Benfica 4-3 Lyon: four assists for Carlos Martins
A scoreline that makes the game seem closer than it was – Benfica were 4-0 up and cruising before switching off in the final minutes.
Benfica played a cross between their 4-4-2 diamond shape and a classic 4-4-2, influenced by the late withdrawal of Pablo Aimar through injury, with Salvio coming in. Oscar Cardozo was still out so Alan Kardec started upfront. Javi Garcia played in the holding role, and sometimes dropped into the backline when Benfica had the ball, with Martins moving deeper.
Lyon played their traditional 4-3-3 shape, with Michel Bastos and Jeremy Pied switching sides. Miralem Pjanic played to the right with Yoann Gourcuff playing as a classic playmaker.
The away side actually started the brighter, in particular looking dangerous down the right. Jimmy Briand had two early goals ruled out through offside after crosses from that flank – both were correct decisions, but it was clear where the danger was going to come from.
Lyon had so much space to exploit in that area because Fabio Coentrao was pushing on as Benfica’s main threat, despite playing at left-back. Previously, he has been played ahead of Cesar Peixoto down the left, but here he started from very deep before charging forward and letting Peixoto take care of defensive responsibilities.
Playing at full-back with space ahead of him seems to suit Coentrao, rather than being played high up against an opposition full-back, where he doesn’t have room to get up to full speed. In this respect, is the opposite of Gareth Bale – who looks more comfortable playing as a left-wing.
Peixoto was essentially there just to cover for Coentrao when on the attack – he contributed little going forward himself, but did a good defensive job on Anthony Reveillere when Benfica didn’t have the ball.
So, the pattern of the game was established – Benfica were going to throw men forward and attack relentlessly, Lyon were going to sit back and look to hit the ball directly to the flanks at speed.
In a situation like that, the first goal is crucial because it can completely change the strategy of the two sides. Here, Kardec claimed the opener – a simple header from a good Carlos Martins free-kick that Hugo Lloris couldn’t quite keep out. Now, Lyon were forced to come forward a little more rather than playing exclusively on the counter, whilst Benfica were less likely to leave spaces at the back.
Indeed, the pattern of the game was effectively reversed, with Lyon having more possession, and Benfica only really threatening through two routes – (a) counter-attacks and (b) set-pieces. It was a strange situation considering the opening of the game, and it was also strange that Coentrao, from left-back, was the biggest danger on the pitch. When Benfica broke forward with 4 v 2, he was unmarked on the left, and smashed home a volley from Martins’ clever chip.
It got better before half-time – Javi Garcia made it three after Lloris got himself into an awful state from Martins’ corner.
Neither manager changed anything at the break. Jorge Jesus was happy with his side, whilst Claude Puel had not seen his side outplayed, they had merely defended set-pieces and counter-attacks poorly.
Of course, the more Lyon pushed for a goal, the more they were vulnerable to breaks, and incredibly Martins and Coentrao were the combination that unlocked Lyon once more – Martins’ ball through, Coentrao’s lob over Lloris bringing his second goal, and Martins’ fourth assist. At 4-0, it was surely game over.
Jesus clearly wanted to rest some tired legs with the job apparently done, so removed both strikers and Martins within the space of four minutes. The result? They suddenly became disjointed, had no cohesion upfront and were unable to construct meaningful breaks, nor hold the ball up to relieve the pressure.
Lyon brought on Bafetimbi Gomis to provide a more direct route of attack, which was more useful than the pace of the other Lyon attackers once Benfica became pinned back inside their own penalty area. After Gourcuff sidefooted a consolation into the far corner, Gomis added two goals following set-pieces, but with Lyon’s third coming in the 94th minute, it was too late.
The first goal here was so important – had Lyon scored it, they surely wouldn’t have been opened up by the Benfica counter-attacks that followed. An inability to deal with them, and Martins’ excellent set-piece deliveries, meant Lyon were 4-0 down before they really got Gourcuff involved in the game.
The stars of the show were Martins and Coentrao, two players with very different styles. Martins is hard-working, unfussy and a reliable passer, Coentrao is energetic and pacey. They combined wonderfully for two excellent goals on the counter – it’s not often a left-back is the most dangerous player in an attacking sense, but that’s how good Coentrao can be.
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