Next Thursday, April, 24 2014 (12:05 PM Pacific), there will be a clash between former European champions at Estádio da Luz in Lisbon, as SL Benfica will take on Juventus for the first leg of the UEFA Europa League Semi-finals.
SL Benfica are experiencing complete ecstasy after conquering the Portuguese league for the first time in the last four years and their supporters packed the streets of Lisbon last Sunday night celebrating their team’s achievement after such a long fast. The former European champions are enjoying a fantastic moment as they remain undefeated at the Portuguese league since last August, when they succumbed at the hands of Maritimo on the very first match of the current season. Jorge Jesus has accomplished an impressive work with SL Benfica so far this season: the team looks far more confident than last term and their performances have also increased in terms of quality. The experienced Portuguese manager keeps pushing with classic 4-4-2 and he managed to prove to critics that his approach to the game is far from being old fashioned, especially because positive results keep popping up this season.
The team’s stint at the UEFA Champions League left something to be desired, however, as they failed to pass the group stage, thus being “tossed” to the UEFA Europa League. On this last competition, nevertheless, SL Benfica keep an almost flawless record with the exception of the home draw against Tottenham back last month. On the previous round, SL Benfica easily defeated a fragile AZ Alkmaar side winning both matches without conceding any goals.
For next Thursday’s match, Jorge Jesus will not be able to count on the Portuguese left back Silvio and on the flamboyant Argentinean winger Eduardo “Toto” Salvio, both sidelined due to injury, and he is not yet certain if the Serbian defensive midfielder Ljubomir Fejsa will recover from an injury that has been taunting him over the last weeks in time for the Juventus match.
As for Juventus, the current Italian champions arrive at this stage of the competition hoping to claim the trophy for themselves, with the extra bonus of playing the final, if in fact they reach that goal, at their own stadium.
The Vecchia Signora are only two wins away from reclaiming the Italian Serie A title this season and they are enjoying a fantastic moment domestically with just one defeat during the last ten matches. Juventus has once again dominated Serie A this season and, if it wasn’t for a splendid Roma side, they had already been coronated champions once again.
Similarly to SL Benfica, Juventus’ UEFA Champions League campaign this season was somewhat mediocre, as they failed to walk through the group stage. Nevertheless, since their arrival to the UEFA Europa League, the Vecchia Signora are yet to be defeated and only conceded a draw at home against Fiorentina.
For the clash against the Portuguese side, Antonio Conte will only not be able to count on the Italian international winger Simone Pepe, who is sidelined due to injury.
We have to go back to 1993 to register the last time both sides went head-to-head. It was on the Quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup and back then Juventus eliminated SL Benfica by winning 3-0 at home, after being defeated at Lisbon 2-1. Times are different now and next Thursday’s match will have an unpredictable outcome, although Juventus’ experience on international competitions over the last ten to fifteen years might offer them a slight advantage. This being said, the most likely outcome is 1-1.
SL Benfica (4-4-2) – Artur – Maxi Pereira – Garay – Luisão – Siqueira – Enzo Pérez – André Gomes
– Gaitán – Markovic – Lima – Rodrigo
Juventus (3-5-2)- Buffon – Bonucci – Chiellini – Cáceres – Pirlo – Pogba – Isla – Lichtsteiner – Marchisio – Tévez – Llorente
Referee: Cuneyt Çakir
Venue: Estádio da Luz
TV Info: Fox Sports 1 USA