DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, September 17, 2013
The Champions League group stage kicks off, with Sacha Kljestan's Anderlecht heading southwest to face Benfica and suspended Jermaine Jones unavailable for Schalke's opener against Steaua Bucharest.
SL Benfica - RSC Anderlecht
A red-hot Sacha Kljestan and Anderlecht take the trip to Europe's southwestern tip to take on Portuguese powerhouse Benfica on Tuesday.
The American has been a scoring juggernaut as of late in Anderlecht's midfield, scoring four goals over his last six games to sit near the top of the Belgian league scoring charts.
Apart from a high-scoring loss to Zulte Waregem directly before the international window, the reigning Belgian champions have been on a strong run, winning five of their last six in league play.
The same can be said for Benfica, who them selves have gone on a three-game unbeaten run since an opening-day loss in mid-August.
Most recently, they beat up on Pacos de Ferreira by a 3-1 score, with Argentinean central defender Ezequiel Garay making a strong statement through his two goals immediately after missing out on his national team's most recent call-up.
Benfica have an added motivation this season, knowing that their home of Estádio da Luz will host the competition's final next May. Even reaching the final will take a herculean feat by the 32-time Portuguese league champions. They have not played for Europe's top honors since 1990, and have gone more than 50 years since their last time at the top of the podium.
Anderlecht are not missing any players, while Benfica will be without midfielders Rúben Amorim and Nicolás Gaitán and defender Sílvio, who are all out with thigh injuries, and additionally midfielder Salvio who will miss the group stage while recovering from a knee injury.
Jermaine Jones will be forced to sit out Schalke's opener against Romanian champions Steaua Bucharest, having picked up a pair of yellow cards in the second leg of their qualification series against PAOK Saloniki.