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Oct 18, 2017 at 7.45pm UK at ​Estádio da Luz
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Preview: Benfica vs. Manchester United

Sports Mole previews Wednesday evening's Champions League group-stage tie between Benfica and Manchester United at the Estadio da Luz.

Jose Mourinho returns to his Portuguese homeland on Wednesday night for what he believes will be Manchester United's toughest Champions League test to date, as they take on Benfica at the Estadio da Luz.

The hosts have yet to claim anything from their opening two European fixtures, whereas United are top of Group A with a perfect record and well on course for a place in the last 16.


Benfica's coach Rui Vitoria gestures during the UEFA Champions League football match Club Atletico de Madrid vs SL Benfica at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid on September 30, 2015© Getty Images

While it may have been a deliberate ploy to keep his players on their toes for this trip to Portugal, which many United fans who planned to travel over may now miss, Mourinho made clear that former club Benfica are tougher opposition than both Basel and CSKA Moscow.

The 2016-17 Portuguese double winners certainly boast plenty of experience at this level, having competed in the group stage in each of the last eight seasons and 13 times in all.

Benfica made it to the quarter-final stage two years ago and to the first knockout round last time out, earning a 1-0 home win over Borussia Dortmund only to then go down 4-0 in the reverse fixture to see their hopes of progression come to an end.

There is also the small matter of their home form in Europe which, prior to the surprise 2-1 defeat to CSKA here five weeks ago, had seen them lose just two of their previous 11 ties at the Estadio da Luz in front of their raucous supporters.

The bottom line, though, is that the Eagles - winners of the Portuguese top flight four years in a row - are bottom of Group A and in desperate need of a positive result in midweek if they are to keep alive their slim hopes of finishing second - even third, and a place in the Europa League, may soon be out of the equation.

Losing 5-0 to Basel in the most recent round of fixtures, humiliated in Switzerland with their heaviest-ever defeat on the continent, leaves them with one win in their last six Champions League matches, that coming in the meeting with Dortmund here last season.

Benfica are struggling domestically, too, finding themselves third in the Primeira Liga after dropping points in three of their first eight games, with Porto five points better off and Sporting Lisbon three.

A three-match winning run to start the campaign, when scoring nine and conceding just one, has been followed up by draws against Rio Ave and Maritimo in recent weeks, as well as a costly defeat away to Boavista. Two months into the season, it is fair to say that all is not well for the Portuguese giants.

Recent form in Champions League: LL
Recent form (all competitions): LDWLDW

Manchester United

Romelu Lukaku looks unimpressed while playing for Manchester United in August 2017© SilverHub

All the talk heading into this midweek tussle with Benfica from a United perspective does not concern the Portuguese club but instead Mourinho's choice of tactics against Liverpool, as his side unashamedly held out for a stalemate at Anfield.

For all his critics, Mourinho is right to point out that not many of the division's elite sides leave the red half of Merseyside with a point, keeping his side on course for a first Premier League title in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson years.

United, who despite being second best for large parts of the game could have easily earned all three points had Romelu Lukaku taken his big chance, have now won nine and drawn two of their 11 games this term since going down 2-1 to Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup in early August.

A hugely impressive return it may be, yet the Red Devils are very much being outclassed by rivals and table-toppers Manchester City at the moment following their 7-2 thumping of Stoke City, giving the Citizens a record 29 goals for the season after eight games.

Mourinho, a title-winning expert in his second campaign at a club, will no doubt feel that City do have a wobble in them, with United well positioned to pounce thanks to their near-perfect blend of attack and defence following some summer strengthening.

As well as scoring exactly four goals in six of their games to date, the Red Devils have also kept eight clean sheets in 11, including in the 3-0 win against Basel last month to mark their return to UEFA's elite club competition in style.

That win was followed up by an equally straightforward evening in Russia last time out, easing past CSKA 4-1 to remain top of the Group A standings and within touching distance of a place in the knockout stage ahead of their double-header against Benfica.

Wednesday's match in Lisbon will be a homecoming of sorts for Victor Lindelof and Nemanja Matic, as well as Mourinho who took his first steps into senior management with Benfica in 2000 when replacing Jupp Heynckes on a short-term basis.

Recent form in Champions League: WW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWWD

Team News

Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring during the EFL Cup game between Manchester United and Burton Albion on September 20, 2017© Offside

Benfica will be without suspended right-back Andre Almeida after he was dismissed in that heavy defeat to Basel last time out, leaving the Eagles' hopes of progression seemingly in tatters.

Jonas is struggling with a back problem and is also likely to miss out, meanwhile, as is defender Mario Jardel, and there is also no place in the squad for experienced Portugal international Eliseu.

Further up the field, Haris Seferovic and Raul Jimenez are expected to lead the line, with the former netting four times for Benfica and national side Switzerland since the end of August while Jimenez yet to get off the mark.

As far as the visitors are concerned, Mourinho is unlikely to rotate too much as he expects this to be a tough evening for his side and he is also missing a number of his first-team players.

Paul Pogba, Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini are all out injured, while Eric Bailly is also unlikely to be risked, so Lindelof could feature in the heart of defence against his former side.

Elsewhere, Marcus Rashford has been tipped to return to the starting fold after missing out from the off against Liverpool due to a minor injury, with Anthony Martial the most likely to make way if that is the case.

Benfica possible starting lineup:
Cesar; Grimaldo, Lopez, Luisao, Pereira; Cervi, Fejsa, Pizzi, Zivkovic; Jimenez, Seferovic

Manchester United possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Valencia, Lindelof, Smalling, Blind; Herrera, Matic; Mata, Mkhitaryan, Rashford; Lukaku

Head To Head

This is a European fixture that dates back more than 50 years, with United winning six of the nine previous meetings between the two sides.

That run started with a quarter-final triumph in the 1965-66 European Cup and continued with their 1967-68 final success at Wembley, as the Red Devils lifted the trophy for the first time.

Benfica's sole 2-1 win came in Lisbon 12 years ago as they eliminated Ferguson's side at the group stage, but United avenged that defeat when Louis Saha scored the only goal to earn a 1-0 victory the next time they met.

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We say: Benfica 0-3 Manchester United

The Liverpool stalemate aside which, whatever way you look at it, was ultimately a decent result for United, Mourinho's men have scored goals for fun this term and have adapted well on their return to this competition. Benfica, on the other hand, are pointless after two games and that does not look like changing this week.

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A maniacal Jose Mourinho tries to figure out how many matches his side have drawn at Old Trafford this season during the Premier League clash with Arsenal on May 7, 2017
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