Tonight brought us the first leg of the Portuguese Cup semifinals against high flying Famalicão. Bearing in mind that our next match is against Porto, there was much less tweaking in the starting eleven than could have been expected. Jardel replaced Ferro, but had an unfortunate match. Gabriel played in lieu of Weigl, Chiquinho regained his place behind the striker and Vincius being rested meant Seferovic got a start.
Vlachodimos: 6. After a very quiet first half, he conceded twice in the second period, with no fault of his own. Still pulled off a brilliant reflex save around the 70th minute, after a shot from a central position inside Benfica's box rebounded off Rúben Dias; with a fraction of a second, he sidestepped and tipped it over the bar for a corner.
André Almeida: 5. Competent match from the captain tonight. Had a few good offensive contributions including a good ball into the area that led to Vinicius’ attempt on goal that led to Rafa’s goal.
Rúben Dias: 5. An average match. He could have defended Pedro Gonçalves’ goal better. His under rated passing was once again on display for the second goal: his pass to André Almeida broke through Famalicão’s lines.
Jardel: 4. Is far from his best. His age combined with his lack of competitive rhythm meant he struggled for 45 minutes and came off injured at the half. If Jardel can’t contribute to the team, it means that the only options besides the two starters are in the B team.
Grimaldo: 5. The Spaniard isn’t in his best form, but no one can claim to be in good form at the moment besides Taarabt. Once again, the biggest take away from his game tonight was how resourceful he is in build-up: he has a near-perfect understanding of where he needs to be.
Pizzi: 5. Another off day for the transmontano, who was unassuming offensively, failing to create chances. As usual, he also failed to contribute defensively, which becomes a bigger issue in open games like the one we saw tonight. Scored the first goal from the spot.
Gabriel: 3. He scored the late winner with a difficult header at the death. The goal can’t erase what was a poor match overall from the ex-Leganés man, who didn’t even celebrate the goal. He hit a lot of “spray and pray” Hollywood passes that didn’t come off. On multiple occasions, with the ball at his feet and space to drive forward, he preferred to play 30 metre passes toward the wide midfielders with a low success rate. He’s at fault for both goals: got beaten by Famalicão’s Pedro Gonçalves for the first goal and failed to press him before he played the assist for the second. To add insult to injury, Ivo Pinto ran the ball between his legs around the 80th minute.
Adel Taarabt: 7. By far Benfica’s best performer for the second match in a row. Tonight, he was flawless defensively, finishing the game with thirteen recoveries. At this point in time, he should be the first name on the team sheet, regardless of the opponent. He’s turned into a top class, complete two-way midfielder and improves the whole team around him.
Cervi: 4. Came off at the hour mark: Lage decided to sub him off for the more offensive-minded Rafa when Benfica were chasing the result. He was as usual toothless in attack. His defensive workrate was missed as Famalicão attacked and Rafa lazily tracked back; however, in a big team like Benfica, the focus should lie on offense, and Rafa provided a crucial contribution to the victory.
Chiquinho: 4. He also had an off night. Missed a clear-cut chance around the 10th minute and that was the most dangerous he was all match: there were several interesting plays that came to nothing because he played a poor pass that ended up at the feet of a Famalicão man.
Seferovic: 4. Showed his usual flaws: his press is ineffective, his first touch and dribbling is poor, his passing is weak. His biggest contribution was crossing the ball that hit a Famalicão defender’s arm inside the box and led to Pizzi’s penalty goal.
Ferro: 3. Came on at half time to replace the injured Jardel. He shares the blame for both goals: by going to ground but failing to get the ball during the first and by moving away from his position for the second, opening up the space exploited by Pedro Gonçalves’ pass. I’d argue his drop in form could be related to the fact that there’s no competition for his place, given the current state of Jardel.
Vinicius: 6. He didn’t exert his usual influence in Benfica’s offensive maneuver but he still had a few good passes. He’s great at creating chances for himself: a lesser striker couldn’t have found the space to get a shot off in the play that led to Rafa’s goal.
Rafa: 5. Had a peach of a finish for Benfica’s second: with little time to think, he managed to put it high so that Vaná, already on the ground, couldn’t reach it. He was lazy tracking back, and in an end to end match such as this one more is required of him defensively.
Benfica’s disorganized press was beaten time and time again by Famalicão’s backline. This wasn’t a first: the team’s press is disjointed and leads to acres of space between our lines. When we come up against better sides, which is the case with his Famalicão team, the frailty of the press is further exposed.
Once again, and following the trend highlighted by the matches against Paços and Belenenses, Benfica failed to exert any type of control over the match. The team isn’t comfortable or creative enough in possession, relying on the individual brilliance of Taarabt, Vinicius and sometimes Pizzi. The run of matches that preceded this Saturday’s difficult trip to the Dragão could have helped the team gain momentum; however, the team’s shaky performances cast doubts over our ability to perform at the Dragão.
This post was written by Bernardo Vales Soares.