Turkish champions Besiktas drew Benfica, Dynamo Kiev and Napoli in what looks shaped to be the most unpredictable group in the Champions League.
Besiktas will be no pushovers having won the Super Lig under one of the most successful managers in Turkish footballing history – Senol Gunes. The experienced manager famously guided Turkey to 3rd place in the 2002 World Cup and has a reputation for playing attractive, attacking based football.
The Black Eagles will also have a name all too familiar to Benfica fans in Anderson Talisca. The Brazilian midfielder joined the Istanbul giants on a one year loan deal with an option to extend by another season.
The Istanbul giants finished last season as the top goalscoring team in the league but they will be without star striker Mario Gomez who found the back of the net 26 times following his move to Wolfsburg. The Germany intentional is undoubtedly a big miss but Besiktas have not struggled for goals without him.
The Black Eagles have got their league campaign off to a bright start and are currently second having scored the most goals in the Super Lig – 9. Gunes has the option of the inform Cenk Tosun – 4 goals and one assist – and Vincent Aboubakar upfront. Oguzhan Ozykaup pulls the strings in midfield with Euro 2016 champions Ricardo Quaresma providing attacking flair out wide.
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The central midfield duo is likely to be comprised of Atiba Hutchinson and Gokhan Inler who both offer a strong physical presence. Gunes is still working out where to play Talisca but considering he did provide an assist in the 3-1 win over Karabuksor over the weekend he may yet feature against Benfica. The Brazilian will either play instead of Gokhan Inler or in a more advanced midfield role if he does get the nod.
Besiktas have a wealth of attacking options for Benfica to worry about but the full-backs could end up being the key for the Black Eagles. Caner Erkin and Adriano are battling it out for a starting spot at left-back with the former expected to be given the nod while Gokhan Gonul is almost certain to start on the right. Both flanks feature attacking based full-backs who will bomb forward. The Istanbul giants possess pace down the flanks and that is something Benfica will have to be careful about if they do not want to be caught on the counter.
Benfica have won two European trophies but they were back in the 1960’s and ever since the curse of Bela Guttmann they have yet to lift another European title.
Regardless of whether they are cursed or not Benfica are by far the more experienced side in European competition regularly reaching the later stages of the Europa League.
Benfica are unbeaten in Liga NOS this season but will be missing a few players in Jonas, Raul Jimenez, Andre Almeida and Jardel – meaning no first-team strikers will be available.
Benfica may have the home advantage but they hare missing a few players and this Besiktas side are not to be underestimated. Gunes has worked wonders with far inferior players in the past and has an impressive track record in competition football. The Black Eagles are by no means favourites but they have been priced long and are more than capable of pulling off an upset tonight.
The battle of the Eagles may not be the first clash that comes to mind following the group stage draw but it is definitely a game to keep a close eye on.
Prediction: Besiktas +1 Asian Handicap
BENFICA – BEŞİKTAŞ
Stadium: Estadio da Luz
Kick-Off: 19:45 GMT
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia)
Benfica expected starting line-up: Cesar, Samedo, Lopez, Lindelöf, Grimaldo, Fejsa, Horta, Salvio, Pizzi, Guedes, Mitroglou
Besiktas expected starting line-up: Tolga, Gökhan Gönül, Marcelo, Tosic, Adriano, Atiba, Gökhan İnler, Oğuzhan, Caner, Olcay (Quaresma), Cenk (Aboubakar)