Benfica's UEFA Youth League team are aiming to advance to the quarter-finals once again in this season's edition of the prestigious under-19 tournament. They will play away for their round of 16 matchup with PSV at the Philips Stadion on Tuesday 21st February (kick-off 18:00 CET). Elijah Evans and David Pritchett preview the game.
Both teams did well in their respective groups, with Benfica coming second in Group B with 10 points. They finished as runners-up to Dynamo Kyiv, but saw off the challenges of Napoli and Beşiktaş to secure a place in the play-off round. PSV qualified automatically for the round of 16 by topping Group D with an impressive 13 points, finishing ahead of Atlético Madrid, Bayern Munich and Rostov. They wrapped up group play with an imposing 6-0 win over Rostov.
A Diogo Gonçalves-inspired Benfica then defeated Danish outfit FC Midtjylland in their play-off match, winning 6-5 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in regular time.
Benfica are already familiar with the round of 16, as they have never been eliminated before the quarter-final stage. They reached the tournament's inaugural final in 2013/14, losing 3-0 to a strong Barcelona side. After quarter-final exits to Shakhtar Donetsk in 2014/15 and Real Madrid in 2015/16, they will be looking to go even deeper in this year's competition.
If Benfica want to upset PSV, they will need to be more clinical in the final third than they were against Midtjylland, when only one of 14 attempts resulted in a goal. It will be vital to take advantage of any chances that come their way on Tuesday, especially against a miserly PSV defence that conceded the least amount of goals (two) in the group stage.
Benfica's standout performers Zé Gomes [above right], Rúben Dias and Diogo Gonçalves will be influential to the success of the team as they look to advance past PSV. 17-year old forward Gomes has a great goalscoring record over the past two seasons of the UEFA Youth League, with 8 goals in 7 games, and will be a major threat looking to get in behind the PSV defence. Captain Rúben Dias provides strength and an aerial presence, and will look to set the tempo from his centre-back position.
Though changes in the roster have been frequent for Benfica, expect Diogo Gonçalves to run the show from the wings and cause problems for the strong PSV defence. Gonçalves' strike against Midtjylland was his tenth career goal in the competition, making him the ninth player in the tournament’s history to reach double figures. The 20-year old is a regular starter for Benfica B, together with Gomes, Dias, and right-back Aurélio Buta.
17-year old attacking midfielder João Félix is the Eagles' top scorer in this year's UEFA Youth League with 3 goals in 6 games, and made a regular impact throughout group play. Félix, Gedson Fernandes, Florentino Luís and João Filipe have all featured for Benfica B this term.
To be eligible to participate in the tournament, all players must have been born on or after January 1st 1998, with the exception of three 'over-age' players. This season, these players were Rúben Dias [below right], Aurélio Buta and João Carvalho. Attacking midfielder Carvalho has played an influential role in this competition over the past few seasons, but is no longer available after moving on loan to Vitória de Setúbal for the remainder of the current campaign.