Two teams with contrasting fortunes in Group D of the Champions League are set to face off at the Reale Arena this Wednesday as Real Sociedad hosts Benfica.
The Eagles are seeking redemption after a narrow 1-0 loss to the Spanish side in the reverse fixture just two weeks ago.
Real Sociedad’s impressive four-game unbeaten streak in all competitions came to an end when they suffered a 1-0 defeat at the hands of reigning La Liga champions Barcelona in their last outing.
Txuri-Urdin appeared on course to share points with the Catalan giants until Ronald Araujo’s 92nd-minute winner.
This defeat marked their third league loss of the season, and they’ve dropped eight points in their last four La Liga matches.
They now find themselves in seventh place, six points adrift of fourth-placed Atletico Madrid, who have a game in hand.
In the Champions League, however, Real Sociedad has fared better, accumulating seven points from their first three Group D fixtures and sitting level with last season’s finalists, Inter Milan.
Despite having a less than stellar record in European home games, having won only five of their last 17, a victory over Benfica could mark their first Champions League home win in two decades.
On the other hand, Benfica has rebounded on the domestic front with a three-game unbeaten run after their previous loss to Real Sociedad.
They secured a 2-0 Taca da Liga win over Arouca, drew 1-1 with Casa Pisa, and clinched a 2-0 victory over Chaves in the Primeira Liga.
Benfica now faces a crucial Champions League match as they aim to keep their hopes of advancing to the knockout rounds alive.
They are one of two teams, along with AC Milan, who have lost all three group-stage games without scoring this season.
Anything less than a victory on Wednesday could dash their hopes of securing a top-two finish in Group D, as they currently sit seven points behind both Real Sociedad and Inter Milan with three games remaining.
Real Sociedad might have to cope without defender Hamari Traore, who was forced off due to a muscle problem in their last match.
He is expected to miss Wednesday’s game, joining Kieran Tierney (hamstring), Andre Silva (muscle), and Martin Merquelanz (knee) on the sidelines.
The potential absence of Traore could see either Aritz Elustondo or Alvaro Odriozola starting at right-back.
In midfield, Brais Mendez, with three goals in as many Champions League group games, is set to retain his place alongside Mikel Merino and Martin Zubimendi.
The front three of Takefusa Kubo, Mikel Oyarzabal, and Ander Barrenetxea is likely to remain unchanged.
For Benfica, Juan Bernat is ruled out due to a muscle injury, and Orkun Kokcu (muscle), Alexander Bah (foot), and David Neres (knee) are also sidelined.
Schmidt may opt for a back three of Antonio Silva, Nicolas Otamendi, and Morato, with Fredrik Aursnes and Joao Neves possibly continuing in makeshift wing-back roles.
Top scorer Angel di Maria has yet to score in the Champions League this season but is expected to start in the attack alongside Rafa Silva and either Arthur Cabral or Petar Musa.
- Elustondo, Zubeldia, Le Normand, Munoz;
- Mendez, Zubimendi, Merino;
- Kubo, Oyarzabal, Barrenetxea
- Silva, Otamendi, Morato;
- Neves, Mario, Luis, Aursnes;
- Silva, Cabral, Di Maria
In what promises to be a crucial encounter, both Real Sociedad and Benfica are under pressure to secure maximum points.
Real Sociedad aims to maintain their top spot in Group D, while Benfica must win to keep their top-two hopes alive.
Considering the closely-fought contest in their previous meeting, we anticipate another intense battle at the Reale Arena.
- However, we’re backing Real Sociedad to secure a narrow 2-1 victory in front of their home fans.