Porto 2-1 Benfica: late Kelvin winner puts Porto on the verge of the title

May 14, 2013

The starting line-ups

A draw would have kept Benfica at the top – but a dramatic goal from substitute Kelvin means Porto go into the final day as favourites for the title.

Vitor Pereira used his expected starting XI, although midfielders Joao Moutinho and Lucho Gonzalez often played the other way around to their normal format.

Jorge Jesus used Andre Almeida instead of Lorenzo Malgarejo at left-back, while Ola John returned with Oscar Cardozo on the bench.

This was a very scrappy game with relatively little technical quality or tactical surprises.

Frantic start

As always in this fixture, the match started at a very high tempo; Porto were quick out of the blocks, pressing in midfield and creating a frantic first few minutes. None of the midfielders had time to put their foot on the ball and dictate play. Gradually, the match settled down and there was the expected pattern – Porto were playing with more energy, while Benfica – who would have been happy with a point – were calming the game.

None of the key creative players found space in dangerous zones, and it was notable that both Nicolas Gaitan and James Rodriguez dropped very deep, away from their direct opponent, to receive possession – although they were unable to create significant chances from those zones.

Porto shape

With Benfica sitting back, Porto dominated possession – 64% over the course of the game. With the ball, they were particularly fluid between midfield and defence – Fernando dropped into the centre of the defence, allowing the full-backs to spread and the full-backs to push higher up the pitch. This is a common feature of Porto’s game, but here it was particularly obvious, with the Benfica wide players pushed into deeper zones. Both Alex Sandro and Danilo saw plenty of the ball.

Danilo was particularly dangerous down the right. As well as Fernando dropping deep to allow him higher up, one of the other midfielders was happy to cover his right-back slot, while the fact James Rodriguez drifted inside to central positions – with Almeida closely following him – meant Danilo had the flank to himself. Almeida often looked more like a third centre-back, and John like a left-wing-back.

Midfield battle

The midfield battle wasn’t particularly interesting. Nemanja Matic sat deep and broke up play, with Enzo Perez ahead to his right. Moutinho and Gonzalez rotated positions, trying to drag Benfica out of shape – but the away side remained admirably solid, and prevented either of Porto’s midfielders playing good forward passes.

The only danger for Benfica was between the lines, when Matic and Perez pressed higher up – there was space for Rodriguez to dart inside into, which was why Almeida felt he needed to stick tight.

Both goals, meanwhile, were extremely scrappy. The half-time 1-1 could easily have been 0-0.

Second half

The game continued in a similar fashion after half time, although the longer Porto dominated possession, the longer you started to wonder where their chances were going to come from. Rodriguez’s influence on the game was minimal, and although Silvestre Varela got the better of Maxi Pereira, his final ball was often poor. The same can be said of the otherwise excellent Danilo on the opposite flank.

Benfica were good at breaking up the game in the second period – it wasn’t an attractive affair, and was constantly interrupted by free-kicks and other stoppages. Porto did have a couple of decent opportunities from set-pieces, however – an area where they have an advantage. They won 58% of aerial duels throughout the contest.

Substitutions

With little sign of creativity from his attackers, Pereira turned to his bench to inject more attacking thrust, although with six substitutions inside the final 22 minutes, the game became even more stop-start, which probably suited Benfica.

Jesus made the first move, withdrawing his central creator, Gaitan, and introducing holding midfielder Roderick Miranda instead. Benfica moved to a more defensive 4-1-4-1 system, inviting Porto pressure but doing a decent job of preventing them creating chances.

Pereira’s response was predictable – he threw on more attacking players. Fernando departed through injury but the forced introduction of Steven Defour wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – he provided renewed energy in the holding role.

The key changes, however, saw the introduction of two extra attackers. Kelvin replaced Lucho Gonzalez and turned Porto into more of a a fluid 4-2-3-1, with Kelvin left, Rodriguez central and Varela out on the right. Then, an even more ambitious move saw the hobbling Danilo taken off, Defour moved to right-back and Liedson on as a second striker. Porto were now something like 4-1-1-4, with Moutinho deep in midfield and Rodriguez behind Kelvin, Liedson, Jackson Martinez and Varela.

It was a simple, crude strategy – chuck on more attackers, but Porto maintained width and balance. Rodriguez missed a better chance than the one Kelvin took, and Benfica will be disappointed they allowed Porto such space around the defence in the final moments, having previously looked extremely solid.

Conclusion

A dramatic finish, but not a terrific game in a tactical or technical sense. Porto’s main area of advantage was down the flanks, but aside from the equaliser (which itself owed much to a fortunate deflection) they didn’t maximise their opportunities when getting space in wide zones.

Aside from that, the game was unremarkable. Porto dominated possession and therefore created more chances by virtue of sheer pressure, but this could have easily finished as a draw.


Porto 2-1 Benfica: late Kelvin winner puts Porto on the verge of the title

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