Benfica betting on Talisca in Champions League
PARIS (AP) — Standing at the top of the Portuguese league, it’s time for Benfica to its turn fortunes around on the European stage.
With only one point after three games in Group C of the Champions League, Benfica is desperate for a good result to keep alive its chances of progressing to the knockout stage as Monaco travels to Lisbon on Tuesday.
Monaco, which has been struggling in front of goal this season following the departures of James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, remains unbeaten in the competition and can move to the top of the group with a win depending on leader Bayer Leverkusen’s result against Zenit St. Petersburg.
Here are some things to know about Tuesday’s matches:
TIME FOR TALISCA
After racking up eight goals in nine Portuguese league games, Benfica needs Talisca to show the same form against Monaco.
The Brazilian is the top scorer in Portugal. He has netted more goals than eight clubs in the league, including the winner in last weekend’s 1-0 win at Rio Ave that kept Benfica at the top of the table.
Talisca has so far disappointed, though, in his first season in the Champions League. His masterful left-foot shots haven’t found their target, and the Lisbon club is having one of its worst European campaigns ever.
Adding to the concerns of coach Jorge Jesus, Argentine winger Nicolas Gaitan is doubtful with a back injury and central defender Lisandro Lopez is suspended.
Bayer Leverkusen had a nasty, bruising, match in Hamburg, losing 1-0.
Leverkusen midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu was singled out for rough treatment after leaving Hamburg in off season on bad terms and endured many fouls. But the team escaped without any major injury and captain Lars Bender is expected to be able to play despite a bruised nose and knee.
Leverkusen leads the group and a victory in St. Petersburg would cement the position.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position and we will try to keep it that way,” Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voeller said. “But the group will be decided on the final match day.
“The rival has to attack and we should have some space to counter,” Voeller said.
Leverkusen will be without suspended left back Wendell. The Brazilian has been one of Leverkusen’s better players and his absence could hurt.
After finishing second to Paris Saint-Germain in the French league last season, Monaco received a brutal reality check following the departures of Falcao and Rodriguez.
The pair of strikers has not been replaced and Leonardo Jardim’s side scored only 14 goals in 12 league matches so far, having won just six of its 15 matches in all competitions.
Jardim was left frustrated by Friday’s 1-1 home draw with Reims and has asked his players to be more efficient in the final third.
“We have lots of chances in every match, we are not clinical enough,” Jardim said.
Jardim also has to cope with injuries and his main offensive asset, veteran Dimitar Berbatov, remains sidelined with a groin injury. Spanish defender Borja Lopez is still unavailable with a knee injury but Joao Moutinho, who recovered from a shoulder problem, is likely to start.
SILVA HEADING BACK HOME
On loan at Monaco this season, Bernardo Silva is eager to return to the club which has nurtured him.
The Portuguese midfielder joined Benfica as an 8-year-old boy but left during the off-season after Jorge Jesus called him up only three times last season.
At Monaco, Silva has gained the confidence of his new coach as Jardim uses him regularly in the league and already gave him a Champions League start.
“Playing in the French league and the Champions League after a stint in the Portuguese second division is wonderful,” the 20-year-old midfielder said. “The club has put its trust in the young players, and we are trying to repay them for what they do by winning matches, and hopefully titles.”
Zenit has won 17 of its 21 Russian league games — and 22 of its 29 matches in all competitions — since Andre Villas-Boas took over in March.
However, the pace has slowed, with two wins from the last six matches in all competitions for Zenit, which failed to score in three of those six matches, including its last two Champions League games.
Villas-Boas, the former Tottenham manager, does not see any reason to be worried, though. His team remains at the top of the Russian league by seven points and is still unbeaten after 12 games following Saturday’s victory over second-place CSKA Moscow 1-0.
“Everyone is still in good form and fresh,” Villas-Boas said.