Benfica and Ajax will square off in the first leg of their last-16 matchup on Wednesday at the Estadio da Luz, with both teams being considered underdogs to win the Champions League title this season.
After finishing second in Group E, Nelson Verissimo’s team advanced to the knockout stages, while their opponents cruised through Group C without conceding a single point.
Many would have thought they had correctly predicted the outcome of Group E before the first ball was kicked, but while Barcelona continued to underperform under Ronald Koeman, Benfica took full advantage of the situation to leapfrog the Catalan giants and finish second behind Bayern Munich in the group.
Despite the fact that Bayern Munich was anticipated to ride off into the sunset, Benfica came away with two crucial victories against Barcelona and Dynamo Kyiv, the former of which will live long in the memory, and a goalless draw at Camp Nou to progress on the basis of their head-to-head record.
It is no longer the case that Jorge Jesus is in charge as former Benfica youth product Verissimo looks to guide his club to a first quarter-final appearance since 2015-16. However, his first ten games in charge have delivered a mixed bag of outcomes.
For one thing, the Portuguese giants enter the first leg after drawing 2-2 with Boavista in the Liga dos Campeonatos, and they have won five of their ten games under the 44-year-old’s guidance thus far. However, they have not failed to score on their home soil in any tournament since October.
Benfica’s progression to the last-16 stage was preceded by the second-place finishes in the group stage this time around, but they will have their work cut out for them against one of just three teams to advance with a spotless record from their six group games.
Erik ten Hag is refusing to allow the ongoing rumours about his future as manager of Manchester United to impact his work at Ajax, where his team has completely dominated the competition in Group C, finishing first with 18 points to their credit.
Forget about Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo; Sebastien Haller, a 10-goal striker, and current Champions League top scorer have scored in every one of his side’s group games – including four goals in their opening-day 5-1 thrashing of Sporting Lisbon – making his ill-fated spell at West Ham United seem like a distant memory.
With 20 goals in the group stage, only Bayern Munich (22) had more than Ajax’s total of 20. Ten Hag’s team enters the first leg having won each of their past 10 games in all competitions, albeit they had to depend on a late Jurrien Timber strike to get the job done against Willem II on Saturday.
It is the first time that Ajax has competed in the knockout stages since their amazing run to the semi-finals in 2018-19, and although the backbone of that squad has been dismantled, few would rule out the Dutch giants as the underdogs in this round of 16.
The visitors’ 10-game winning streak has also seen them concede just one goal away to PSV, and a 1-0 loss to Liverpool at Anfield in 2020 represents their only loss in their last 21 Champions League away games – a streak that includes a 1-1 draw away to Benfica in 2018.
Between the two sides, this will be the fifth encounter in Europe. Ajax had a stronger record in their past four matches, having claimed two victories in the process. In that period, Benfica has only recorded one victory and one draw.
BEN vs AJA, UCL 2021/22 Round-Of-16 Leg 1
Date: 24th February 2022
Time: 1:30 AM IST
Venue: Estádio da Luz
Benfica Champions League form:
Benfica form (all competitions):
Ajax Champions League form:
Ajax form (all competitions):
Benfica wins: 1
Ajax wins: 2
Benfica Team News: Benfica Rodrigo Pinho and Lucas Verissimo, both injured, will miss out on the match for the Benfica team. Haris Seferovic, who is making his way back from an injury, is also a potential injury concern for the hosts.
Ajax Team News: As a result of their injuries, both Brian Brobbey and Maarten Stekelenburg will miss the match for Ajax, while Jurrin Timber is a doubt after suffering an injury in the victory against Willem II Tilburg last time out.
Benfica Predicted XI (4-4-2): Odysseas Vlachodimos; Valentino Lazaro, Nicolas Otamendi, Jan Vertonghen, Alejandro Grimaldo; Rafa Silva, Adel Taarabt, Julian Weigl, Everton; Roman Yaremchuk, Darwin Nunez
Ajax Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Remko Pasveer; Noussair Mazraoui, Perr Schuurs, Lisandro Martinez, Daley Blind; Edson Alvarez, Davy Klaassen; Antony, Steven Berghuis, Dusan Tadic; Sebastien Haller
The win against Willem II Tilburg was the tenth in a row for Ajax, who have now won each of their past ten games in all competitions. Our prediction is that they will maintain their unblemished record against Benfica in the opening leg of the Champions League quarterfinal.
This should be a good game but nothing that the Dutch juggernauts can’t overcome. The tie could do in one direction, though the home side will have something to say about it for sure.
Score Prediction- BEN 1-2 AJA