Champions League draw: Benfica handed tricky group
Benfica have discovered their Champions League opponents for the upcoming campaign, with all 32 sides competing in this season’s edition determined and pulled out of the hat.
The draw took place today - Friday 29th August at 17:00 - with Benfica one of the eight pot 2 sides in this season’s Champions League.
Benfica actually only just about made it into pot 2, only making it into the second group of clubs thanks to compatriots FC Porto not making it to the Champions League group stage. As such, Benfica made it into pot 2 as the bottom-ranked club in the entirety of their pot, meaning that they automatically avoived being drawn against some of Europe’s most elite clubs, such as Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Napoli and Borussia Dortmund.
Benfica handed tricky draw
Here’s were how the other pots looked going into the draw:
POT 1: Liverpool, Chelsea, Barcelona, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Juventus, PSG, Zenit.
POT 3: Lyon, Bayer Leverkisen, Red Bull Salzburg, Olympiakos, Club Brugge, Valencia, Inter Milan, Dinamo Zagreb.
POT 4: Lomotiv Moscow, Galatasaray, Genk, RB Leipzig, Slavia Prague, Red Star Belgrade, Atalanta, Lille.
Pot 1 was expectedly menacing for every side, and if Benfica could have hand-picked their own group, you can be quite confident that the team they would have wanted from pot 1 was the team they were ultimately paired with in real life - Zenit St Peterbsurg. No disrespect to them, but they stand-out as the weak link in what is ultimately the strongest pot by a distance.
They didn’t get quite as fortunate with the pot 3 draw though, being drawn alongside Ligue 1 outfit Olympique Lyon. One of the best sides from pot 3, making the group look incredibly tight and difficult to call.
And that was one further emphasised when their pot 4 opponent was revealed, with the hardest pot 4 side possible in RB Leipzig rounding off the draw for Benfica.
It means that the group looks likes this:
GROUP G: Zenit, BENFICA, Lyon, RB Leipzig.
The draw is a little daunting for Benfica, who know that they could end up topping the group, possessing sufficient quality to do so, but also know that they could quite feasibly end up finishing bottom, with no obvious weak link in the group at all.
The best-case scenario
As said previously, Benfica would have been desperate to draw Zenit from pot 1 - and that is exactly what happened in real life.
They are only in pot 1 thanks to their victory in the Russian Premier League, and Portuguese clubs have a very strong record against Russian clubs - Porto’s shock away goal defeat to Krasnodar in the Champions League play-off aside - and Benfica would fancy themselves as a stronger team than Zenit overall.
You could argue that Chelsea would have also been favourable from pot 1, the Europa League winners not as strong as they have been in previous years with their transfer embargo, but Zenit are still a much weaker outfit overall, and Benfica, while knowing that they are still a very tricky opponent, will be secretly delighted to be drawn against them.
With regards to pot 3, this group of clubs is evidently much weaker than previous years, with Dinamo Zagreb making pot 3 against the odds. Their overall UEFA Coefficient ranking would typically put them in pot 4 in previous years, but this year was sufficient to make pot 3.
They are clearly the weakest team in the pot, at least on paper, with the likes of Valencia, Inter and Lyon posing much more of a threat.
Benfica faced Zagreb last season, and managed to overcome them over two legs. They therefore know what to expect, and know that they have enough quality to overcome the Croatian outfit.
Club Brugge would alos be considered a favourable draw, though Dinamo would likely be considered fractionally ‘easier’.
With regards to pot 4, there aren’t too many teams that would concern Benfica, though there are still a couple of potentially tricky customers. In any case, Slavia Prague would likely be deemed the best-case scenario for Benfica, able to avoid the likes of RB Leipzig, Atalanta and Lille.
Best Case Scenario: Zenit St Petersburg, BENFICA, Dinamo Zagreb, Slavia Prague.
There were a lot of incredibly difficult draws on offer for Benfica this season though, far more difficult options than there were easy options, which is to be expected in a competition like the Champions League.
Nevertheless, there is likely one group that would have been deemed “The Group of Death” from the perspective of Benfica, though.
From pot 1, it would probably be a case of ‘take your pick’, with plenty of outstanding clubs there, the likes of PSG, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus. Likely the hardest, though, would be one of the two outstanding English clubs in Manchester City or Liverpool. with the latter, as the Champions League holders, likely the hardest.
From pot 3, you could then argue that there was one outstanding opponent in Inter Milan. The Italian giants, with Conte now as boss, would be an incredibly difficult prospect.
And from pot 4, there is another team that stands out from the rest - RB Leipzig. A relatively new club with minimal history in Europe, it’s easy to understand why they are in pot 4 - but it is still absolutely certain that they deserve to be higher. They will be pushing the traditional top 2 of German football all the way for the Bundesliga crown this season, and they are a threat to any club.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: Liverpool, BENFICA, Inter Milan, RB Leipzig.