After the disappointing loss at the Dragão that shortened Benfica’s lead over FC Porto at the top of the league table, the team travelled up north once more, to try and finish up an open cup tie against Famalicão. The first leg of the Cup semifinal yielded a tight 3-2 win at Estádio da Luz, in which Benfica trailed 1-2 at the 73rdminute.
The highlight of the team Lage picked for tonight was Florentino, who came back into the fray three months to the day after his last match as a starter in the league – he had since played two League Cup matches. Dropping Weigl for Florentino means that Lage has identified Benfica’s struggles in defensive transition, but instead of treating it as a collective issue, he looks to solve it by direct player-by-player swaps.
The other new new faces in the eleven were Tomás Tavares, filling in for the (once again) injured André Almeida, and Cervi, who started out left at the expense of Chiquinho – Rafa moved into his supporting striker role.
Vlachodimos: 7. Had two great saves in the first half – in the 34th and 39th minute – that made up for two Ferro mistakes. A word regarding Famalicão’s goal that was called off for offside: he was right in coming off his goal, but executed it poorly, and was caught off by Patrick who scored a lovely first-time lob that was called off.
Tomás Tavares: 6. Overall, Tomás Tavares is a net positive over there is nothing that André Almeida brings to the team that Tomás doesn’t provide, whereas there are strengths to his overall game that André Almeida lacks. Sporadically, he commits mistakes that are natural in a 20-year-old, but he must be nurtured if he's to grow into the defender he has the potential to be.
Rúben Dias: 5. Another average match from the centreback. A defender of his profile – an aggressive one that’s unafraid to jump into a challenge – is less exposed in a disorganized defense than someone of Ferro’s build.
Ferro: 2. His horrendous run of form continues: he was once again responsible for several individual mistakes that led to danger from Famalicão. The northerners exploited his side of the defense for their goal, just like Porto had done time and time again.
Alex Grimaldo: 4. After the disaster show that Benfica’s left side was against Porto, his weak defensive positioning was once again exploited. He’s wholly unprepared for Racic’s long ball that leads to Famalicão’s goal: Diogo Gonçalves’ movement dragged him off his position.
Pizzi: 5. His goal started with him recovering the ball very high up, which caught Famalicão on the wrong foot. Despite that, his defensive workrate was poor as usual.
Adel Taarabt: 6. Playing next to Florentino, his creativity during build up is relied on even more. It’s a shame that Benfica’s weak offensive organization often forces him to either play long balls out wide or try to play a ball over the top of the defense – both of these passes yield a low success probability.
Florentino: 5. Weigl couldn’t put his passing ability in practice and his defensive frailties were getting exposed because the team’s poor defensive transition isolates the central midfielders. Therefore, bringing Florentino back into the team made sense – it should be noted that him being dropped never made sense to begin with. However, the team’s defensive transition remains weak, because it’s a collective issue that a single player is unable to fix by themselves.
Cervi: 5. The Argentinian recovered his starting spot as Lage looked for more defensive solidity. Although he didn’t do much on the offensive end overall, he provided a gorgeous assist for Pizzi’s goal.
Rafa: 3. A weak match from him, who started as a second striker. Because of that, he was subbed off for Chiquinho around the hour mark.
Vinicius: 4. An unusually quiet game from the striker. Given his importance to the team over the course of the season, if someone’s allowed an off night, it’s him.
Even with a two-goal lead, Benfica was unable to control the match, whether with or without the ball. Toni Martinez’s goal was completely deserved and Famalicão had the better of that second half. Famalicão was one goal away from Jamor; Benfica played like they weren’t one goal away from elimination.
Before going ahead, Benfica were pressing high and Famalicão were struggling to play through the press. In one occasion, it led to a goal. After the goal, as Benfica backed off, Famalicão grew and completely dominated the second half.
The weaknesses on show today were the same on show at the Dragão and the same that the team has showcased over the past months. Both transitions – offensive and defensive – are weak and disorganized. In defensive organization, players are often too far apart from each other, which makes it easier for opponents to exploit the middle of the park. Benfica is going through its worst form of the season with no signs of improvement.