Preview: Benfica vs. Club Brugge
Needing nothing short of a miracle to keep their Champions League dream alive, Club Brugge make the trip to Portugal to tackle Benfica in the second leg of their last-16 affair on Tuesday night.
Roger Schmidt’s men travelled back home from Belgium with a 2-0 advantage from the first leg, where defensive lapses proved fatal for Scott Parker’s crop.
Amid their sustained surge towards glory in the Portuguese top flight, Benfica had to be patient to make the breakthrough at the Jan-Breydel-Stadion in their first leg with Brugge on February 15, but a pair of costly mistakes from the Belgian giants gifted the Eagles victory on a silver platter.
With 51 minutes gone, Jack Hendry’s foul on Goncalo Ramos allowed Joao Mario to crash home a penalty off the crossbar, and the insurance goal came via the boot of David Neres in the dying embers courtesy of another backline error – this time from Brandon Mechele’s poorly controlled touch.
For the first time in their 119-year history, Benfica could reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League in back-to-back seasons – having been dumped out of the last eight by Liverpool in the 2021-22 campaign – but the Portuguese powerhouses are still waiting for their first semi-final berth in the top tier.
The Eagles must tread with caution, though, as their most recent last-16 exit came after they had won the first leg – beating Borussia Dortmund 1-0 before a 4-0 second-leg defeat in 2016-17 – but they have clinched three straightforward wins over Boavista, Vizela and Famalicao since overcoming Club Brugge to remain in control of their Primeira Liga title destiny.
Ramos’s 14th and 15th goals of the league season secured a 2-0 win over Famalicao in Friday’s game, keeping Schmidt’s men eight points clear of Porto at the top of the table, and only Bayern Munich and Liverpool have beaten Benfica in the Champions League at the Estadio da Luz since 2020.
Witnessing the well-dressed Parker take charge of a Champions League match was a collector’s item, but the ex-England international has openly admitted that he is fearing for his future in the Brugge hotseat amid a dismal spell for the Belgian champions.
There was little that the former Bournemouth coach could have done to prevent a pair of individual errors in the first leg, but Brugge are not faring much better on the domestic front, winning just two of their last 13 top-flight games during a despairing title defence.
A 2-0 win over Gent on February 26 did lift the spirits somewhat, but Brugge were brought crashing back down to earth with a humbling 3-0 defeat to KV Oostende on Friday, leaving them fourth in the rankings and a whopping 20 points adrift of leaders Genk, who also have a game in hand.
Following that defeat, Parker conceded that he was not sure if he would still in a job for Tuesday’s second leg, but whatever happens 48 hours from now, the 42-year-old can proudly boast to be the first-ever Brugge manager to take charge of a Champions League knockout game.
Three successive clean sheets on the road in the Champions League offers a slight glimmer of hope for the visitors, who also inflicted a striking 4-0 defeat on Porto during the group stage, but few will be placing bets on Benfica suffering an identical fate here.
Benfica Champions League form:
Benfica form (all competitions):
Club Brugge Champions League form:
Club Brugge form (all competitions):
We say: Benfica 3-0 Club Brugge (Benfica win 5-0 on aggregate)
Club Brugge may have served Porto a slice of humble pie during their astounding group-stage exploits, but launching an improbable fightback at the home of the Primeira Liga leaders is surely a bridge too far.
Should Parker remain in the hotseat for the time being, a heavy defeat here could very well be the final nail in his Belgian coffin, as the Eagles will surely cruise through to the last eight with minimal difficulty.