Champions League team guide: Benfica in the spotlight
Benfica had to fight their way through the qualifying rounds to make the Champions League group stage after they came third in the Primeira Liga in 2020-21 — their worst finish in over a decade.
The Eagles fell as low as fourth in the league midway through the season, before 12 wins in their final 14 games helped secure qualification for Europe’s premier competition.
Benfica beat Spartak Moscow 4-0 on aggregate in the third qualifying round, winning each leg 2-0.
In the play-off round, the Lisbon giants beat PSV Eindhoven 2-1 at home, with Rafa Silva and Julian Weigl getting the goals.
They then drew 0-0 in Eindhoven to reach the group stage.
Benfica's Champions League group
Group E: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Benfica, Dynamo Kyiv
Benfica’s glory days of the early 1960s — when they won back-to-back European cups and had football legend Eusebio in their side — are long gone.
Some believe this is due to a curse put on the team by European Cup-winning manager Bela Guttmann, saying Benfica would not be European champions again for the next 100 years.
Since the curse, the Eagles have reached eight European finals, but have not lifted another major continental trophy.
In their most recent Champions League appearance in 2019-20, they finished third in their group.
Last season, Jorge Jesus’ men competed in the Europa League, losing to Arsenal in the round of 32.
Benfica’s best Champions League campaign in recent years saw them reach the quarter-final in 2015-16, where they lost 3-2 on aggregate to Bayern Munich.
In past seasons, the knockout stages would have been a realistic expectation, but with Barcelona and Bayern Munich alongside Benfica in Group E, a top two finish looks like a major challenge.
And Benfica are not quite the force they were.
After four straight Primeira Liga titles between 2013-14 and 2016-17, they have topped the table just once in the last four years.
Star man: Alex Grimaldo
Left-back Alex Grimaldo joined Benfica from Barcelona in 2015 and has been a consistent presence in the team over the past four seasons.
He has scored 14 goals and chipped in with 41 assists in over 200 appearances for the Eagles, giving him a goal contribution of approximately one in every four games.
The former Spain youth international was named in the Europa League’s Squad of the Season in 2018-19 when Benfica reached the quarter-final.
He is yet to represent La Roja at senior level and could still choose to represent Portugal instead.
As one of Europe’s best left-sided defenders, it is no surprise that the 25-year-old has been linked to clubs across the continent this summer.
One to watch: Gedson Fernandes
Still just 22 years old, Gedson Fernandes is back at Benfica after loan spells at Tottenham and Galatasaray in the past two seasons.
He burst onto the scene at the Estadio da Luz in 2018-19 and looked like he could be one of Portugal’s future stars, making his international debut just prior to that season.
But his loan move to Tottenham did not work out as well as hoped, and he was limited to a few minutes off the bench for the Premier League side.
Fernandes then moved on loan to Galatasaray where he got more regular playing time, featuring in 18 matches.
He is now back at Benfica, where the youngster will be looking to put his early setbacks behind him and become a key player of the team.
The boss: Jorge Jesus
Jesus managed a whole host of Portugal’s lesser-known teams from the early 1990s onwards, taking charge of 10 clubs before landing the Benfica job for the first time in 2009.
He won the league three times and reached the final of the Europa League twice during that first spell, before joining rivals Sporting in 2015.
The veteran coach, 67, later had spells at Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal and Brazilian outfit Flamengo, where he won the Brazilian championship and Copa Libertadores in 2019 — becoming the first ever non-South American coach to win the continent’s top football competition.
He returned to Benfica in August last year, where he finished third in the league and failed to win any of the domestic cups in 2020-21.
All information correct as of 10am, September 10, 2021