Benfica 2-0 Porto: good midfield pressure and quick attacking from the home side

January 17, 2014

The starting line-ups

Benfica went top of the league with a controlled, confident victory at the Estadio da Luz.

Jorge Jesus played his usual outfield players, although in goal Artur Moraes was unavailable so back-up Jan Oblak played instead. This was Nemanja Matic’s final game before his return to Chelsea.

Paolo Fonseca played Carlos Eduardo at the head of his midfield trio, with Lucho Gonzalez deeper, and Josue and Steven Defour on the bench. Nicolas Otamendi was at centre-back, rather than Maicon.

Benfica were clearly the better side throughout this contest, more organised without the ball and more purposeful in possession.


This clash has usually been a battle between two separate systems – Benfica using a 4-2-3-1 or a diamond, with Porto in their trusty 4-3-3. However, Fonseca has changed the structure of the Porto side this season, changing them to more of a standard 4-2-3-1, a gamble that wouldn’t be out of place at Maria Casino. Therefore, the simple formations were extremely similar, and the tactical battle not as interesting as usual in this fixture.

There were slight differences in how the two sides operated, though – Benfica’s central attacker was Rodrigo, who tried to sprint forward and link up with Lima on the break, whereas Porto had Carlos Eduardo, more of a classic number ten who drifted between the lines, generally to the right.

Porto attacks

Porto struggled to produce many dangerous attacks, and a constant feeling throughout the game was that their four attacking players all seemed to be playing as individuals – there were very few combinations between them in the final third. This was partly the fault of Eduardo, who was effectively marked out of the game by Matic – he failed to provide much inspiration from central positions.

His only dangerous moments came when he drifted towards the right to link up with the winger on that side – Lica and Silvestre Varela switched flanks regularly – but otherwise, Porto didn’t have the incision to break down the hosts. Jackson Martinez was quiet, playing against a high line and centre-backs that marked him relentlessly when he came towards the ball – there was no-one playing through-balls, the Colombian’s hold-up and link-up play struggled to allow teammates up the pitch. Eduardo never looked to break beyond him, in stark contrast to the role played by Rodrigo at the other end.

Benfica pressure

The most impressive thing about Benfica was their organisation without the ball. Although they pressed high up in the opening stages, their regular approach was to use an extremely compact ‘medium block’ without the ball – which is to say they kept a high-ish line, but invited the opposition defence to play the ball into midfield, where they then pounced and broke quickly.

This required great discipline from the whole side. Rodrigo pressed the centre-backs when needed but also dropped back into midfield to help Enzo Perez pressure the two Porto holding midfielders. Matic stayed deep, in front of the defence.

Out wide, the two Benfica wingers aren’t naturals at defending but performed their jobs well, especially against the Porto full-backs. Nicolas Gaitan covered for Guillherme Siquiera a couple of times when the left-back was brought out of defence, while Lazar Markovic did a good job on Alex Sandro. Because Benfica were so disciplined in that zone, Porto struggled to work the ball forward.

Poor Porto distribution from deep

A key feature of the game was Porto’s poor distribution from the defence – which often allowed Benfica to win the ball quickly in midfield, and break forward at speed. Goalkeeper Helton was guilty of some nervous moments (which isn’t entirely unusual) but the main offender was Otamendi, the right-sided centre-back.

On at least three occasions in the first half, he hit a forward pass straight to a Benfica midfielder, and with the Porto full-backs advancing down the touchlines, this left he and Eliaquim Mangala immediately vulnerable to Benfica attacks. In fact, this was crucial in the opening goal: Rodrigo pressed Otamendi, he passed straight to Matic, and the next player to collect possession was Markovic, who ran directly infield and slipped the ball through the defence for Rodrigo to score from an inside-left position.

Rodrigo had helped regain possession because of his pressing, then provided the finish.

The goal was also notable because Markovic was able to cut inside between the lines easily, and found too much space in front of the Porto defence. Ordinarily, Fernando would have been positioned here to prevent space in that zone, and it seems Porto still haven’t become accustomed to playing with a double pivot, rather than a solid holder. Markovic continued to threaten with his runs, both infield and down the touchline.


Porto dominated possession, because Benfica were content to sit relatively deep before breaking. Much of Porto’s possession was in deep positions, and their only real chance of getting the ball forward was down the flanks. Their most dangerous player was Lica, forever on the move, and he provided a dangerous low ball to Martinez towards the end of the first half.

Still, Benfica’s gameplan was working excellently, and as the game drew on they became better at attacking quickly having had possession in defence, rather than simply by winning the ball in midfield. Lima’s movement was as excellent as usual, particularly when it was Otamendi he was dragging around – one piece of movement created a 4 v 3 opportunity that Markovic didn’t make the most of, although this pressure resulted in the second goal, an Ezequiel Garay header from a corner.

That was basically the game done and dusted before the hour mark. Fonseca made two straight swaps: Ricardo Quaresma surprisingly replaced Lica, and Josue was a straight swap for Lucho Gonzalez. But Porto had no real solution to the midfield pressure of Benfica, and it was a clear, deserving and understated Benfica victory.


There were two real features of Benfica’s play. First: good organisation without the ball, by staying compact and winning the ball quickly when it was played into midfield. Rodrigo’s pressing of Otamendi was particularly crucial – the Argentine centre-back was the game’s weakest player. Second: quick attacking. This front two gave Benfica a very quick attacking pair compared to when Oscar Cardozo leads the attack, while the wingers sprinted forward to provide an option on the flanks – particularly Markovic, whose assist for the opener was excellent.

Nothing went right for Porto here, and it’s possible to blame almost every part of the side. The distribution from the back was wretched, the midfielders weren’t good enough at easing past the pressure, and were caught out of position for the opener, while Eduardo didn’t connect the side well enough and Martinez’s link-up play was poor. Only Lica emerges with any credit.

It’s also worth considering the home support at the Estadio da Luz, on a day the supporters had come to pay tribute to the legendary Eusebio.

The next meeting between these two? The final day of the season…

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,