Benfica 2-0 Sporting: the side who actually tried to score eventually did

April 15, 2010

For a contest that is often amongst the most exciting derbies in Europe, Sporting and Benfica have produced two really dull games this season. Benfica won this one because they offered some form of attacking threat. Sporting didn’t.

Benfica still miss Saviola and haven’t quite figured out what to do when he’s injured – this time it was the turn of Eder Luis, a wide forward who occupied the right-hand channel. Ramires and Angel di Maria switched wings throughout, and Carlos Martins’ good recent run of form saw him start ahead of Pablo Aimar.

Sporting lined up in a shape somewhere between a 4-3-2-1 and a 4-2-3-1. Pedro Mendes was the holding player, with Miguel Veloso ahead of him to the left. Joao Moutinho played ahead, and Djalo in a standard left-wing position, but the confusion stemmed from the position of Joao Pereira, a right-back by trade, playing in a deep, right midfield role.

The first half was a fairly boring affair – Sporting showing the same complete lack of attacking intent they demonstrated in the reverse fixture early in the season, whilst Benfica attacked but missed the creativity of Saviola and Aimar in central positions. Most of the home side’s attacks came from the flanks, with both Coentrao and Amorim getting forward well, and the main tactic was to get crosses into the box for Oscar Cardozo to challenge for.

Sporting occasionally offered a threat on the counter, generally down the left-hand side where Djalo was stationed, and where Liedson tends to drift to. The focus on this side, combined with Coentrao’s attacking nature, meant that Joao Pereira was often in space, but never looked comfortable running with the ball.

The second half was more open, partly because Aimar was brought on to replace Eder Luis, and immediately provided Pedro Mendes with more of a problem, as he looked to float around and create triangles with the wide players and Martins. The half-time monsoon over Lisbon may also have helped the game – passes were quicker, defenders were less confident on the ball, tackles were more rash, and the game was more open and exciting.

Benfica took the lead midway through the second half, and they fully deserved to do so. The value of getting both your full-backs forward was shown brilliantly – Amorim got to the byline, his cross evaded everyone in the centre but was picked up by Coentrao at the far post, and his driven cross was turned in by Cardozo. Coentrao was constantly in space throughout the game and often looked the player most likely to break the deadlock, with the closest player to him, Pereira, having a poor game. Moments before the goal, Coentrao had broken into a terrific position on the left side of the penalty area, only to dive looking for a penalty when he could have crossed.

After the first goal, Benfica settled down and played their best football, whilst Sporting never upped their game in search of an equaliser – Carlos Saleiro, a forward, replaced Abel, but it’s difficult to go from playing such a defensive game to suddenly drive forward in search of a goal. The resulting switch merely opened the game up and favoured a rampant Benfica, who scored a second through Aimar.

Carlos Carvalhal’s tactics failed – he clearly wanted to pack the midfield and make it difficult for Benfica’s full-backs, but failed on both counts. The first problem was solved by Jorge Jesus with Pablo Aimar’s introduction, and the second was pretty much ignored as both full-backs pushed forward in the second half in a real gung-ho approach from Benfica. Coentrao had few defensive worries so could get forward, whilst Amorim could get forward safe in the knowledge he was merely leaving 2 v 2 (Luisao and Luiz v Liedson and Djalo) at the back.

Benfica march on towards the title – they’ve still only lost one game all season, away at their nearest challengers, Braga, and after opening day draw, they have a 100% home record.

Sporting were negative and lethargic throughout and the difference between these two great rivals this season has been monumental – after 26 games, there is 26 points difference between the two. Carvalhal is leaving in the summer, and Sporting’s new manager will face a huge task to revolutionise this failing side.

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