Benfica suffered a big setback in their domestic ambitions as they lost to bitter rivals Porto on Friday night and now trail Sporting by three points at the top of the Portuguese standings. That loss snapped an 11 game winning streak in all competitions though, so their form has been excellent so far in 2016 and in their previous three matches they’d scored a total of 15 goals.
The Russian league doesn’t return from its Winter break for another month so Zenit haven’t played a really meaningful match since the end of the Champions League group stage in December. It might be thought that Russian and Ukrainian teams would struggle with a lack of sharpness then, but their record in Last 16 first legs would suggest this isn’t such a major factor. In eight such Champions League matches they’ve been beaten only once and that includes draws against the likes of Bayern and Real Madrid. Sides from these nations have also lost just 11 of 44 Last 32 first legs in the Europa League and after a disappointing first half of the Russian league this tournament has become the priority for Zenit this season.
The Russians were certainly impressive in qualifying for the knockout stages as they won their group with ease after winning their opening five games. With former Porto boss Villas-Boas in charge and ex-Porto star Hulk the main weapon in attack they will certainly relish the challenge of taking on Benfica and when these teams met in the group stage last year the Russians were victorious both home and away. In fact Zenit’s record against Portuguese teams in recent years is nothing short of superb as they’ve gone W7-D2-L1 since 2011/12.
Benfica have not led at half-time in any of their last 14 European matches and they failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their last five group games. Domestically they’ve lost all four meetings with Sporting and Porto in all competitions this season and while they’ve been scoring for fun against lesser opponents they’ve proven vulnerable in the biggest matches.
Zenit have plenty of quality and they added a couple of decent players in the window. They’ll certainly fancy their chances of scoring against this Benfica defence and look worth siding with as a Draw No Bet option.
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