Benfica and Sporting came into the Lisbon Derby on Sunday with something to prove and it was a must win for both sides to quiet the skeptic supporters at both ends of the pitch. The conclusion in the first round of the Lisbon Derby was an entertaining 1-1 draw. Unfortunately for both teams this log jam on the field has dropped them behind pre-season favourites FC Porto in the race for the Liga crown.
Sporting CP is already 4 points adrift of Porto in the standings only 3 matches in (W 1, L 0, D 2), so soon after their feisty play last year in the Liga saw them rewarded with a second place finish in the standings. Although it is way too early to panic as a Sporting fan, the Lions are still working through the mess that Godinho Lopes caused at the club a couple of years ago, and this off-season the club was meant to strengthen their core without too many player losses. With their core players still intact (losing Rojo, Dier, & Elias in the off-season), Sporting arrived at da Luz with Nani, a new Manager and expectations of grandeur.
Across the field Jorge Jesus has had a very difficult off-season after winning the Primeira League title last term, his roster has been decimated by player transfers losing Garay, Oblak, Cardozo, Markovic, Rodrigo, Gomes, Siqueira, and Cavaleiro (in order of importance) to other clubs looking to replicate Benfica’s success the last few seasons (#5 in Euro Club Standings). Jesus has been very vocal about his displeasure saying that although his name is Jesus he doesn’t create miracles, in response to the exodus of players. He has also been uncharacteristically vocal in his criticism of Luis Felipe Vieira’s player acquisitions, saying he doesn’t have enough talent to work with on numerous occasions to the content of the rabid jornalists in Portugal. The irony is that he has had his best start to the Liga whilst at Benfica this season (SLB came into the game with W 2 L 0).
This was the backdrop to this battle of the behemoths at the Stadium of Light, both Managers being scrutinized under the microscope of their passionate followers and journalistic scribes on a warm Sunday evening in front of 61,895 spectators.
Defense: Esgaio, Maurico, Sarr, Jefferson
Midfield: Carvalho, Martins, Silva
Forwards: Carrillo, Nani, Slimani
From Marco Silva’s perspective, it was a very standard 4-3-3 Sporting formation with strength and talent in the midfield, danger on the wings and a formidable striker to cash in some lively goals. The line-up was as expected with the main question marks at the back.
Defense: Eliseu, Jardel, Luisao, Maxi
Midfield: Almeida, Enzo
Forwards: Salvio, Gaitan, Talisca, Lima
Jesus’ line-up had some futebol pundits questioning if revisions were in order, as was rightfully discussed on the Benfica Podcast with Alfredo & Co. and in a subsequent article by Neil Fernandes that previewed this Derby match. There were questions about Talisca’s role, Lima’s play, and whether Gaitan should be used as an Attacking Mid to allow Ola John to patrol the left wing and add more bite to the attack.
As expected, Jesus rolled out his usual line-up with no surprises, Talisca was used as an Attacking Mid/Sub Striker, and Ola John never even made an appearance (Mental Note: Check to see if Ola has any relatives with Portuguese passports or is related to Nolito or Capedevila).
The expectations were for both teams to play a spirited game and they did. The match had intensity going back and forth in possession at the same time remaining relatively clean, as there were 6 yellow cards handed out on the night by Pedro Proenca.
Some of the questions going into the game were:
Who would be behind the Benfica bench?
JJ was thrown out of last week’s game with Boavista for getting into an argument with the referee at half time, in the end he only received a minor fine, and warning by the LPFP, so was able to manage on the night.
Would the real Nani show up?
Nani’s confidence has eroded the last couple of years, and coming back to Sporting was a major coup for Bruno de Carvalho, especially when he has Manchester United footing the majority of Nani’s wages, but the question is how quickly he can assimilate himself into the squad? With new team mates around and very little training time, many wondered aloud if he would have an impact in the derby match. On the night he had a decent game turning provider on a few dangerous plays, but lacked the shooting boots at times when he was presented with gifts in and around the box. So the jury is still out on Nani, but for Sporting’s sake and that of the Portuguese National Team we hope he gets back in gear sooner rather than later.
