Benfica Vs. Manchester United, 2011 UEFA Champions League: Preview

Anderson #8 and Ji-Sung Park #13 of the Manchester United congratulate teammate Dimitar Berbatov #9 on his goal against the MLS All-Stars during the second half of the MLS All-Star Game at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Manchester United travel to Portugal for their first Champions League match of the season. Can the Premier League title holders sustain their blistering start to the season, or will Benfica trip them up?

Manchester United managed to win the mini Champions League tournament last year - the one in which the teams who aren't Barcelona and Real Madrid battle for the title as third greatest club in all Europe (it's sort of like a continental La Liga analogue at this point). They'll be looking to repeat that feat this year, since any hope of being better than Barcelona is a little bit silly for anyone right now, and that begins by getting through the group stages, starting with Benfica away on Wednesday, starting at 7:45 PM BST (2:45 PM EST).

United are in scintillating form at present, having crushed Arsenal and Bolton Wanderers by a combined score of 13-2 in their previous two matches, but with a stern test in the form of Chelsea coming up this weekend and a series of injuries hitting the club Sir Alex Ferguson may be forced to field an unfamiliar lineup. Rio Ferdinand has been left out of the squad to rest, Nemanja Vidic is out, Tom Cleverley's missing and several other players could probably do with a bit of a break ahead of what will probably be a fairly taxing weekend.

Fortunately for United, they have an incredibly deep squad. Phil Jones looks like one of the buys of the summer with his outstanding play in defence, Michael Carrick can fill in for Cleverley and they can bring in one of last season's top scorers in Dimitar Berbatov should Ferguson opt to rest Javier Hernandez or Wayne Rooney. United's 'B' team isn't really anything to sneeze at - they're mostly the ones responsible for the the Premier League champions' 100 percent start to the season.

Benfica aren't exactly a pushover though, currently sitting on ten points from four matches in the Primeira Liga after a huge squad revamp over the summer. The first-choice team is barely recognisable from fifteen months ago, having sold Ramires, Fabio Coentrao, David Luiz and Angel di Maria, but a set of impressive reinforcements have take the place of the departed stars, headlined by Belgian midfielder Alex Witsel, and Benfica shouldn't be taken lightly just because they've sold most of their most-recognised players.

Thanks to the threat posed by United everywhere on the pitch, Benfica will have to clog up the centre without neglecting the flanks, which probably means they'll have to use a 4-2-3-1 rather than their usual 4-4-2 diamond, with Witsel and Javier Garcia acting as the double pivot. United will probably be giving up their 4-4-1-1 in resting Wayne Rooney, but since we don't really know who'll be allowed to take a break for the upcoming Chelsea projecting full rosters is kind of pointless. But we'll do it anyway!

Benfica (4-2-3-1): Artur; Emerson, Ezequiel Garay, Luisao, Maxi Pereira; Javi Garcia, Alex Witsel; Nicolas Gaitan, Pablo Aimar, Nolito; Oscar Cardozo.

Manchester United (4-3-3): David de Gea; Fabio da Silva, Johnny Evans, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling; Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs; Park Ji-Sung, Dimitar Berbatov, Antonio Valencia.

Goodness me that United squad looks strong, despite it being pretty much entirely backups. But so too does Benfica - at least enough to give last year's runners up a good challenge in Portugal. Let's look for Manchester United 2-1 Benfica. We'll have live coverage of the match here on SB Nation soccer, but if you're a United fan check out The Busby Babe for the latest goings on with the club.

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