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Wednesday, 16 April 2014 21:50

Benfica 3-1 FC Porto: Tactical breakdown

Eagles prove their mettle

taca-de-portugal.jpgNot unlike Atlético Madrid and Barcelona over in neighbouring Spain, Benfica and FC Porto met once again this season for the first of three upcoming Clássicos over the upcoming weeks, with the soon-to-be Portuguese champions resiliently (and enthusiastically) overcoming the incumbents for the Portuguese Cup.

Without Luisão, Fejsa, Lima and Markovic from the starting XI, Benfica coach Jorge Jesus proceeded with the squad rotation he's implemented throughout the second half of the season, with Salvio and Cardozo allowed to maintain their recent run on the team.
 
Even though this match was expected to be another installment in the hard-fought (and rather interesting) Clássico series since Jorge Jesus arrived at the Luz, it stubbornly progressed into a scrappy affair following Siqueira's dismissal on 28 minutes, at a time when Salvio had already put Benfica 1-0 up after Gaitán's beautifully delivered cross. 
 
Jesus' men came out from the blocks with guns blazing, with Gaitán showing the team's intents on 20 seconds with a hard tackle on Danilo and signalling the intense pressure that would befall FC Porto. Benfica pressured Fernando, the Dragons' key man (namely through Rodrigo's tireless work), and kept their opponents from getting into their passing rhythm - a pattern that repeated until the home team found themselves in front.
 
FC Porto improved after the goal but mostly due to Benfica's purposeful dropping back, waiting for FC Porto to become unbalanced as so often has been the case this season. It is now impossible to assess if Luís Castro's charges would be able to turn things around under normal circumstances, but Siqueira's sending-off turned it into a moot question.
 
Despite being a man down, Benfica did not despair and were able to understand the predicament they were in and wait for the right moment, and the second half proved them right. A heroic display that will surely be remembered by most supporters might indeed be the springboard for what the team supporters hope will be a great ending to the season.
 
Rather than dwell on the game's minutiae (riddled with coach and player dismissals), we will now be turning our attention to specific tactical issues, as this column often does.
 

Rodrigo

The Brazilian-born Spanish forward has been on top of his game for most of the season, finally realising all his vast potential by all accounts. With Cardozo (a striker made in the more traditional mould) playing instead of Lima, Rodrigo was asked to drop off a few yards, where he combined excellently with team-mates on the wings.
 
By acting in front of Fernando, the forward kept forcing FC Porto's holding midfielder to track him, opening up space for Gaitán to exploit. In fact, Benfica's superiority up until Salvio's goal was intrinsically linked to Rodrigo's forays into the flanks and the area in front of Fernando, allowing the Eagles' full-backs or wingers to appear unmarked.
 

All about the pressing

It is usually said that football is a numbers game, in the sense that the team that takes correct decisions the most often will be more likely to win over time. However Benfica showed last night that there can be more than just the one interpretation. Even though FC Porto were a man up for more than a hour, the Eagles revealed how a well-drilled, disciplined tactical unit (not be mistaken for defence) is much more important than numbers in themselves.
 
While FC Porto pressed in rather disjointed fashion (Fernando would often be the first man to come out and try to get something out of the game), Benfica understood they couldn't press all over the pitch, but rather would have to pick their moments. The numbers-up situation did mean FC Porto enjoyed a greater share of the ball possession than would probably have been the case had Benfica remained with eleven players, but it did not mean FC Porto were able to trouble Benfica 'keeper Artur that much, which serves as a simulteanous testament of Benfica's persistence and awareness and of FC Porto's cluelessness while attacking, with the team seldom choosing the right option when presented the opportunity to finish play. Combined with FC Porto's absolute inability to take control in midfield, this was definitely the key factor to the match.
 

Gaitán

It is by now undeniable that Nico Gaitán has been having his best season in a Benfica shirt so far and that he will probably not be calling Lisbon his home for much longer. The Argentinean seemed to be all over the place (and he indeed deputised as left-back while André Almeida did not come on) and he now blends his technical wizardry with much improved tactical awareness and a willingness to better understand what the match asks of him in each moment.
 
