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After reaching the Champions League last-eight stage for the second time in the last 20 years, the Portuguese club may be powerless to prevent some of their players from leaving

ANALYSIS
By Luis Mira | Portuguese Football Editor

Having watched Porto dominate domestic affairs in 2010-11, Benfica have fared much better this season and are just one point away from the top of the Portuguese Liga table, with just five matches remaining in the championship.

Jorge Jesus' side have also been in impressive form in Europe, having reached the last-eight stage in the Champions League for only the second time since the competition adopted its current format.

But with Benfica still competing on three different fronts, the next few weeks will decide whether the season ends in ecstasy or agony. As such, the club's ability to reinforce their squad in the summer and to hold on to their prized assets will depend on whether they win the Portuguese Liga, but more importantly, on whether they finish in one of the top two places, which grant automatic qualification for the Champions League. 

With this in mind, Goal.com examines the top players most likely to depart the Estadio da Luz in the forthcoming summer window. 

OSCAR CARDOZO | Forward, 28

Read more on Cardozo
SEASON STATS
Appearances
38
Goals
26
Assists
3
TRANSFER FILE
Release clause
€60m
Interested clubs
n/a
Chance of leaving in summer 50%

It is not easy to be in Oscar Cardozo's shoes: year after year he is linked with a fresh transfer, but somehow always winds up staying at Benfica. Despite having become the top foreign scorer in the history of the club, Cardozo is capable of being loved and hated by the club's fans at the same time, all because of his slow-placed, sometimes clumsy playing style.

The 28-year-old has remained as sharp as ever in front of goal this season and is just one strike behind Sporting de Braga's Lima in the Portuguese Liga scoring charts. Shakhtar Donetsk and Besiktas have been associated with the Paraguay international in recent times, but neither club has been able to reach an agreement with Benfica.

It seems just as likely that Cardozo will leave this summer as he is to stay. After five years at Benfica, the lanky striker may now be considering a new challenge. But even if he remains at the Estadio da Luz, he knows that he will never fully win over the club's faithful.

NICOLAS GAITAN | WINGER, 24

Read more on Gaitan
SEASON STATS
Appearances
40
Goals
4
Assists
12
TRANSFER FILE
Release clause
€45m
Interested clubs
Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea
Chance of leaving in summer 60%

After a modest debut year at Benfica, Nicolas Gaitan entered 2011-12 with renewed hope and enjoyed a dream start to the season to become a target of several clubs in the Premier League.

Since then, however, Gaitan's level has dropped considerably, with many questioning whether the player had his heart set on a move already. At the same time, he suffered a thigh injury which took a while to recover from and that prevented him from performing to the best of his abilities for several matches.

Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea all remain linked with Gaitan, but the truth is the Argentina international has only exhibited a small handful of good displays since the start of the calendar year. A summer transfer may well depend on how he finishes the season, but his performance against Chelsea in the first leg of the Champions League quarter finals showed that an inspired Gaitan can cause havoc for opponents.

EZEQUIEL GARAY | Centre-back, 25

Read more on Garay
SEASON STATS
Appearances
35
Goals
2
Assists
0
TRANSFER FILE
Release clause
€30m
Interested clubs
Roma
Chance of leaving in summer 30%

A few months in Lisbon were enough to show that Benfica made a great deal when they signed Garay, who had long been on the periphery at Real Madrid. The Argentine has formed a solid partnership with Luisao and filled the spot which had been left vacant by David Luiz when he left for Chelsea in January 2011.

After an impressive start to the season, which earned him a place in Goal.com's European team of the first half of 2011-12, Garay remained ever present in Benfica's rearguard, until a knee injury sustained last month sent him to the infirmary and ruled him out of several matches, including the Champions League tie against Chelsea.

His presence in the back line has been sorely missed, which is a testament to the quality he has brought to this area of the field. Roma have been credited with an interest in the defender, but Garay may decide to wait at least one more year before leaving a club that gave him an opportunity when he was finding it hard to prove himself.

JAVI GARCIA | Midfielder, 25

Read more on Javi Garcia
SEASON STATS
Appearances
34
Goals
1
Assists
0
TRANSFER FILE
Release clause
€30m
Interested clubs
Man Utd
Chance of leaving in summer 40%

The Spanish midfielder has played an important role in front of Benfica's defence since he arrived at the club from Real Madrid in the summer of 2009 in a €7 million deal. But while his combative approach to the game has been there from the moment he first set foot in the Estadio da Luz, only now have his performances garnered interest from the European elite.

Manchester United, Arsenal and AC Milan have all been associated with Javi Garcia, but the strongest interest appears to come from the Red Devils. However, none of these clubs have so far given the slightest indication that they are willing to splash out for the Spaniard.

Last month, Javi Garcia signed a six-year contract that will keep him at Benfica until 2018, and that has raised doubts about the possibility of embarking on a new adventure in the summer. But after three years at the club, a bigger challenge may prove too tempting to pass up.

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