Old boys give Zenit inside track against Benfica

It is Benfica old boys versus Benfica new boys on Tuesday as Axel Witsel, Ezequiel Garay and Javi García all return to Lisbon with a Zenit side that have not played for two months.

André Villas-Boas oversees Zenit training in Lisbon
André Villas-Boas oversees Zenit training in Lisbon ©AFP/Getty Images
  • Axel Witsel, Ezequiel Garay and Javi García all return to former side Benfica
  • Zenit have not played a competitive game since losing to Gent on 9 December
  • Benfica's 11-match winning run ended on Friday when they lost to Porto
  • Zenit coach André Villas-Boas returns home to Portugal
  • Second leg: next Wednesday, kick-off at 18.00CET

Possible lineups
Benfica:
Júlio César; André Almeida, Jardel, Lindelöf, Eliseu; Samaris, Renato Sanches, Pizzi, Gaitán; Mitroglou, Jonas.
Out: Luisão (broken arm), Rebocho (ankle), Nuno Santos (unspecified), Fejsa (unspecified), Lisandro López (thigh)
Misses next match if booked: Luisão, Jardel, André Almeida, Gonçalo Guedes

Zenit: Lodygin; Anyukov, Garay, Lombaerts, Criscito; Javi García, Witsel, Shatov, Danny; Hulk, Dzyuba.
Out: Fayzulin (knee), Malafeev (unspecified), Smolnikov (groin), Ryazantsev (unspecified)
Misses next match if booked: Domenico Criscito, Javi García, Artur Yusupov, Danny, Hulk

Rui Vitória, Benfica coach
We'll be up against a team of real quality, with quality players and a quality Portuguese coach. They have players that have been together for many years and some of them know Portuguese football very well.

We are very happy to be in last 16 of Champions League, where we belong. They will be hard, strong opponents and now we'll find out how competitive Zenit are. No matter who the opponents are, Benfica aim to win.

I am very proud of Benfica's work with youth players. Renato Sanches is the big name now, but we also have Victor Lindelöf, Nélson Semedo and Gonçalo Guedes in the first team, which is amazing.

Benfica and Zenit since matchday six
Benfica and Zenit since matchday six©Getty Images

André Villas-Boas, Zenit coach
In recent months Benfica have transformed themselves completely. They are playing well, winning, scoring lots of goals … I expect Benfica to be a bit angry about the Porto result and eager to get back to winning ways.

We have worked very well over past two months and our aim is to grab a good result in order to qualify in our home, where we have had some great performances in this competition.

This Benfica plays down the flanks, they cross a lot and create many goal chances from wing play. They play with a high defence, taking risks with the offside trap and they look very sharp.

Witsel and Garay on Benfica
Witsel and Garay on Benfica

I underline Jonas's quality and also Renato Sanches, who has tremendous confidence for an 18-year-old. This mix of youth and experience make Benfica a quality side, good to watch.

Weekend results
Benfica 1-2 Porto (Mitroglou 18; Herrera 28, Aboubakar 65)
The Eagles suffered their first defeat since 8 December, despite Kostas Mitroglou opening the scoring with his eighth goal in his last six Liga appearances. 

Zenit not in action
Next domestic game: v Kuban (Russian Cup, 28 February)

Form guide (all competitions, most recent first)
Benfica: LWWWWW
Zenit: LDLWWL

Ezequiel Garay and Axel Witsel in Benfica colours
Ezequiel Garay and Axel Witsel in Benfica colours©Getty Images

Reporter's view: Joe Walker (@UEFAcomJoeW)
Villas-Boas can expect a frosty reception at the Estádio da Luz. The coach, who won the UEFA Europa League with arch-rivals Porto in 2011, led Zenit to top spot in Group H with five wins from six games and will be looking to take an advantage back to St Petersburg for the second leg. They face a stern test against Benfica, runners-up in Group C, who will be smarting from a 2-1 Clássico defeat at home to Porto on Friday.

Did you know?
Axel Witsel, who was at Benfica in 2011/12, and Hulk, formerly with Porto, scored early goals as Zenit won 2-0 in Lisbon on matchday one in 2014/15. Find out more in our extensive match background.