag celebrates in November 2021© Reuters

Refusing to let continued speculation surrounding the Manchester United job affect him, Erik ten Hag continues to oversee stellar progress at Ajax, who simply swept aside the competition in Group C to finish top with 18 points to their name.

Forget Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, 10-goal striker and current Champions League top scorer Sebastien Haller sensationally scored in every one of his side's group games - including four in their opening-day 5-1 thrashing of Sporting Lisbon - making his ill-fated stint at West Ham United seem like a distant memory.

Only Bayern Munich (22) notched up more goals than Ajax's 20 in the group stage, and Ten Hag's side enter the first leg having won each of their last 10 games in all competitions, although they had to rely on a late Jurrien Timber goal to get over the line against Willem II on Saturday.

Ajax are plying their trade in the knockout rounds for the first time since their sensational 2018-19 run to the semi-finals, and while the core of that team may have been broken up, not many would put it past the Dutch giants to act as the dark horses here.

The visitors' 10-game winning run has also seen them concede just one goal away to PSV, and a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield in 2020 represents their only loss from their last 21 Champions League games on the road - a streak that includes a 1-1 draw away to Benfica in 2018.

Benfica Champions League form:
  • D
  • W
  • L
  • L
  • D
  • W

Benfica form (all competitions):
  • W
  • L
  • L
  • W
  • W
  • D

Ajax Champions League form:
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W

Ajax form (all competitions):
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W



Team News

Ajax's Steven Berghuis celebrates scoring their fourth goal with teammates on December 7, 2021© Reuters

A quintet of Benfica players will be walking a tightrope in the first leg, as Julian Weigl, Nicolas Otamendi, Joao Mario, Rafa Silva and Alex Grimaldo will miss the second leg should they pick up a booking.

Such concerns are unlikely to factor into Verissimo's selection here, but Haris Seferovic, Rodrigo Pinho and Lucas Verissimo - no relation to his manager - make up a trio of injury absentees for the home side. Ande Almeida has also picked up a fresh back problem.

There is hope over Seferovic's possible availability for the first leg, but it would be surprising not to see Verissimo call upon Roman Yaremchuk and the much-coveted Darwin Nunez in any case.

Ajax's hero of the hour at the weekend Timber was immediately replaced after his goal after hitting his calf on the post, so Perr Schuurs may be required to deputise for the visitors here, although Timber has made the journey.

Brian Brobbey and Maarten Stekelenburg remain out of contention, and Ten Hag has a big call to make in goal, where he must either reintroduce Andre Onana or keep the faith with 38-year-old Remko Pasveer.

The visitors otherwise have no reason to alter a winning formula, although Ryan Gravenberch will certainly hope to displace Davy Klaassen in the engine room.

Benfica possible starting lineup:
Vlachodimos; Lazaro, Otamendi, Vertonghen, Grimaldo; Silva, Taarabt, Weigl, Everton; Yaremchuk, Nunez

Ajax possible starting lineup:
Pasveer; Mazraoui, Schuurs, Martinez, Blind; Alvarez, Klaassen; Antony, Berghuis, Tadic; Haller


SM words green background

We say: Benfica 1-3 Ajax

A trip to Benfica will present a significantly sterner test than what Ajax have become used to in the Eredivisie, but the hosts are still finding their feet under Verissimo and cannot expect to emulate their group-stage win over Barcelona with ease.

Borussia Dortmund, Sporting and Besiktas were all no match for this free-scoring and defensively watertight Ajax outfit in the group stage, and we expect Ten Hag's side to claim a healthy first-leg advantage on Wednesday.



Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting under 3.5 goals in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Under 3.5:data


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How you voted: Benfica vs Ajax

Benfica
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Draw
9.6%
Ajax
78.0%
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
CPorto34294186226491
2Sporting Lisbon34274373235085
3Benfica34235678304874
4Braga34198752312165
5Gil Vicente34131294742551
6Vitoria de GuimaraesGuimaraes34139125041948
7Santa ClaraSanta Clara34913123854-1640
8FamalicaoFamalicao34912134551-639
9Estoril PraiaEstoril34912133643-739
10Maritimo34911143944-538
11BoavistaBoavista34717103952-1338
12PortimonensePortimonense34108163145-1438
13Pacos de FerreiraPacos de Ferreira34911142944-1538
14Vizela34712153758-2133
15AroucaArouca34710173054-2431
16MoreirenseMoreirense3478193351-1829
17TondelaTondela3477204167-2628
18BelenensesBelenenses34511182355-3226

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