Could Benfica’s weakened midfield handle the hot mid core of Sporting?
Many including myself wondered with Fejsa & Amorim’s injuries whether rarely used Almeida would be able to help Enzo Perez cope with the triple threat in Sporting’s midfield core. Almeida is fairly feisty and it wasn’t a major concern of mine as I think he is better suited to that position, although in fairness lacks the big league experience in that role. The midfield battle was spirited all night and made for a great game with possession almost split down the middle, Sporting with 51% and SLB with 49%, so I think both SLB players fared well in the face of the opposition.
How would Sporting’s decimated back line hold-up against Benfica’s fierce attack?
Losing Dier and Rojo clearly makes the defence the weakest link in the Sporting chain, and they were carved up throughout the game. Benfica out-chanced Sporting 17 shots to 11, and for the most part were of the dangerous variety. On many occasions Lima blew past Esgaio to make some lethal passes across the face of goal and there were too many scoring opportunities inside the heart of the box. Fortunately for the back four Patricio was on fire and the Portuguese International Keeper made some world class saves, furthermore Benfica clearly will rue all the missed chances in the face of goal.
Who could replace the scoring of Lion killer Oscar Cardozo?
Oscar had 13 goals against Sporting in his time at Benfica and almost singlehandedly won derby matches for the Eagles at times. Unfortunately no one in the end did fill his shoes. Gaitan had a wonder goal but missed badly on at least two other occasions to wrestle control over the game. Lima is unfortunately better suited to playing in a sub striker role and was rarely in position to score inside the box. Salvio needed to tighten the laces on his dancing shoes as he missed some glorious chances (excuse the pun) in the goal mouth.
How would Slimani play after being suspended by SCP for trying to force a transfer?
Slimani excelled on the night, and was as good as in the recent World Cup with Algeria where he turned heads. He is a livewire at the front and gets himself into threatening positions. His pressure of Artur helped to create the error that led to his tying goal in the first half. Although some fans took exception on twitter to him kissing the emblem after he scored, because of his attempted hijack of the transfer process. BdC did well to hold onto his investment and Slimani will be an important cog in the Sporting attack this season.
Would Jesus start one of his crazy BIG Match Line-ups that have people scratching their heads?
For a big game match this was about as sensible as JJ gets, although a few fans did scratch their heads at how Derley was the only sub used, and with good reason. Talisca had received medical treatment twice during the game, and the shift of Gaitan to the 10 role and addition of a speed demon like Ola on the left to frustrate Esgaio, who was already on a yellow, might have been what the doctor ordered. Also Bebe could’ve been brought on to provide some goal scoring punch from the Sub Striker role considering he scored 11 goals last season with Pacos but it was all for not.
The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
JJ’s one sub
Ola not playing
Both teams dropped points on Porto in the race for the title
Minuscule fine JJ has to pay
I left Artur’s frango for last as it is definitely the big talking point of the match, and he was sarcastically voted Man of the Match on Abola.
I feel for the guy he is a good goalkeeper and makes some wonderful saves, as he did for the majority of the match, but like Jorge Jesus sometimes in Big Games he makes some colossal screw-ups that end up costing Benfica the win. Like Nani his confidence isn’t at its highest, but I am not sure Julio Cesar will do better (as was witnessed in the World Cup). Although this frango will surely have Artur rooted to the bench for the next match. Let’s see what Julio can do, it is his job for the taking at this point.
All in all this Derby was a great match between two title contenders that are still working through their kinks, and the one that can find consistency first will challenge Porto for the title this season. It has many fans including myself looking forward to the mouth-watering Liga games to come, add to that Rio Ave is crushing teams, Braga has improved, as well as Guimaraes turning in good performances and this looks to be one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory.
Stay tuned for more.