Heading into the match, from their previous encounters in Vila do Conde, all signs pointed to a tough 90 minutes. The expectation and the reality ended up being very different, but in a positive way.
Jorge Jesus’ starting XI essentially will have picked itself, taking into consideration the selections he’d made in the first three matches. The main uncertainty would have been around whether or not Vertonghen would have got the start, but he confirmed in his pre-match press conference on Saturday that the Belgian international was available.
For the hosts, they’ve endured a hectic beginning to their season, taking part in six matches in just over a month. Would Mario Silva’s side be able to cope with Benfica’s high press, and would the hosts be able to take advantage of a pair of central defenders who had not yet featured together?
Benfica started well, pressing high, and you just got the sense that the players were really up for it.
The validation of their bright start came just six minutes in, with Everton’s brilliant touch giving Waldschmidt a wide-open goal to aim at. Despite the mouthwatering assist from the Brazilian international, we cannot forget to mention the recovery in midfield from Gabriel, who had a tremendous performance.
Taking that early lead deflated the hosts a bit, and as the camera constantly panned to their manager, he too looked lost for ideas, and concerned.
Shortly after, Jorge Jesus was forced to make a change in his defense.
Andre Almeida’s 50/50 challenge with Carlos Mané resulted in serious impact to his knee, and for those who were listening attentively to the match, the noise of the impact was clear to determine how serious it was. News on Monday confirmed what we expected, which is a prolonged absence.
Hopefully Gilberto gets a hold of things sooner rather than later. He’ll be facing a trial by fire test, but this could also force Jorge Jesus to consider Diogo Gonçalves as well.
Benfica continued to move the ball, and although they dropped their intensity towards the final 10 or 15 minutes of the first half, they always looked in control. If I’m being honest, Rio Ave never looked a threat to score. As I mentioned in the pre-match analysis, I felt the absence of a true goal scorer like Taremi would hurt them, and this match showed again that they lack that presence in the final third.
As if things weren’t already frustrating for the hosts, Luca snatched a second goal right before the half, after a great individual play from Darwin down the left side.
The Uruguayan may not have scored a goal yet, but he’s now accounted for five assists, of the 13 total goals Benfica have scored this season. His time will come, but fortunately the team is scoring, which in a way alleviates some pressure from him.
While people are already complaining, imagine how much worse it would be if Benfica wasn’t able to find the back of the net?
In the second half, Benfica again looked to control the match, and did so well.
One detail worth nothing is the defensive timing between Otamendi and Vertonghen, when you take into consideration how very little time they’ve had together. There were a few times when Rio Ave were caught offside, and if you watch the play back attentively, the two new signings at the heart of the defense played it extremely well.
As if it’s not possible to have a Portuguese League match without some controversy, a 68th minute penalty turned into a complete debacle.
Rafa backheels a pass to Darwin who from the still image appears to be in line with the Rio Ave defender. After beating the defender, he is clumsily taken out from behind, resulting in a penalty, or at least that was the decision on the field.
To be completely honest, watching the replay, I thought that Darwin kicked the ground, but the VAR had other ideas.
Having spent some time to consult, discuss, think, and maybe even some photoshopping, they decided to call offside on the original pass. I immediately thought that if the first offside on Darwin in the first half was by 5cm, then this one will have been less than that.
Could you imagine my complete surprise when the Sport TV feed shows the lines, and says it was 42cm. But wait, did anyone actually look at the lines?
If you look without the lines, just pay attention to the shades in the grass. Both their feet are basically in line, so if he’s off, it’s by a hair.
But then we get presented with these lines, which after really looking, they aren’t even straight. I won’t even go into the fact that they used the wrong image as well.
The spacing between the edge of the 18-yard box and the lines is not the same at the top of the image as it is at the bottom. Who the heck drew these lines? They would have been better off saying it wasn’t a penalty than trying to present these embarrassing lines.
Fortunately, that play had no impact in the final result, as Gabriel sealed the deal with a goal in the final five minutes.
Looking back on the performance as a whole, hats off to Gabriel who filled the pitch with class. His ability to use his body is impressive, and the ability of that left foot needs no words.
Further back, the defensive unit had a solid showing, even with Gilberto coming in. The Brazilian took a little bit to get into the match, but it must be said that he looked far better as the minutes passed.
And in the front, obviously Luca deserves a mention, but again, although the goal still hasn’t appeared, Darwin’s performance was once again positive. I was even surprised to hear the commentator on the Sport TV feed say that he was in close contention for man of the match.
That’s now four wins in four, and our second cleansheet. Our attention will now turn to a mid-week fixture in Poland against Lech Poznan, before we host B SAD next Monday at the Estádio da Luz.