Benfica 4-1 PSV: overlapping full-backs crucial

April 9, 2011

The starting line-ups

Benfica will take a commanding lead to Holland next week after a confident performance in Lisbon.

Jorge Jesus was able to bring back Oscar Cardozo and Maxi Pereira after they missed the weekend defeat to Porto, whilst Jardel started at centre-back.

Fred Rutten named an unchanged side from the XI that lost to Twente last Saturday (the teams came into this game off the back of similarly devastating results) in 4-2-3-1 system.

The game was open and exciting throughout – five goals were a fair reflection of an attack-minded contest.


The match-up in formations was interesting from the start. Benfica played their usual attacking diamond system, a 4-1-3-2. PSV were in their usual 4-2-3-1 – they tended to defend in two banks of four with Otman Bakkal a little further forward, but this meant they had problems coping in the centre of midfield when Eduardo Salvio and Nicolas Gaitan were in central positions, as Benfica were 3 v 2 in that zone.

The slightly unusual nature of Benfica’s carrileros often causes problems for opponents, as the central midfielders and full-backs have to communicate throughout the match and pass the player on as he becomes higher up the pitch. PSV struggled with this in the opening stages.

Pablo Aimar was playing well and caused problems with his movement into deeper positions, allowing Salvio and Gaitan to move forward into that space, whilst Saviola’s movement was also superb – both in build-up play on the edge of the box, and in the penalty area when the ball was wide.


The one problem with Benfica’s front five was that they tended to play too narrow. Gaitan, on the left, was particularly keen to move into the centre of the pitch, and whilst Salvio stayed a little wider, it was essentially the same issue. However, Benfica did well to get their full-backs forward, stretching the play, increasing the gaps in the PSV side, and forcing PSV’s wingers – neither of whom particularly like defending – into their own third.

The roles of the full-backs differed slightly – Fabio Coentrao on the left had plenty of space to break into, with Gaitan cutting inside, so he tended to storm forward on solo runs, or with off-the-ball runs. On the right, Pereira combined well with Salvio, getting past Balazs Dzsudzsak and creating 2 v 1 situations up against Erik Pieters, who had a poor game.

It was down the left that the two first half goals came – both after Coentrao was involved. First, he moved high up the touchline, pulling Stanislav Manolev out of position – the space was exploited by Salvio, who crossed for Aimar. Then, Coentrao got forward to provide the assist himself, for Salvio. Both goals came after Saviola had linked play in very deep positions.

The third strike, after half time, also came after good work from Saviola a long way from goal. He passed to Salvio, who scored a great individual goal.

Throughout the first half, Benfica had pressed PSV intensely, not allowing them to get the ball forward. PSV like to build moves slowly from the back and the centre-backs take an active role in launching these moves, and they were clearly troubled by the lack of time on the ball at the back.

PSV attacks

The away side’s best chances came when Dzsudzsak got the ball and beat Pereira, before crossing the ball into the middle. Benfica’s centre-back partnership is not particularly established and there was a weakness in that zone. Markus Berg received plenty of balls into feet and had a couple of good chances, but his touch was terrible and his poor form continues.

Three things combined to get PSV back in that game. First, Benfica’s full-backs were more reserved, which meant that Dzsudzsak and Jeremain Lens were allowed to work higher up the pitch, in their natural positions. Second, Benfica were unable to keep up their pressing, and stood off, allowing PSV to play football. Third, Berg was replaced by Zakaria Labyad, who emphasised Berg’s woes by scoring with his first touch. He had gone to the right, with Lens through the middle, and PSV were much more fluid.

That looked like the tie was back on, but Benfica reclaimed their three-goal lead in the 94th minute. Again, it was a full-back getting forward to get the assist – Pereira – and Saviola applied the finish. Those two players were excellent, and deserved their part in the final goal.


Few matches this season will be so obviously all about one thing – full-backs getting forward, stretching play and providing overlapping runs. Sometimes they provided assists themselves, sometimes they allowed Benfica’s attackers more space – but either way PSV didn’t work well enough as a unit defensively to stop them.

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