Sevilla v FC København
In what is being labelled as a potential play-off for a Europa League spot, Sevilla will be desperate to retain some kind of European football this season and will do so as a new-look team under newly appointed coach Jorge Sampaoli.
The Argentine has helped the team to improve since replacing Julen Lopetegui, securing three draws and one win in his first four games before testing Real Madrid, who beat the Andalusians 3-1 at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu on Saturday night. That result flattered Carlo Ancelotti’s team and Sevilla have looked increasingly difficult to beat.
On the other hand, FC København have collected two points from four Champions League games by keeping two clean sheets in 0-0 draws, but they both came in Copenhagen and they have struggled to replicate such form on the road. Their two away fixtures in the Champions League group stage have seen them go down to an aggregate 8-0 defeat against Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund, and they are yet to score in this phase of the competition.
That is good news for Sevilla given their defensive issues, as FC København are the only team yet to score in the group stages. Even better, those issues extend even to within Denmark. You’d have to go back to 19th August to find the last time FC København scored more than once in the same game. Across the last two games, they have scored just two goals from 5.63 xG, and their forwards may forgive the Spanish side in Seville again.
With home support, and with Erik Lamela in form having scored in his last two matches, Sevilla will be optimistic of rising to the occasion to do what they need to do to edge them towards further European football this season.
Dinamo Zagreb v AC Milan
This is a significantly bigger game than AC Milan may have perhaps hoped that it would be. A defeat would leave the Rossoneri bottom of the group with a game to go and facing another total European exit, just as happened last season.
Milan are currently third and they have the same points total as Dinamo Zagreb who are fourth. RB Salzburg are in second with six and Chelsea top the group with seven. That means that every moment of these final two matchdays in this group is crucial for Stefano Pioli and his Milan side.
They could very feasibly finish in any of the four positions and that is why they must take the game to Dinamo in Croatia this week. That is why there is a chance for goals in this one.
Milan will not be sitting back and protecting anything and they definitely have the players to hurt Dinamo. Meanwhile, the Croatian side also have nothing to protect, they need to win the game as well. Both teams need to attack and try to seize the initiative, hopefully leading to an end-to-end match with plenty of goals.
This group is one to keep a very close eye on and by extension, so is this match. Dinamo have some very interesting forwards for Milan to think about.
Benfica v Juventus
May 1, 2014. After edging Juventus 2-1 in the first leg, Benfica head to the Allianz Stadium in need of just a draw in order to secure a second straight Europa League Final under Jorge Jesus, only to fall to 10 men after Enzo Pérez picked up two bookings in the span of six minutes and forced to defend their lead against the defending Serie A champions. Both sides received an expulsion in the 89th minute as Lazar Marković and Mirko Vučinić saw red, but Benfica nevertheless a clean sheet thanks in large part to Jan Oblak’s heroics in goal as well and an impressive display from their back four to advance to the final in Turin, where they would lose 4-2 on penalties after drawing 0-0 to Sevilla, who would proceed to win the next two Europa League titles under Unai Emery.
Benfica would proceed to win their first league title since Jorge Jesus’ debut season in 2009/10 and followed it up with another before losing their manager to crosstown rivals Sporting in the summer of 2015 and replacing him with Rui Vitória, edging Sporting to the title by two points in 2015/16 before winning a fourth straight league title the following year. Juventus would proceed to win their second straight Scudetto in the following weeks under Antonio Conte, who left in the summer to take charge of the Italy national team, with Max Allegri replacing him and leading the Bianconeri to five consecutive league titles before leaving in the summer of 2018 – Maurizio Sarri continued Juve’s winning streak but lasted just one season in charge, with Andrea Pirlo replacing him at the helm and scraping a fourth-place finish in 2020/21 before getting the ax. Allegri returned three years later and led Juve to another fourth-place finish, but today, they find themselves at their lowest point yet in over a decade. The Bianconeri sit 8th in the Serie A table – 10 points behind leaders Napoli and five away from top four – after a dismal run of form that has seen them draw to Sampdoria, Roma, Fiorentina, Salernitana and lose to Monza and Milan. From their five wins, only one has come against a top-half opponent, with Juve bouncing back from the Milan defeat by beating Torino 1-0 via a late goal from Dušan Vlahović before thrashing Empoli 4-0 at home on Friday. Perhaps even more concerning has been their form in Europe: after losing 2-1 to Paris Saint-Germain and Benfica, Juve defeated Maccabi Haifa 3-1 at home before losing 2-0 in Israel via a first-half brace from Omer Atzili. With two matches left, Juve sit level on 3 points with Maccabi Haifa, five behind Paris Saint-Germain and Benfica atop Group H.
They have advanced to the Champions League knockout round in every season since 2013/14, but they need nothing short of a miracle as they pay a visit to Benfica’s Estádio da Luz before hosting PSG at the Allianz Stadium. Alongside Napoli and Real Madrid, Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain are the only two undefeated teams remaining in Europe, with the Portuguese side settling for back-to-back 1-1 draws against Les Parisiens before winning their first Clássico under Roger Schmidt at the Estádio de Dragão and picking up their first win against Porto since March 2019. Whilst they have had a few hiccups throughout the month including a 1-1 draw to third-tier Caldas in the cup and a 0-0 draw to Vitória in the league, they nevertheless find themselves six points clear of Porto and Braga and remain undefeated under Schmidt, and their Clássico victory could be a major shot in the arm for a team that is looking to win its first league title since 2018/19.
Last year saw Benfica relegate one of the three remaining clubs in the European Super League – FC Barcelona – to Europa League football, and I’m expecting them to do the same as they welcome an underperforming Juventus side to Lisbon. Juve’s first trip to the Estádio da Luz saw them lose 2-0 before losing 1-0 in Turin as Benfica advanced to the 1968 European Cup Final. 24 years later, they would lose 2-1 in Lisbon before winning 3-0 in Turin, with Juve eliminating Paris Saint-Germain before beating Borussia Dortmund in the 1993 UEFA Cup Final. I’m expecting Benfica to pick up their fourth straight win against Juve at the Luz – the Bianconeri have not won away in the Champions League since beating Zenit 1-0 on October 20, 2021, but they need a win to keep their hopes alive of advancing to the Round of 16. This could lead to them pushing forward for a goal and leaving themselves vulnerable for counter-attacking scenarios which Benfica could exploit with the pace and creativity of David Neres and Rafa Silva, whilst their stalwart defense – the fewest goals in Portugal with 5 – has more than enough strength to deal with an increasingly stale Juve attack. I’m expecting Benfica to continue their seamless start to life under Roger Schmidt and pick up another win to seal their status in the Champions League knockout round.
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