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After the Xavi era began with 1-0 victory in Sunday’s derby, another huge test comes just a few days later as FC Barcelona host Benfica in a crunch game that is practically a head-to head to decide which of the two teams progresses to the knockout stages.
How it stands
Bayern Munich are already assured one of the two berths from Group E, and although Dynamo Kyiv still have a mathematical chance of qualifying, that is a rather unlikely scenario. That leaves Barça and Benfica to fight out the remaining slot, and the Catalans go into the last two games with six points, as opposed to the Portuguese champions’ four.
That means that victory on Tuesday night will guarantee Barça will go through to the last eighteen.
A draw means Barça will maintain their two-goal advantage, but they will then need to win their final game in Munich, as Benfica could still clinch second place by beating Dynamo.
A defeat would leave Barça on the verge of elimination. They’d be one point behind Benfica and facing the harder game on the final day, away to Bayern as opposed to home to the Ukrainians.
FC Barcelona are missing the injured Ansu Fati, Martin Braithwaite, Pedri, Kun Agüero and the latest addition to the casualty list Sergi Roberto.
That means the return of two big names in Sergiño Dest and Ousmane Dembélé have been declared fully fit and available for selection.
Note that Ilias Akhomach is serving a suspension after being sent off against Dynamo Kyiv in the UEFA Youth League and Ex Abde is unavailable due to not being registered for the competition.
Benfica form guide
Benfica got off to a fabulous start in the Primeira Liga, winning their first seven games with a 19-4 goal difference. However, any dropped points are costly in Portugal, and the shock 1-0 defeat at home to Portimonese and a 1-1 draw with Estoril meant they dropped down to third. But they recovered strong form last weekend with a 6-1 dismantling of fifth-placed Braga.
In the Champions League, they may have put three past Barça. But their other games have been disappointing. They are the only team to have dropped points against Dynamo in a 0-0 draw in Kyiv, and conceded a total of nine goals in their two games against Bayern.
Did you know?
Benfica left back Àlex Grimaldo grew up at La Masia and played 92 games for Barça B before being transferred to Benfica in 2015/16.
Barça have only ever lost home and away to the same side in a Champions League group on two occasions in the past (Dynamo Kyiv in 1997 and Bayern Munich in 1998).
Barça had 36 shots on target in their first four Champions League this season, more than any other team, but this season have the second poorest record of just seven.
Benfica have only won on one of their last 13 Champions League road trips (at AEK Athens in 2018).
Xavi becomes the fifth person to both play for and manage FC Barcelona in the Champions League era, following Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique, Ronald Koeman and Sergi Barjuán.
Rafa and Darwin Núñez are Benfica’s top goalscorers in the Primeira Liga this season with five goals each.
In sixteen games at home to Portuguese opposition in UEFA competitions, Barça have only lost once, 1-0 to Porto in the 1972/73 UEFA Cup.
1960/61 European Cup Final (in Bern)
Barça 2 (Kocsis, Czibor) Benfica 3
Benfica won the trophy for the first time and also won the season after.
1991/92 European Cup Group B
Benfica 0 Barça 0
Barça 2 (Stoichkov, Bakero) Benfica 1
Barça won the group and went on to beat Sampdoria in the final.
2005/06 Champions League Quarter Final
Benfica 0 Barça 0
Barça 2 (Ronaldinho, Eto’o) Benfica 0
Barça won 2-0 on aggregate and went on to beat Arsenal in the final
2012/13 Champions League Group G
Benfica 0 Barça 2 (Sánchez, Fábregas)
Barça 0 Benfica 0
Barça won the group while Benfica dropped into the Europa League
2021/22 Champions League Group E
Benfica 3 Barça 0
Barça's overall record v Benfica
P 8; W 3; D 3; L 2; F 8; A 7
The Barça coach called on the fans in his pre-game press conference: "We'll need the fans to help us tomorrow too, they are part of this and we want to be in the last sixteen." More from Xavi Hernández:
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