With the first place in the group already reserved for mighty Barcelona, the outcome of this match could have a big effect on the final rankings. Celtic aim to put their home field advantage to a good use and beat the team that piped Manchester United to the first place in their Champions League group last term, whereas Benfica believe they can make a giant step towards the next round by winning at Parkhead.
No Rangers, no party
The Scottish FA’s decision to send Rangers down to the Third Division has not only affected the Ibrox Park outfit, but Scottish football and Celtic as well. With their arch rivals now plying their trade in the fourth tier, the Bhoys are participating in what is a very weak domestic competition, and that is likely to damage their chances of doing well in Europe. Celtic did well to qualify for the Champions League group stages, having recorded double wins over Helsinki and Helsingborg, but I can see them having major problems against technically impeccable Benfica side. The hosts go into this game low on spirits after losing to St Johnstone at the weekend, especially as they now occupy the fifth place in the SPL standings. With their key players Giorgos Samaras missing out through injury, the Scottish side could find it hard to match their more illustrious opponents, despite the huge support from the stands.
Giorgos Samaras is out after picking up an elbow injury on international duty, but fellow midfielder Scott Brown has returned into action.
Benfica in fine form
Benfica may have spent much of the last decade in the shade of arch rivals Porto, but the Eagles have progressed a great deal over the last few years. The smart transfer policy ensures the squad remain competitive despite selling key players season after season, and the club are slowly returning to where they belong. Benfica did themselves proud with their showings in the previous Champions League campaign given the Eagles were eliminated in the quarter-finals despite completely outplaying the team that would go on to win the coveted title. The Portuguese giants had no choice but to cash in on Axel Witsel and Javi Garcia, while they signed Ola John, Lima and Eduardo Salvio, who should help compensate for the two important departures. The 5-0 win over Vitoria Setubal and 3-0 triumph against Nacional prove the team are on top of their game at the moment, so they will fancy their chances against out-of-form Celtic.
Captain Luisao could start as he awaits a decision by FIFA on his two-month ban, while Carlos Martins is out with a thigh problem.
There are no doubts Celtic will give their best in front of the packed Parkhead, but home field advantage alone won’t be enough for a good result against in-form Benfica. The Eagles were absolutely brilliant in Europe last term and judging by their recent form, they look more than capable of winning in Glasgow.
Our prediction: Away win
Odds: 2.15 (23/20)
Bookmaker: Paddy Power