Preview: Al-Nassr vs. Benfica – prediction, team news, lineups – Sports Mole

Al-Nassr will conclude their pre-season trip to Portugal on Thursday in a friendly at the Estadio Algarve against Primeira Liga champions Benfica.
The Saudi outfit suffered a 5-0 beating at the hands of Celta Vigo at the same stadium on Monday, while their opponents have already beaten Southampton and FC Basel in friendlies this month.

Benfica coach Roger Schmidt reacts on May 21, 2023© Reuters
In what promises to be a big summer for Al-Nassr, as it has for several of Saudi Arabia’s top clubs in the transfer market, the Knights of Najd are building towards a Saudi Pro League title challenge, after falling short of top spot last time around.
Under the management of Rudi Garcia, they topped the table between late December and early March, but following a defeat to title-rivals Al-Ittihad, and the departure of Garcia a month later, with Dinko Jelicic taking over for the final seven matches, Al-Nassr were unable to regain top spot, instead having to settle for a second-placed finish with 67 points from their 30 matches.
That extended their wait for a 10th Pro League title, having most recently triumphed in the 2018-19 season, and ahead of the new term, the board took steps to appoint Garcia’s long-term successor, with Luis Castro having now come in to lead the club forward.
His tenure began with the pre-season trip to Portugal, in which the Knights of Najd had four games scheduled, and they kicked off with a 2-0 win over Alverca and a 5-1 thrashing of Farense, before most recently being on the wrong end of a 5-0 beating at the hands of Celta Vigo, as Castro made wholesale changes to his starting XI before their opponents unleashed a second-half onslaught, with Gael Alonso opening the scoring and Miguel Rodriguez and Jorgen Strand Larsen netting braces at the Estadio Algarve.
They will now further ramp up their preparations for the new term with a tough contest against the Portuguese champions on Thursday before travelling to Japan for their final friendlies against Paris Saint-Germain and Inter Milan and kicking off in the Arab Club Champions Cup against Al Shabab in late July.
Benfica's Alejandro Grimaldo celebrates with teammates after winning the Primeira Liga on May 27, 2023© Reuters
Their opponents, meanwhile, will aim to make it three wins from three pre-season friendlies on Thursday to continue building momentum after their domestic glory last campaign.
Having not triumphed in the Portuguese top flight since 2019, As Aguias set out to end their wait for a 39th title under the management of Roger Schmidt, and they did so in style, leading the table from the fourth round of fixtures until the end of the term and finishing on 87 points from their 34 outings, two clear of rivals Porto in second spot.
In those matches, Schmidt’s men picked up 28 victories, including a final-day 3-0 beating of Santa Clara to wrap up the title courtesy of goals from Goncalo Ramos, Rafa Silva and Alex Grimaldo, and only suffered three defeats, while also topping the league’s charts in both attack and defence, having scored 82 goals and only conceded 20 in the entirety of the campaign.
On the back of that memorable term, which also saw them reach the Champions League quarter-finals before dropping out at the hands of Inter Milan, As Aguias turned their attention to the new term and kicked off pre-season with a friendly against Southampton in England last week, eventually coming out on top as David Neres and Mihailo Ristic hit unanswered first-half goals.
Now on the back of a 3-1 victory over Basel on Sunday, in which Angel Di Maria, Goncalo Ramos and David Jurasek found the net before the interval, Benfica will look to continue their preparations with another positive display on Thursday before meeting Celta Vigo, Burnley and Feyenoord and kicking off their competitive season in early August in the Supertaca Candido de Oliveira.

Al Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their third goal on May 23, 2023© Reuters
Cristiano Ronaldo should again start and don the captain’s armband on home soil for Al-Nassr on Thursday, with the 38-year-old having joined the Knights of Najd around the turn of the year and started with 14 goals in the 16 Saudi Pro League appearances in the second half of last season.
He will join former Benfica man Talisca, who shone in his own right last season, netting 20 league goals for the second season running.
Following his recent arrival from Inter Milan, Marcelo Brozovic should make his second appearance for the club in midfield, while Seko Fofana has also signed from French outfit Lens and could join the Croatian international on Thursday.
Benfica will come into Thursday’s friendly with a similar starting XI from their game against FC Basel, with experienced Argentinian winger Angel Di Maria again set to start having returned to the club 13 years away with Real Madrid, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.
He marked his first appearance back for As Aguias with a goal and should again support key forward Goncalo Ramos, who also found the net last time out after netting 19 Primeira Liga goals last time around.
Fellow new arrival Orkun Kokcu should be handed another start in midfield, having recently signed from Feyenoord, with Florentino likely joining him in the engine room, while Morato and Antonio Silva could again partner up in the middle of the back four.

Al-Nassr possible starting lineup:
Ospina; Al-Ghanam, Madu, Lajami, Konan; Ghareeb, Brozovic, Fofana, Masharipov; Ronaldo, Talisca
Benfica possible starting lineup:
Vlachodimos; Bah, Morato, Silva, Jurasek; Florentino, Kokcu; Di Maria, Mario, Silva; Ramos

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Al-Nassr are constantly improving and should trouble Benfica, but Schmidt’s side still have more quality throughout the pitch and will expect to get over the line at the Estadio Algarve.

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