Barcelona will play host to Portuguese side Benfica on Wednesday in the last round of the Champions League group stage. From the very beginning, we must understand one thing: Barcelona has already clinched the top spot of the group, but Benfica are playing for the chance to progress.
At the start of the group stage, it looked as if both Barcelona and Benfica would easily progress. This has only been true for one of the clubs.
With the top spot secured, Barcelona will have the luxury of resting their top players. This can be a major advantage for Barcelona in La Liga as they are currently leading the table while being undefeated.
However, Benfica are in a must-win situation entering the game at the Camp Nou.
The Portuguese side is no stranger to the Champions League. The club has been a constant threat over recent years and, on paper, should progress out of the group stages.
Unfortunately for Benfica, they are in a must-win game against one of the world's most dominant teams.
With the pressure high against Benfica, expect the team to put up a massive fight against the Catalans.
Barcelona has the group already wrapped up, and their position will give cause for Benfica to have a fighting chance.
The game should be an exciting one. Benfica will not opt to sit in defense like the other opponents of Barcelona. In fact, Benfica has quite a few attacking options.
Because of the necessity to win, I would be highly surprised if Benfica were not able to score at least one goal in the Camp Nou.
The Portuguese are well coached and strong from set pieces. This can easily spell disaster for Barcelona, who have been found out. Set pieces are the killer of La Blaugrana. Look for Benfica to pounce on any chance given.
Nearly one week ago, Barcelona faced Segunda B side Alaves in Copa del Rey action. Because of the aggregate score, the Catalans were able to rest almost every major starter.
With the strength of the youth, along with David Villa, Barcelona pulled off a 3-1 win at home (via Goal).
Barcelona then thrashed opponents Athletic Bilbao 5-1, mainly due to the fact they were able to rest so many players (via Goal). Barcelona are showing that, obviously, they are even stronger when rested.
The match against Benfica should be much of the same. There is no reason for La Blaugrana to play most of their stars when the group is already theirs. Yet this is the Champions League.
We cannot expect Barcelona to play with as much youth as they did against Alaves.
The Copa del Rey and Champions League are totally different competitions. Though youth will be played, so with a few of the Barcelona stars.
As stated, this is the Champions League. Even though the group is clinched, this is a game that Lionel Messi will want to participate in.
This can be a game for Barcelona to continue form, show their talent and even make history.
There is no doubt that Messi gets what he wants. The best decision will be to rest him.
But no one is expecting Messi to want to be rested in the Champions League. Especially when history is at stake.
The Argentine needs only two goals to surpass the record of 85 goals in a calendar year held by Gerd Muller (via official website).
I believe I am correct in saying that every one who follows football expects Messi to break this record. If Lionel plays against Benfica, as should be expected, he may even shatter that record. The eyes of the world will be awaiting the starting lineup before the game.
First, I must admit that I was wrong when I predicted the record to be broken in Barcelona's last game against Athletic Bilbao. Needing only two goals to break the record is much more easily done than the four that would be needed in the last game.
The fact can not be ignored that Messi has scored five straight braces. Let that sink in for a moment. Five straight games the Barcelona star has scored two goals.
As luck would have it, Messi is only needing yet another brace to make history. With Barcelona resting some players, there will be more of a load to carry for Messi.
The world of football has been all to aware of what Messi can do when the scoring is on his shoulders. He will have a much better chance to score multiple goals in this game because of the need for him to.
So with that, I again make the prediction—Messi will break the record in poetic fashion during Champions League play.
Benfica should be able to pull out a draw against a Barcelona side that is well into the next round. However, this is also a Barcelona team that is looking to make history through Lionel Messi.
Viewers should fully expect Benfica to push La Blaugrana and give them a dangerous run.
Because of the history that can be made, I expect Barcelona to walk away the victors, ending the Champions League season for Benfica.
As mentioned earlier, this game will have so many emotions on both sides of the ball. Benfica will surprise if they do not score. But Messi will break the record along with a goal added from his teammates.
I predict the final score to be 3-1 in favor of La Blaugrana at home. No matter the outcome of the game, Barcelona are through on top of the group. Also for Benfica, they will definitely be proud of the performance they are about to put in against the Catalans.
Now to you, the readers. Will Barcelona pull off the win against Benfica, or will the Portuguese push into the next round? More importantly, will Messi break the record?
Also check out my latest Barcelona articles here: