FC Porto, Sporting and Benfica are all in action over the next couple of days as the group stage of the 2014/15 Champions League reaches the halfway stage.

The two Lisbon clubs are in need of a positive result in tough away matches. Defeat for Sporting in Germany tomorrow against Schalke 04, or Benfica in France against Monaco on Wednesday, would make progress to the knockout stage extremely unlikely.

Porto are in a far more comfortable position and will look to continue to dominate Group H as they host Athletic Bilbao.

Porto rotation set to continue

After suffering their first defeat of the season on Saturday night against Sporting in the Portuguese Cup, Porto coach Julen Lopetegui is delighted that his team has the chance to bounce straight back as they welcome the La Liga side to the Estádio do Dragão.

"It's always good to play again quickly after losing a match. It's an opportunity for us to give a good response. We know we've committed defensive mistakes and we have to be more intelligent," said Lopetegui.

The Spaniard has been criticised heavily in the Portuguese press for his policy of rotating the team game by game, but asked about whether or not that was the root of the errors, Lopetegui emphatically replied, "I sincerely don't think so. We make the decisions that we believe are the best for each game."

João Mário confident

In contrast, Sporting go into their match in Gelsenkirchen on the crest of a wave having won at Porto for the first time since 2007. They face a tough task however, with the Bundesliga side responding to the appointment of new coach Roberto Di Matteo with a 2-0 win on the weekend over Hertha Berlin.

Midfielder João Mário, who has made a midfield spot in Sporting's team his own and debuted for the Seleção in recent weeks, is unafraid of the opposition. "If the Schalke coach says that they are favourites to win the match, that's up to him. They also said we were not favourites to win our last match (against Porto)."

Despite having just one point from their first two Champions League games, Sporting coach Marco Silva refused to label the match as "decisive", although he was more cautious than Mário in his pre-match press conference. "We are going to face an extremely powerful opponent who will force us to be at our very best. Perfection doesn't exist, but we will have to be near perfect."

Both Porto and Sporting go into their matches with a full squad to pick from, with the exception of Porto's long-term injury victim Helton.

Do or die for Benfica

On Wednesday it's Benfica's turn to take to the pitch. The Eagles have made a flying start to the domestic season in Portugal, but a disastrous opening two matches in the Champions League sees Jorge Jesus' men in desperate need of at least a point at Monaco.

More than the defeats against Zenit St. Petersburg and Bayer Leverkusen, it was the manner of the performances that annoyed Benfica fans eager to make a splash in the tournament after recent failures.

A win against Leonardo Jardim's side, however, will put Benfica right back in the picture in a highly competitive Group C, where all teams are capable of robbing points off one another. And Jesus showed how important he considers the encounter by resting his entire first team in the Portuguese Cup victory over Sporting Covilhã on Saturday.

The match will also take on special significance for Benfica-owned Bernardo Silva, who has so far made the most of his loan move to the Ligue Un side and will no doubt be keen to show the Benfica manager he is worthy of a place in the team.

by Tom Kundert

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Comments (1)

  1. NJ/USA/ SLB

I believe that no team with one or less points at this juncture of the competition, has ever advanced.
Benfica has to win the next three matches to even have a sniff at advancing. Actually, if current CL form continues we can kiss Europa goodbye...

I believe that no team with one or less points at this juncture of the competition, has ever advanced.
Benfica has to win the next three matches to even have a sniff at advancing. Actually, if current CL form continues we can kiss Europa goodbye as well. We all know that the prize money is substantially less, but missing out on that extra game/stadium revenue would hurt.
I know that we sit atop the league, but Benfica has been unconvincing so far.

Sporting is coming off a big match, but this a whole different level. The track record has not been good in Germany, no matter the opponent. Hopefully Sporting will be able to get all three points and get back in it.
On a side note;
How long before BdC coaches the team?

Porto has played well and Bilbao has struggled this campaign. This should be a tidy three points.

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