Benfica v Zenit
BENFICA MUST END a form slump if they are to progress from their Champions League round-of-16 tie against Zenit St Petersburg.
Jorge Jesus’ men are winless in their last four matches, a poor run of form that started with the 3-2 defeat against Zenit in the first leg on February 15.
The most recent defeat was a 3-2 loss to Liga Sagres rivals Porto on Friday, and Jesus said it was important for his side to put the result behind them.
“We must move on because we are in a reasonable situation to eliminate Zenit. Let’s see if the team can recover from the defeat because the players feel this one was undeserved,” he told Portuguese television.
“The return of trust requires victories. In the last four matches, we drew one and lost three so we go into this Champions League match in a situation which is not easy, but this is our life.”
They have slipped three points adrift of Liga Sagres leaders Porto, but have an excellent record in European matches at Estadio da Luz.
Benfica have lost just one of their last 19 European home games, winning 15 of those outings.
Paraguayan forward Oscar Cardozo tops Benfica’s goal-scoring in both the league and in Europe, and he will again play a vital role after also being on the scoresheet during the first-leg loss in Russia.
Pablo Aimar will also be a danger, while his Argentine countryman Ezequiel Garay could miss the clash because of a knee injury.
For Luciano Spalletti’s Zenit, Roman Shirokov – who netted a brace in the first leg – and the likes of Serbian forward Danko Lazovic and striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov will cause problems.
The visitors will be without Portuguese midfielder Danny because of a knee injury, while on-loan Arsenal attacker Andrei Arshavin is ineligible after playing for the English Premier League side earlier in the competition.
Zenit’s league campaign resumed after a three-month break with a 2-2 draw against CSKA Moscow on Saturday, and how the team fare playing twice in quick succession could be decisive.
Benfica have struggled in recent times, but a must-win home clash in the Champions League shapes as a perfect opportunity to turn their fortunes around.
Arsenal v AC Milan
Arsenal need a second-leg miracle if they are to advance to the Champions League quarter-finals at the expense of AC Milan.
Thrashed 4-0 in the first leg at the San Siro on February 15, Arsene Wenger’s men will become just the fourth team in the history of UEFA competition to overturn a four-goal first-leg deficit if they can achieve the massive task on Tuesday.
The English Premier League club enter the clash with plenty of confidence after beating rivals Tottenham 5-2 and Liverpool 2-1 in their last two league games.
But Milan’s form is better still – they are on a run of five consecutive matches without defeat in all competitions and sit three points clear atop Serie A.
Massimiliano Allegri will be wary of the threat Arsenal pose after Wenger’s side scored five times in the space of 30 minutes in the win over Tottenham.
Frenchman Wenger, who could add the likes of Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby, Yossi Benayoun and Kieran Gibbs to an already lengthy injury list after the Liverpool win, said his side were capable of a sensational turnaround.
“We want to make the impossible possible – that is our target. It seems impossible but you have to play with belief and think you can do it,” Wenger said.
“You never know in this game. Maybe I will change individuals in the team and go for it and see if we can put them under pressure and try to score goals. We have nothing to lose.”
“If we have the attitude we showed against Spurs, nothing is fatal. We have talented players up front.”
The form of Dutchman Robin van Persie, who netted his 30th and 31st goals this season from all competitions in the win over Liverpool, gives Wenger every reason to believe a huge win is possible.
Stopping the visitors from scoring, however, will again be a tough task for Wenger’s side.
Star AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned to Serie A action on Saturday and netted a hat-trick in his side’s 4-0 win against Palermo, and the Swede caused Arsenal all sorts of problems in the first leg.
Combined with the dangerous Robinho, Antonio Nocerino and Kevin-Prince Boateng, Milan’s attack are equipped to trouble Arsenal, and an early goal for Allegri’s men will effectively put the tie to bed.