Champions League Preview: CSKA Moscow – SL Benfica

CSKA Moscow fans during the Champions League game against Tottenham in October 2016. Photo: Toke Theilade/RFN

CSKA Moscow can take a huge stride towards the Champions League knockout stages if they secure three vital points when they host Benfica on Wednesday. The Muscovites have been dreadful at home so far in their Champions League campaign as they were thrashed 4-1 by Manchester United and lost 2-0 to Basel. However, their away form has been magnificent: they beat Benfica 2-1 in Lisbon and gained sweet revenge on Basel last time out with another 2-1 victory. Man Utd have run away with the group, but Benfica have been abysmal and the Portuguese champions are down and out on zero points. That leaves CSKA and Basel on six points apiece, scrapping it out to see who goes through to the last 16 and who drops down into the Europa League. If CSKA can repeat their heroics in Lisbon they will have one foot in the knockout stage, which would be a real fillip for Russian football.


Tactical Analysis

Head coach Viktor Goncharenko is wedded to a 3-5-2 system and this has made CSKA very difficult to break down. The exception was the Man Utd game, but Jose Mourinho’s expensively assembled troops were rampant that night. Aside from that, they have conceded four times in three Champions League games, and let in just 12 goals in 16 league matches. The three centre-backs are well-drilled and yield few chances, while width is provided by marauding wing-backs Mario Fernandes and Georgi Schennikov. Their stamina and distribution is crucial to the way Goncharenko sets his side up and they will have a huge role to play in this game. Pontus Werbloom will remain disciplined and provide a screen for the back three, while Aleksandr Golovin and Alan Dzagoev are the creative forces in this team and will seek to tee up chances for Fedor Chalov and Vitinho. CSKA do not create a huge amount of chances as they do not take many risks, so the forwards cannot afford to be wasteful in this game.


Team News

We are returning from a two-week international break, which saw the likes of Dzagoev and Viktor Vasin represent Russia. Unfortunately, the international break saw right back Mario Fernandes pick up an injury, and he missed Saturday’s game against SKA Khabarovsk. He is however expected to return in time for the game against the Portuguese. Benfica have been missing midfield duo Filipe Augusto and Ljubomir Fejsa and both may still be injured.


Key Players

CSKA will need to display attacking flair and dynamism to beat Benfica in this game and that means Dzagoev and Golovin will have to come to the fore. Dzagoev was not fit enough to start the game against Basel but came off the bench in the 64th minute to put the Swiss side to the sword with two fine strikes. He ran the game for the final 25 minutes and set the tempo with his positivity and forward passing, and if he plays like that CSKA should have no trouble in taking three points from this game. Golovin has been in such superb form that he is attracting admiring glances from Barcelona, Chelsea and Arsenal and the skilful 21-year-old will relish the opportunity to dazzle on the biggest stage of all. Vitinho has been out of sorts in front of goal but Chalov has been dangerous of late and he will be crucial too.


Predicted Lineup

(3-5-2): Igor Akinfeev; Viktor Vasin, Sergei Ignashevich, Aleksei Berezutsky – Mario Fernandes, Alan Dzagoev, Pontus Wernbloom, Aleksandr Golovin, Georgi Shchennikov – Vitinho, Fedor Chalov

Match Prediction

Check out BetOnline when placing action on this game and you will see that CSKA are the clear favourites, and they should get the job done. Benfica have nothing left to play for in this competition, so they may conserve their energy for their domestic league, leaving CSKA poised to seal a famous victory that gives them a great chance of qualifying.

CSKA Moscow 2-1 SL Benfica

Toke Møller Theilade

Author: Toke Møller Theilade

Brøndby supporter, groundhopper and more importantly Editor-in-Chief at As a hopeless romantic, I still believe Fyodor Smolov and Viktoria Lopyreva has a future together.

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