Benfica 2-0 Sporting: Cardozo double seals win

September 20, 2010

The starting line-ups

Benfica achieve a much-needed victory in a cagey Lisbon Derby.

The home side had endured a shocking start to the season, losing three of their first four games – that’s two more than they lost in the entire 2009/10 campaign. This was a game Jorge Jesus could simply not afford to lose, and so he turned to his tried-and-tested players from last season; only goalkeeper Roberto was not at the club last season. That meant no place for Nicolas Gaitan, and instead Jesus fielded Fabio Coentrao on the left side of a midfield diamond, with Cesar Peixoto at left-back – on the opening day defeat to Academica, they had been the other way around.

Paulo Sergio kept faith with the side that drew 0-0 against Olhanense last week. Liedson was the main striker, supported by Yannick Djalo who cut in from the right. Two Chileans, Marti Fernandez and Jaime Valdes completed the attacking quartet, with the defensive aspect to the side being a fairly standard shape with two holding midfielders, and overlapping full-backs.

The first half was a poor spectacle with far too many free-kicks, meaning the game couldn’t get into any kind of rhythm. The blame for this lies both with petulant players too eager to dive into tackles, and a whistle-happy referee who penalised fair challenges. It was  tight, cagey and bitty – everything you’d expect from a derby, but it didn’t make for an exciting start to the game. In fact, Benfica took the lead before things had really settled down. It was suitably scrappy goal – Oscar Cardozo poked the ball in after a brief scramble from a corner-kick.

Sporting dominate possession but Benfica more dangerous

Eventually a pattern started to emerge. Benfica sat back slightly at 1-0 up and were happy to play on the counter-attack, whilst Sporting dominated possession. Djalo was playing an interesting role, coming in from a wide position and supporting Liedson upfront. When moves developed, this often meant they ended up looking like a standard striking duo.

This created a lack of width on the right-hand side, however, and so (as in this fixture last season) Joao Pereira had a responsibility to get forward. But whereas last season he started from a right-sided midfield position, today he was back in (his more natural role) at full-back, meaning Sporting were very narrow at the top of the pitch. And with Benfica effectively playing two left-backs in tandem down that side, Pereira’s forward runs rarely helped create chances.

Narrowness

With Benfica playing a diamond, we had a very narrow match. The man who was stationed out wide most permanently was Valdes, but he generally cut inside and attempted to play the ball back into the centre of the pitch. Runs from the left-back, Evaldo, were tracked well by Carlos Martins, although Martins sometimes switched with Pablo Aimar to give Benfica more steel in the centre of midfield. This move wasn’t particularly wise defensively, however – since the Sporting full-backs were more of a threat than the two holding midfielders, Martins’ industry was better used on the flank.

Benfica started to threaten on the break, with Aimar, Cardozo and Javier Saviola running at Sporting’s two centre-backs and a holding midfielder 3 v3. Sporting generally defended these attacks well, backing off and making Benfica delay the pass – but again, a lack of width was evident. None of the Benfica attacking trio looked to make a run to (or from) the flanks, and the pass became predictable and easy to defend against.

Second half

The game was slightly more open in the second half, but an early second goal from Cardozo killed the game off. This one was route one stuff – Roberto’s long ball found the Paraguayan, who exchanged passes with Saviola before lobbing the ball past Rui Patricio, who should have done better.

Sporting made a change and looked more threatening – Helder Postiga was introduced and provided more of a focal point for their attacks, as well as a simple desire to get shots in on goal. He was the kind of player they needed from the start – this game was very, very scrappy, and none of the creative players on show – Valdes, Fernandez, Saviola or Aimar – had any impact whatsoever. In fact, Aimar had been withdrawn at half-time as Ruben Amorim, a much more functional player, was Jorge Jesus’ choice for the second half. Benfica were attempting to shut up shop very early, having had a particular problem with late goals so far this season.

Late chances

Sporting started playing longer passes – both towards Postiga as well as across the pitch, as if Sergio had made a point at half-time about how Benfica’s diamond shifts across the pitch, and therefore could be moved out of position by crossfield balls. More often than not, these moves came to nothing.

Benfica produced the best move of the second half when the two carrileros combined – Amorim squared for Coentrao at the far post, bringing a good save out of Patricio. Liedson could have got Sporting back in the game but dragged a shot wide in the only chance they created all game, whilst Cardozo twice game close to grabbing a hattrick. Benfica closed the game out successfully.

Conclusion

This was a match between two sides plainly lacking confidence – Benfica after their atrocious start to the season, Sporting because the XI doesn’t yet look comfortable together. Indeed, only three outfield players remained from the opening Lisbon Derby of last season, and having spent the past three seasons playing everything through Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutinho, Sporting looked slightly lost.

The creativity must come from Valdes and Fernandez, but both struggled to get into the game, as did Djalo. Using Postiga as a more obvious physical threat seems a decent bet.

It wasn’t a pretty Benfica win, but in their state they simply needed the three points. Whether this win offers any longer-term clues about how to recreate last season’s success is doubtful – this looked like a ‘big game’ strategy from Jesus, with a defensively-solid left side, and the early removal of Aimar for Amorim. Piexoto and Pereira both offered less going forward than throughout last season, but attacking forays from those two will probably come with confidence.

Benfica 2-0 Sporting: Cardozo double seals win

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