Tag Archives: Benfica

Lyon are banished and Benfica beckons…

11 Apr

Whilst we continued our poor and worrying form, we got through without any major hassle. We could say that about so many games since late January. We certainly have the telling trademark of a great team, as in, we keep winning when we play below full steam. More on that shortly…

For now, let’s peek at Benfica.

Any of the remaining sides would have been a far sterner test than we have faced so far in the Europa campaign. We have drawn the toughest opponent of the three, but I feel its a blessing in disguise to face Benfica over two legs rather than the final of just one match. We have Udinese away, who are safe, with nothing to play for and in generally poor to okay form. And then Bologna at home before the first tie v Benfica. Whilst Bologna are fighting for survival, they should prove a perfect warm-up; lambs to the slaughter. The second of two games we have to regain our confidence before aiming for glory against the Portuguese.

I hope that by that point we have regained momentum. Whilst Caceres has come good, after a few understandably shaky at times showings, I miss Barzagli. His poise, confidence, muscle, and brilliant reading of the game. The sooner we return to our ideal starting trio at the back the better. Its the foundation of everything we attempt and those three know each other’s games perfectly.

In between the europa ties we face Sassuolo away. Another infinitely winnable game.

Clearly, our own league schedule plays out as well as could be hoped for. No huge games. A chance to rest key players as much as finally score more than 1-2 goals per game. With Andrea back in the mix, I suspect everything else will fit into place. He has been conspicuous through his absence.

Benfica have Garay, who I have liked for many moons. Also there is Cardozo, whom we were interested in last Summer, yet his season hasn’t been amazing, in no small part due to a back injury which placed him on the sidelines for a couple of months. Lima and Rodrigo are solid options in attack, but the danger man is potentially Gaitan.

Its their league form which worries me somewhat. For their lead at the top is solid and they definitely have the winning habit. What is to be taken into the reckoning is the strength of the portuguese league. Other than Sporting and Porto, there is no real competition. Whereas Serie A seems much stronger. The top seven teams, which I would like to add Milan on top of, have some brilliant players. Whilst Italian teams have not been particularly vibrant in europe for a while, the quality is there.

We have scored 17 more goals than Benfica, having played 6 more matches, in a tougher league.

As for their european adventure…

They really should have escaped their champions league group. Despite beating PSG at home (they got mauled 3-0 in the reverse) their efforts were not enough against the weaker opponents in their group (Anderlecht and Olympiakios). So, like us, thrust into the Europa league, they exorcised their greek demons by demolishing PAOK 4-0 on aggregate, achieved an outstanding 1-3 away victory over Spurs, then found little problem in ending AZ Alkmaar’s european adventure with a comprehensive 3-0 aggregate victory.

On paper, we look like the favourites. On form, its a different matter.

My final point is regarding the managerial battle. This is where I fear we could be bettered. I am far from religious but there is something wrong about setting out to destroy Jesus. hohoho!..Joking aside, Jorge Jesus is clearly a talented, passionate manager. Not only has he returned Benfica to the top of the pile domestically, he has also endeared himself to the fans and squad, through such antics as fighting off policeman as they attempt to grab hold of a Benfica fan invading the field. He has also set records for a portuguese club’s defensive shut-out record (918+ minutes without conceding a goal at home). All the more remarkable an achievement given his penchant for attacking football.

He has won the league title with Benfica in the 09/10 season. Three domestic cup titles in the last four seasons. And taken his side to a Europa league final defeat in the 12/13 season. He knows how to reach the final, and is capable in cup competition. He also knows his squad intimately. And has their respect.

There are certain parallels to be drawn between the managers, notably in terms of passion and loyalty to the club. Although at 59, Jesus is vastly more experienced. Though it must be noted, his experience has been gained solely domestically.

My problem with Conte is his lack of malleability. When was the last time we saw first-hand or read of intelligent analysis detailing how Conte isolated an opponents weaknesses and exploited them??? His game plan seems to be tactically narrow, with the formation always the same, our game plan always the same. All that changes are personnel. Which seems blinkered.

How often do we see him change formation mid-game?? Its something he must and will learn with experience. For he must, as once the stakes become sky high, we cannot rely upon athleticism and organization, hoping for a moment of genius from Pirlo. This is what has put us in the Europe league. A lack of ingenuity.

It is instructive to read and hear comments from club and fans regarding the lack of tools at Conte’s disposal vis-a-vis trying a different formation. For he hasn’t tried (other than in friendlies). If we play 3-5-2, every single game, we are predictable. Teams know how to defuse our game.

In short, at the top level, its often tactical ingenuity which wins games. Not solely quality in the players chosen to take to the field. Look at how Martinez deployed Lukaku last weekend. How Mourinho’s substitutes against PSG worked supremely. This is an area where Conte needs to improve. And fast. If we are to have any confidence in winning the tournament.