RB Leipzig will kick-start their second UEFA Champions League campaign on Tuesday with a stiff-looking clash against Portuguese champions Benfica at the Estadio da Luz.
This might be Leipzig’s return to Europe’s elite competition after a one-year absence, the club’s new manager Julian Nagelsmann’s third consecutive appearance in the Champions League, after having been there with Hoffenheim twice in the last two years. Nagelsmann’s former side got knocked out by eventual finalists Liverpool in the qualifiers two seasons ago, but made it to the group stages last season.
Benfica, on the other hand, have taken part in the competition every single time in the last three years. They finished third in their group last season, but got knocked out by finishing fourth in the 2017/18 campaign.
How Benfica have fared this season
With Famalicao currently leading the Primeira Liga standings, Benfica are just a single point behind the league leaders and find themselves at the third spot. Bruno Lage’s men have lost one game this season and that defeat came at the hands of arch-rivals Porto in a clash that ended 2-0 at Estadio da Luz.
Pizzi has enjoyed a thrilling start to the season, having scored as many as five times and assisting twice so far. In all competitions though, the 29-year-old has scored seven times and has racked up a tally of three assists. His brace against Pacos Ferreira on the first day of the season had helped the side pick up a 5-0 win.
Lage has used a flat 4-4-2 formation so far this season, with Pizzi playing on the right side of the midfield.
Last season, Benfica were knocked out of the Europa League by a German side in Eintracht Frankfurt, who sealed a sensational comeback in the second leg of the quarter-final despite a Joao Felix hat-trick in the first leg. The Portuguese champions also didn’t have much luck against Bayern Munich in the Champions League last season, as they lost both the games against them in the group stages.
How Leipzig have fared this season
Nagelsmann’s side have been a shining light in the Bundesliga so far this season. Along with Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg, Die Roten Bullen are yet to lose a single game in the league this season and currently occupy the top spot in the league standings with ten points.
Their previous game will go down as a tactical engaging one, as Leipzig managed to pick one point in the clash against Bayern this past weekend. Emil Forsberg was on the scoresheet after he had scored from the spot very late in the first half.
Timo Werner has been on fire so far, after having penned a new deal with the club in recent weeks despite rumours linking him with a move to Bavarian and title rivals Bayern. The German has scored five times in four appearances so far, with three coming in Leipzig’s 3-1 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach two weeks ago. Despite that, it is Robert Lewandowski who leads the goalscoring charts with seven goals.
Nagelsmann has stuck to using his 3-4-3 shape ever since he took charge at the Red Bull Arena. Despite the absence of Dayot Upamecano, Leipzig have conceded only three goals so far, with 21-year-old Nordi Mukiele emerging as a reliable defender.
Leipzig’s ventures in Europe last year ended in a disappointing failure as they finished third in their Europa League group behind Red Bull Salzburg and Celtic. They could only pick up two wins.
Benfica are currently struggling with a raft of injuries. German Conte, Gabriel, Gedson Fernandes and Tyronne Ebuehi haven’t featured at all this season. More so, Chiquinho limped off in the game against Porto two weeks ago and will be missing till early 2020.
As far as Leipzig go, they will be without Tylder Adams and Hannes Wolf, with Upamecano now having recovered from his injury and now training with the side.
Benfica: Vlachodimos, Almeida, Dias, Ferro, Grimaldo, Pizzi, Taarabt, Florentino, Rafa Silva, De Tomas, Seferovic
Leipzig: Gulasci, Mukiele, Konate, Orban, Klostermann, Laimer, Forsberg, Halstenberg, Sabitzer, Poulsen, Werner
By Kaustubh Pandey.