Atualizado: Jan 29
Photo credit: MaisFutebol.
As the sun set on Sunday, Benfica travelled North to play Paços, a traditionally difficult away match. The only one change from the eleven that beat Sporting on the 17th was Rafa replacing Chiquinho as the supporting striker. Rafa’s inclusion rewarded his game-winning substitute appearance in that very position against Alvalade, in which he scored a brace in a tough 2-0 away win. Benfica looked to build on that result and reach a provisory 10-point lead over Porto, who only play midweek.
Vlachodimos: 7. Had two great pure reflex saves after corners, one in each half. Even though he’s developed certain aspects of his game, such as his presence outside the box, his reflexes have always been his best feature.
Grimaldo: 6. While not as dangerous as he can be on the offensive end, he’s as strong as ever in build-up: he always picks the right option, whether that is providing a wide option when the opposition pressed inside, moving inward when Paços blocked the wing or beating his marker one-on-one and dribbling past him. Had a great freekick attempt early on.
Ferro: 7. Played a lovely long pass to Rafa, creating the chance that led to the second goal. This match represented somewhat of a return to form, after a disastrous run of games. Tanque, who led the line for Paços, is weak in 1v1 situations and had a night off. Won 4 out of 6 aerial duels, which was important as Paços despaired and pursued route-one football.
Dias: 7. Played the assist for the first goal. His ability on the ball is underrated: you’ll often see him playing long balls like that one, as well as dribbling to and past the halfway line when the opposition doesn’t press high.
André Almeida: 4. Was nowhere to be seen offensively and unremarkable deffensively. A Benfica fullback needs to be an outlet in offensive organization and Almeida doesn't provide enough of that.
Cervi: 5. An anonymous game from the industrious Argentinian. After a bit of a hot streak (2 goals in the past 4 matches), he was scoreless tonight. He was overall toothless in attack, creating nothing and focusing solely on defense.
Weigl: 6. Overall, a discrete game from the German. He kept the midfield ticking with simple passes – something that Florentino had always been capable of doing -, finishing with 91% pass accuracy (according to SofaScore). Displayed sensible defensive positioning, which, again, was Florentino’s strong suit. Had a bit of a blunder around the 60th minute, where he played a complicated pass near his own box that got intercepted; in the aftermath, he grabbed a Paços attacker, a move that could have been called as a penalty – a soft one, but a penalty nonetheless.
Gabriel: 5. A match that mirrored Weigl’s: not great, not flashy, but was reasonably solid defensively and kept things flowing on the ball.
Pizzi: 6. It was a good game offensively for him: he didn’t contribute as much centrally as he usually does, but he had a goal called off for offside and was in a great scoring position (that he ended up wasting) in the lead up to the second goal. Subbed off in the 75th minute for Taarabt.
Rafa: 8. He was one of the star performers of the team at the time of his injury. Tonight, instead of playing in his spot on the left wing, he played up front, behind Vinicius. Occupying a central area provides him with more space to display his exquisite decision making – in the past two seasons, he’s grown immensely in that respect. He also brings more firepower than Chiquinho, who insofar played the supporting striker role. His goal and assist showcased all the qualities he’s shown over the past two seasons: a killer instinct, devastating pace, intelligent movement and quick feet. In addition to that, in a lovely display of special awareness, he starts his run from a huge pocket of space between Paços’ defense and midfield.
Vinicius: 8. Smart as ever in the run for his goal. Benfica’s offensive transition has seldom been better than tonight, and Vinicius plays a key part in that part of the game. He anchors Benfica’s play through his terrific hold up play.
The subs (Taarabt, Seferovic and Jota): / Of the three, Taarabt got the most gametime, and even he was only was only on the pitch for fifteen minutes. Benfica were defending deep in their own half by the time they came on so they failed to make an impact. Seferovic came close, but skied a clear cut chance.
The team looked to press high up the field during the first half hour, and did it well, often forcing Paços into losing possession. In the second half, the team started defending deeper. Part of the reason was reaching a two-goal lead very early on, but it felt very deliberate from Lage. While it is true that Paços failed to create a single goal scoring opportunity from open play, this is always a risky approach: you have less control of the game if you don’t control the ball. Time will tell if Lage’s decision to play defensively in the second half was due to Benfica’s upcoming packed schedule.
Out on the left, Cervi faltered. As Cervi’s purple patch fades away, I’d prefer to see Rafa back on the wing and Chiquinho back in the side, as I believe Chiquinho to be a better player overall than Cervi. However, given Rafa’s performance, and bearing in mind Lage’s defense-first approach to picking his starting eleven, I would wager that this will be the starting eleven against Belenenses on the 31st.