Despite starting on the left wing, Gaitán refuses (and is allowed) to limit his actions to the flank and has now become a maestro-like winger, realising where spaces have been cleared and roaming around the pitch almost at will. Juventus coach Antonio Conte should pay special attention to Benfica's no. 20, since he might be instructed to buzz around Pirlo and dictate play from the middle, rather than from the left.


by Vasco Mota Pereira
 
Comments (3)
Proud
3 Thursday, 17 April 2014 14:45
NJ/USA/SLB
I'm so proud of this squad. For all the trials and tribulations, we've persevered and got the job done.
Benfica's harshest critics have always been Benfiquistas themselves. Let's give credit where credit is due. JJ has done a wonderful job in preparing his squad, and by that I mean the whole squad. Although some haven't featured, it clearly showed they were prepared mentally, physically and tactically. The rotation of the players has kept the team motivated and sharp, for all competitions.

"Eagles revealed how a well-drilled, disciplined tactical unit (not be mistaken for defense) is much more important than numbers in themselves."

Notables;
- Rodrigo has been extremely impressive, all campaign long. If he isn't scoring, his position and work rate, has opened up opportunities for teammates. I know we've sold him off to an agency (still being reviewed by UEFA), but hopefully he'll stick around another campaign.
- Nico seems to have developed his mental game to come in line with his skills. The work rate and tactical awareness has been evident.
- Enzo is perhaps our biggest asset out on the field. JJ has called him the manager on the field. We all thought Matic allowed Enzo freedom, but he continues to excel.

Sadly for Benfica, they could find themselves wearing different kits next campaign. At least our coffers will be enriched.

Porto thoughts;
I'm really surprised at how badly they've fallen. As noted, they had no cohesion or semblance of plan. Going up a man just seemed to disjoint them.
I've stated that I prefer Porto getting third, due to them being better prepared, financially and as an organization, to get past Champions League qualifiers. Sporting will still have financial concerns and growing pains. But based on recent events, I'm a bit perplexed. The selling of players/stars isn't new to Porto, yet they have faltered in the transfer market. They over payed fro Danilo and Santos. They settled for Quaresma on a free, and now some reports are saying Fernandes could be heading to Porto as well. I was always a fan of Fernandes (28), but is another mercurial talent that's coming off a serious knee injury the right way to go? When you see that he'll come for free, it actually signals red flags for me.
They made 49.3 million euros this campaign and 76.1 million euros in last campaigns transfer market.
But what is the financial situation at Porto? We all know plenty have enriched their own pockets, but there has to be funds available.

On A Side Note;
Since he can't keep his trap shut, BdC had to mention he heard the officiating hadn't gone well at The Luz. Maybe he thinks Benfica set up going a man down on purpose, in order to confuse the opponent. If so, it worked.
Fabulous!
2 Thursday, 17 April 2014 10:52
Andre/UK
I agree with Mdot, for any Benfica fan, could last night have gone any better? Down on aggregate at kick off, 4 key players injured including the captain, with others rested due to our heavy schedule...Proenca harshly sends off Siqueira with an hour still to play and we play with 10 men for most of the match against an opponent who had their full team out there...and we come up with a performance like that? Wow! Last night really was full affirmation as to who the strongest team in Portugal is at the moment.

When Porto equalised it really looked like they would be going to the final (due to our numerical disadvantage)...but we storm back with 2 goals to deservedly qualify for Jamor! Amazing stuff, and what a strong squad we've got. For the last few months now, it almost doesn't matter who plays, whoever comes in does a great job for the team.

Every player played their hearts out last night but Andre Gomes deserves special mention, what a goal and overall performance at DM. He's a real talent and should already have some Selecao caps in my opinion. With lots of clubs watching last night, it's likely he will be gone this summer, and a few others too. But I'm not too worried, look how effortlessly we dealt with the loss of Matic and others before him. The club is steadily moving in a great direction I feel and the good times are coming. Forca sempre!!!
What a game!
1 Thursday, 17 April 2014 00:22
Mdot
While that first yellow was fully BS resulting in the ref having us play with 10 men for most of the game, we still came back to win this game!

While people were rightfully worried about how the team would deal with such a horrible end to last season, JJ has managed the team amazingly. Lost for words, just outstanding to be a Benfica fan!