Match Fitness Advantage Makes Benfica Our Champions League Pick vs. Zenit

Martin Green

Monday, February 15, 2016 11:46 AM UTC

Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 11:46 AM UTC

Zenit will travel 2,800 miles from St Petersburg to Lisbon to face Benfica in the last 16 of the Champions League. Will the trip be too hard or will they be in our soccer picks?

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Free Champions League Pick: Benfica +112
Best Line Offered: at Pinnacle


Zenit St. Petersburg
Zenit will have to travel 2,800 miles from St Petersburg to Lisbon to face Benfica in the last 16 of the Champions League, which is pretty much the furthest any team will ever have to travel for a European fixture. They will be jaded and will struggle to beat a Benfica side that are currently in great form and lead the Portuguese league.

Another serious disadvantage for Zenit is that they are in the middle of the Russian winter break. They haven’t played a league match since December 3 and the league does not start up again until early March, so they will be rusty and very short of match fitness and practice. Perhaps this is why Russian teams struggle in the Champions League. As Russian champions, they could be expected to go toe to toe with the Portuguese champions as the leagues are of a similar standard in terms of quality and competitiveness. But Benfica have the edge as they will be sharper.


Benfica Lisbon
Benfica are locked in a gruelling three-way battle to retain their Primera League crown. They are top of the league on goal difference from Sporting Lisbon, who have a game in hand, while Porto are lurking ominously in third, just three points behind the leaders. Benfica lost to Porto 2-1 at home in their last game and now face an almighty battle in which every game is a cup final from now until the end of the season. But they will not neglect the Champions League. For sides in Portugal, the riches that come with progressing in Europe’s premier competition are too great to ignore. They will give everything they have got in this tie and fancy their chances of progressing to the quarter-finals. Before the Porto defeat, Benfica were in excellent form. They won eight matches in a row, scoring 28 and conceding just five.

They finished second in the Champions League group, three points behind Atletico Madrid, who are one of the favorites for the overall competition, so there is no shame in that, and they did well to finish above Turkish giants Galatasaray. Zenit topped their group, but that feat is less impressive when you consider that Belgian minnows Gent finished second. The other two teams in the group were Valencia, currently just four points above the relegation zone in La Liga, having sacked their coach, and Lyon, who are seventh in Ligue 1 and a full 33 points behind leaders PSG. So basically, don’t read too much into the fact that Benfica finished second and Zenit finished first.


Betting Analysis
If Zenit are to prevail in this tie, it is likely to be on the back of a resounding win in the second leg, when it is Benfica that will have to make the gruelling 2,800 mile trip in the opposite direction. Their players are predominantly Portuguese and Brazilian and will not like the harsh Russian winter. A draw in this first leg match would be a fantastic result for Zenit. Even a narrow defeat for Zenit in this game wouldn’t be too bad a result. That makes the +115 Sky Bet is offering on a Benfica win a fantastic price.

Benfica are the favorites to progress, but they are not odds-on because Zenit are a difficult side to break down and will pose a far different challenge to the one Benfica normally face in the Portuguese league, which is played at a languid pace and full of masterful technicians. Zenit will bring an all-action brand of football to Lisbon and make life difficult. They are also managed by a Portuguese, Andre Villas-Boas, who knows Benfica inside out. But because they will be rusty, the soccer odds on Benfica to win still look good. If you’re unconvinced, you can get +240 on the draw with 888 Sport or +275 on a Zenit win with Stan James.

Because Zenit will be out of match fitness, they are likely to start slowly as they acclimatise to competitive football once again, while Benfica will come flying out the blocks. That might make it worth backing Benfica half-time/full-time, where you can get +260 with BetVictor. You can get +600 on a 1-0 Benfica win, +950 on 2-0 and +950 on 2-1, all with Bet Victor, so that is another way to get more value if you hedge your soccer picks across these scores. Jonas looks a good bet for first goal scorer. The Benfica forward is the top scorer in Portgual this season with 23 goals in 22 games, a superb scoring record. Back him at +380 with 888Sport to score first, or take the +165 888Sport is offering on him to score at any time.

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