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Match Preview: Sunderland’s Portuguese takeover begins with a game against Benfica B tonight

Olá, massive Lads fans... Sunderland are off to Portugal for some pre-season fun in the sun. First up, Benfica B team!

2018 EDP Billabong Pro Ericeira - World Surf League - Day 2 Photo by Henrique Casinhas/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Well, well, well. What do we have here? Football in the Portuguese sun? Rights.

Jordan Willis has joined the gang since we dispatched our fierce local rivals South Shields, and the Lads are ready to turn things up a notch as we take on Portuguese giants Benfica’s younger generation.

Whilst it may seem a bit depressing playing Benfica’s B team, considering we played their first team little over a decade ago in the Amsterdam tournament, it’s worth noting this is the side Liverpool played in preparation for their Champions League final in May.

By default, this means we will definitely win the Checkatrade Trophy this year.


State of play...

As noted in the match preview for the South Shields game, there isn’t a state of play as such as pre-season is merely about fitness - or so they say.

For most fans pre-season is more about the excitement of who’s coming into the club and when the next scarf pic is going to be posted on Twitter, and with the aforementioned signing of Coventry City’s Jordan Willis and contract renewals of Aiden McGeady and Elliot Embleton, Sunderland fans have became a little more optimistic in the past week - or maybe we are just finding the fume emanating from Coventry (or should that be Birmingham) rather entertaining.

The die-hards will be moving onward to Portgual and will be hoping to catch a glimpse of our new centre-half, and no doubt a couple pints of Sagres.

For those attending, enjoy yourselves!

For those who have taken that golden package offered by the club of a five-star hotel and dinner with the players... can you lend iz a fiver?


Jack Ross Says...

On potential new signings...

That’s not always easy to do, so I’m satisfied with what we’ve got at the moment, but looking to improve if the right player not just becomes available but fits the structure of the club.

On Duncan Watmore taking part in his first pre-season for a couple of years...

I have kept pushing and pushing for him to break barriers and he has bought into that.

He has not missed a session in pre-season and that is good.

Even before the game against South Shields he was a little bit stiff, as we had a session before the game, but again it is about breaking that barrier.

He looks like he is stronger and fitter than he was when he came back last season and that is a big plus for us.

On the training base in Portugal:

Things have been good, really good, so far.

I think weather wise and being all together is beneficial. We are working two sessions per day with some gym work and it’s been really positive. They’ve worked incredibly hard in terms of work on the training pitch.

A good atmosphere is key to create, some players that have been here years have left and it can be hard when that happens, but I’ve been really impressed with how the new lads are fitting in and, equally, how the players who are already here have responded to what they’re being asked to do.

South Shields v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Team News

As expected, Jack Ross changed his entire eleven at half time in the 2-0 win over South Shields and it is highly likely he’ll look to give players as many minutes as he possibly can whilst in Portugal, starting with tonight’s game against Benfica B.

Ethan Robson marked his return to Wearside with a really well taken goal on Thursday alongside a man of the match performance so will want to continue to impress and is likely to be allowed to do so.

Due to injury, George Honeyman has not been named in the training camp for Portugal and has remained at home for treatment. Max Power is in the training squad, but with rumours he could be out till the beginning of the season, we expect him to be unavailable. Aiden McGeady and Jon McLaughlin have now returned to training and Ross will want to get minutes, if possible, into both players, such is their importance to our promotion push this coming season. Alim Ozturk has also recovered from the stiff neck that kept him out of the South Shields game.

So Max Power and George Honeyman aside, Jack Ross has pretty much a full squad to choose from. The squad is also bulked out with youngsters Anthony Patterson, Benji Kimpioka, Ruben Sammut and Jack Diamond, who will be looking to force themselves into the match-day squad for the season opener at home to Oxford United.

South Shields v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

View from the opposition...

With an average age of 21, the Benfica B side are going to be tough opposition on Thursday night, with the likes of Herbito Taveres and Chris Willock tipped for big futures for the full Benfica squad should they go on to have a positive season in the Ledman LigaPro.

Their pre-season hasn’t gone without some upheaval though, as manager Renato Paiva was heavily linked with the vacant role of Greek club PAOK, before the appointed former Braga manager Abel Ferreira a fortnight ago. However, with speculation surrounding the Head Coach now settled, Paiva will want to ensure his youngsters have a testing pre-season against the likes of ourselves leading up to their season opener against Estoril.

SL Benfica B v SC Farense - Ledman Liga Pro Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

Last Time We Met

Rather unsurprisingly, we haven’t came up against the Benfica B side before, however we have came up against the full side twice in recent years.

Our most recent match was when we lost 2-0 back in 2010. Interestingly we played at the exact same ground we are playing at this evening, the 3500 capacity Stadio Municipal in Albufeira.

Oscar Cardozo and a 30-yard Carlos Martins strike put pay to a Steve Bruce side that included the likes of Kenwyne Jones, Bolo Zenden and Jordan Henderson.

However, perhaps more intriguingly our under 23 side have faced Benfica B far more recently, as a team that included current first teamers George Honeyman, Ethan Robson and Elliot Embleton defeated the Portuguese side 2-1 in the quarter final of the U23 Premier League International Cup as recently as 2016, with Joel Asoro and Luke Molyneux on the score-sheet.

Sunderland U23 v Benfica U23: Premier League International Cup Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images