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PSG look to close in on UCL knockouts with a win over Benfica
Updated published : 01 Oct 2013 00:46:56Rss feed
Outstanding favourites to progress from Champions League Group C, Paris Saint-Germain can take a significant step towards the knockout stages with a win against Benfica at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday.
This encounter in the French capital brings together one of the most financially powerful institutions in modern football and one of the continent's grand old names.
Benfica won the last of their two European Cups back in 1962, eight years before PSG came into existence. The French side had rarely looked like fulfilling their huge potential before the Qatari takeover at the Parc des Princes in 2011, but last season they won the Ligue 1 title and reached the Champions League quarter-finals.
Indeed, PSG have changed beyond all recognition since their last meeting with the Eagles, in the last 16 of the Europa League in March 2011. On that occasion, Benfica triumphed 3-2 on aggregate, but Christophe Jallet is the only member of the PSG team that played in the home leg who remains on the staff.
Two and a half years on, the new-look PSG are unbeaten this season under Laurent Blanc, although their performances have rarely been entirely convincing and Saturday's 2-0 win against Toulouse was not always comfortable.
However, their 4-1 win away to Olympiakos in Greece on matchday one was an exception to the rule, with the unlikely figure of Thiago Motta scoring twice.
PSG face two enormous games in five days with the visit of Benfica being followed by a trip to bitter rivals Marseille on Sunday for what is the biggest fixture in the French calendar.
Blanc's preparations for the games have been hit by the fact that captain Thiago Silva is sidelined with a thigh injury while there are doubts surrounding the fitness of Alex and Javier Pastore.
As a result, Brazilian youngster Marquinhos, who scored against Olympiakos and against Toulouse, will continue in the heart of the home defence, while Edinson Cavani will return to the attack after being rested at the weekend.
The Uruguayan will hope to further develop his understanding with forward partner Zlatan Ibrahimovic, although that may once again require him to start from a wide position in a 4-3-3 formation.
"On a certain level, there's a connection between us that comes much more easily than with other players," Cavani told French television. "I think we just need to work on it a bit harder. We haven't been playing together for very long, and we haven't had the proper preparation. Still, we've proven that there is a connection between us."
Benfica comfortably beat Anderlecht 2-0 in Lisbon in their opening group game thanks to goals from Filip Djuricic and Luisao, and they should have a sizeable away following in the French capital, with its enormous Portuguese immigrant population.
Beaten in last season's Europa League final in heartbreaking fashion by Chelsea, Portugal's biggest club know that the best way to make up for that would be to reach this season's Champions League showpiece, which will be played in their own Estadio da Luz.
However, going that far is likely to prove beyond Benfica, who have endured a rather slow start to the season.
Jorge Jesus signed a new contract in the summer despite Benfica coming up just short in their domestic league and cup as well as in Europe. But Saturday's 1-1 home draw with Belenenses left them fifth in their domestic league, five points adrift of Porto at the summit.
And Jesus, who is set to welcome full-back Guilherme Siqueira into his team, is now at the centre of a police investigation following incidents after a recent win against Vitoria Guimaraes.
"We are in a very evenly-balanced group, but PSG are the favourites, so it's up to the rest of us to try and pick up points where we can," Jesus admitted at the start of the group campaign, acknowledging that anything other than a home win on Wednesday would be a surprise.
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