Seeking to assure themselves of a place in the last 16 of the Champions League, Barcelona welcome Benfica to Camp Nou on Tuesday evening.
The Catalan powerhouses will hope that lightning does not strike twice against Jorge Jesus’s side, who sunk Barca 3-0 when the sides met earlier in Group E.
As Bayern Munich ride off into the sunset, Barcelona are performing a slow crawl to the finish line by comparison, but all three points in front of their own fans will guarantee them their rightful place in the knockout stages.
The Camp Nou faithful will need no reminding of how they were swept aside by Benfica during Ronald Koeman’s reign, and the Dutchman had cleared out his office before the trip to Dynamo Kiev on matchday four, as a Sergi Barjuan-led side won 1-0 thanks to Ansu Fati’s 70th-minute effort.
Xavi’s reign as Blaugrana head coach officially kicked off with Sunday’s visit of Espanyol in the Barcelona derby, during which a Memphis Depay penalty in the 48th minute saw the Catalans get off to the perfect start in La Liga under their legendary midfield maestro.
Currently second in Group E with six points to their name, Barca are at risk of being usurped by Benfica should they fall to defeat against the Portuguese giants once more, and a draw will hardly be satisfactory given that they face runaway leaders Bayern on the final matchday.
Barca failing to make it out of the Champions League group stages would represent a new low for a club bedevilled by countless off-the-field issues in 2021, but La Blaugrana can at least boast a four-game unbeaten run in all competitions ahead of this encounter, and they have scored in each of their last seven at home.
Despite catching the eye with their 3-0 thrashing of Barcelona on matchday two, a pair of heavy defeats at the hands of Bayern Munich has Benfica’s hopes of a place in the Champions League knockout rounds hanging by a thread.
Bayern conceded their first goals of the 2021-22 tournament to Morato and Darwin Nunez on matchday four, but a Robert Lewandowski hat-trick alongside strikes from Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane ultimately saw Benfica humbled at the Allianz Arena.
Jesus’s side will usurp Barca into second should they come away from Camp Nou with all three points, but Benfica will have to make do with a spot in the Europa League if their pursuit of victory in Catalonia ends in failure before they meet Dynamo Kiev on the final day.
The visitors could afford to rest a number of their big-hitters on Friday for their Taca de Portugal clash with Pacos Ferreira and still ran out comfortable 4-1 winners, but Benfica have won just one of their last 10 Champions League games on the road including qualifiers.
As mentioned, a double from Nunez and a 69th-minute strike from Rafa Silva propelled Benfica to a hugely impressive 3-0 win in Lisbon two months ago, but they have lost two and drawn one of their three clashes at Camp Nou, scoring only once in that run.
Barcelona Champions League form:
Barcelona form (all competitions):
Benfica Champions League form:
Benfica form (all competitions):
We say: Barcelona 2-1 Benfica
Barcelona boss Xavi is certainly working with a more solid rearguard for this encounter, and the injection of confidence received from assuring themselves of a top-two spot will be invaluable.
Benfica will not be broken down lightly and have fond memories of their September battle with Barca, but we still expect Xavi’s reign to continue in perfect fashion here.