Manuel Veth –
Benfica vs Dinamo Zagreb – March 14, 20:00GMT/21:00CET – Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon based Benfica have played in more Europa League matches than any other club. Furthermore, never in their history were the Eagles from Portugal eliminated in the round of 16 of this competition.
It is a record, however, that is now under jeopardy after a 1-0 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in the first leg. The defeat came at just the wrong time for Bruno Lage’s men. The Eagles had just overtaken rivals Porto in the Portuguese Primeira Liga on matchday 24 after a half season to forget under the previous manager Rui Vitória.
The positive results meant that interims-head coach Bruno Lage received a permanent contract on February 19, 2019. But the 1-0 defeat against Dinamo Zagreb in the first leg and a surprising 2-2 draw against seventh-placed Belenenses have put a halt to Lage’s furious start to his coaching career with Benfica’s first team.
In fact, expectations are that Lage will overturn the result against Dinamo Zagreb on Thursday at home at the Estadio da Luz. Dinamo Zagreb, in the meantime, are looking to extend what has already been the longest European campaign in the history of the club.
The Croatian serial champions have won 12 out of the last 13 Croatian league championships. That runs seems to continue as Dinamo managed to beat closest rival HNK Rijeka 3-1 at home at the Maksimir. That result puts Dinamo 17 points clear at the top of the table after matchday 24.
Hence, head coach Nenad Bjelica was able to rotate his side resting critical players like Spanish wunderkind Dani Olmo for the full 90 minutes. A new crop of young and exciting players around Olmo, in fact, build the current core of this Dinamo side that has won four and drawn two in six Europa League Group D matches. They then eliminated a Viktoria Plzen side that came third in a Champions League group with Real Madrid, Roma and CSKA Moscow.
In other words, this is a dangerous and ambitious Dinamo Zagreb side that unlike previous incarnations of the Croatian champion has shown some tooth in Europe. Hence, with the 1-0 home victory in the bag, Zagreb have a very good chance to advance to the quarterfinals of the Europa League for the first time in history.
Benfica vs Dinamo Zagreb – Players to look out for:
João Félix #79 – Benfica
Dani Olmo is not going to be the only player that will catch the attention of scouts present at the Maksimir on Thursday. 19-year-old super talent João Félix has already been linked with the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern München in recent months. The teenager operates as an attacking-midfielder/false nine in Bruno Lage’s 4-4-1-1 system and has already scored nine goals in 16 league games this season.
Dani Olmo #7 – Dinamo Zagreb
Dani Olmo is one of the most interesting players in Dinamo Zagreb’s squad. The 20-year-old Spanish midfielder joined Dinamo Zagreb from his youth club Barcelona in 2014. Since then he has enjoyed a fantastic development and with a transfer value of €6.5 million is the most valuable player of the Croatian HNL. Mostly used as an attacking midfielder in a 4-3-3 setup Olmo, in fact, has already caught the attention of several European top clubs, including his former side Barcelona. A winter transfer, however, fell through after Dinamo Zagreb asked for €25 million. Nonetheless, it will only be a question of time until Olmo becomes the latest super talent to leave Dinamo for a bigger European league.
Benfica vs Dinamo Zagreb – Match Stats
- The clubs’ paths have crossed twice previously in UEFA competition, Benfica beating Dinamo 2-0 on aggregate (0-0 away, 2-0 home) in the 1980/81 European Cup Winners’ Cup first round and 2-0 at home again in a 2004/05 UEFA Cup group stage encounter.
- Dinamo have won three of their other four home fixtures against Portuguese opposition but lost the most recent, 0-2 against Porto in the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League group stage.
- Benfica’s only other encounters with Croatian opposition came in the 1994/95 UEFA Champions League group stage when they drew 0-0 away to Hajduk Split and beat them 2-1 at home en route to qualifying for the quarter-finals.
- Benfica have played more matches in the UEFA Europa League knockout phase than any other club (34).
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Benfica vs Dinamo Zagreb – 1-1
Benfica vs Dinamo Zagreb – Lineups
Vlachodimos – Grimaldo, Dias, Ferro, Corchia – Rafa Silva, Samaris, Gabriel, Pizzi – João Félix – Seferović
Head Coach: Bruno Lage
Livaković – Leovac, Dilaver, Théophile-Catherine, Stojanović – Sunjić, Olmo, Gojak – Orsić, Petković, Kadzior
Head Coach: Nenad Bjelica
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others contributes to Forbes.com and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.