Champions League quarter-final preview: Bayern Munich v Benfica
Bayern Munich needed extra-time to get past Juventus in the last round, but they will be expected to seal a place in the final four of the Champions League after drawing Benfica.
The Portuguese outfit have battled through to the quarter-final stage, knocking out Zenit and coming through a group that featured Atlético Madrid and Galatasaray, but Bayern – who have won four out of four European home games this season – will be a huge step up in class.
Five-time champions Bayern have reached the semi-finals of the Champions League four years in a row, while it is 25 years since Benfica made it past the last eight of the competition.
Pep Guardiola is in his last few weeks as coach of the Bavarian giants – he has been confirmed as coming to the Premier League and taking over at Manchester City for next season – and his side are closing in on yet another Bundesliga title.
But Guardiola, who lifted the Champions League trophy during his time at Barcelona, may consider his spell at Bayern a failure unless he can add another European medal to his collection.
Bayern have beaten Benfica all three times they have been drawn together in Europe’s premier club competition and it would be a bold man to bet against them making it four out of four.
Defensive issues for Pep
A defensive injury crisis has tested Guardiola’s tactical flexibility to the limit this season, with Holger Badstuber and Jérôme Boateng among the players out with long-term injuries, while Medhi Benatia, Javi Martínez and Xabi Alonso have all missed long periods too.
That has forced Guardiola to put 21-year-old Joshua Kimmich into a rejigged back line, but he has performed admirably given the tough circumstances.
Guardiola will also be hoping the illness that forced goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to withdraw from the Germany squad following their recent 3-2 defeat to England in Berlin is not too serious.
Juventus proved Bayern can be vulnerable when attacked, the Italian side coming from 2-0 down in the tie to lead 4-2 before a late fightback by the German champions, but whether Benfica have enough quality in their ranks to pose similar questions of Bayern’s makeshift defence is another question entirely.
Rui Vitória has Benfica in the hunt for the Portuguese league title in his first year at the club, but the side are perceived to have overperformed to get to the last eight of the Champions League and it would be a huge shock if they were to go into the next round at Bayern’s expense.
Bayern fantasy players to watch
Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller are completely different types of forwards, but they have both been devastating in front of goal this season, with Lewandowski scoring 38 goals for club and country, 10 more than Müller.
Kingsley Coman had a match-winning impact from the bench in the last round against his parent club, but as he is not guaranteed to start against Benfica he would be a risky pick.
Winger Douglas Costa, who is valued at $7,400 on DraftKings for the UCL slates, has had a terrific impact this season, contributing five goals and 12 assists in all competitions this season, with his pace particularly hard for the opposition to cope with.
Defensively, Neuer – who celebrated his 30th birthday during the international break – is arguably the outstanding goalkeeper in world football, while Chile international Arturo Vidal is the heartbeat of the team with his driving energy from midfield.
Benfica fantasy players to watch
Many daily fantasy football players will be tempted to shy away from Benfica due to Bayern’s status as overwhelming favourites for this tie, but those pursuing a contrarian strategy may find there are a lot of bargains to be had in Vitória’s squad.
Nicolás Gaitán has been the club’s star player with four goals and three assists in seven European matches this season, while Brazilian striker Jonas scored the goal that gave his side a late 1-0 win in the first leg against Zenit in the round-of-16. Teenage starlet Renato Sanches, who is regarded as one of the hottest properties in European football, is also worth keeping a close eye on.
It is harder to make the case for Benfica defenders to be included in your daily fantasy football teams given the strength of Bayern’s attack, but if the Portuguese outfit were to triumph against the odds then selecting veteran goalkeeper Julio César is a gamble that could pay off.