The Benfica-Porto rivalry is one that needs little introduction in the footballing world. Two of the country’s powerhouses over the past decade, Benfica and Porto have lately gone neck and neck for the Liga title. The fixture between the two is one to behold, and one that Mike Martyns can give us a glimpse into.
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.
Benfica 1-1 Sporting
The Lisbon Derby between Benfica and Sporting at Estadio da Luz on Sunday ended in a 1-1 draw.
Benfica as well as Sporting came into the match undefeated in the early stages of the Primeira Liga and both teams got a point out of the game to ensure their unbeaten records stayed intact.
Both teams have amassed 51 Liga titles (Benfica 33, Sporting 18) between them, so it is usually a very intense derby with title implications, and this game was no different with the action starting early: Slimani’s header just missed from a dangerous Jefferson corner kick in the 3rd minute that had everyone beat.
In the 5th minute Rui Patricio made a great save tipping a well struck Talisca free kick over the bar, in a subsequent play Patricio comes up big again as Luisao’s hard shot off a corner gets pushed out at the far post.
The first goal in this clash of titans came early as Maxi Pereira linked up with Salvio on a give-and-go that fed Gaitan at the top of the box for a Benfica goal. It is one of the prettier goals so far in the young season as Salvio’s incisive run to the box, and Maxi’s quick follow-up caught the Sporting defence on the back foot, besides Patricio’s agility to get his hand on the Gaitan wonder strike, he had no chance and was beaten to the near post in the 11th minute.
Sporting fought back and with great pressure caused Artur to make an unforced error when Eliseu’s back pass was literally that a mishit off of Carillo’s backside (who charged down the ball) to hit an open Slimani in front of goal. Slimani made sure to penalize the Goalkeeper by heading it in off of the line for the tying goal making the scoreline level at 1-1.
Benfica along with Sporting traded chances to close out the first half with Eliseu hitting a bomb that went over the bar in the 26th minute, as well as Slimani getting a couple of good chances one in the 28th that he hit weakly towards Artur, and in the 42nd when he deflected a ball that Artur made a great save on (the Ref called the play back on an offside).
Second half started quickly with Gaitan chipping Patricio but the effort went over the bar in the 47th minute, then he turned provider when his cross to Salvio at the top of the box who shot just wide of the right post (48’).
Benfica kept the pressure on and had the better chances in the second half, with Talisca’s dangerous shot on goal in the 61st minute ricocheting off of Mauricio wide right (it almost caught Patricio out), which led to a threatening strike from outside the box by Enzo Perez that just evaded the far post (61’).
Salvio was then fed all alone in the heart of the box by a clever pass from Lima on the byline, but he could only muster a direct strike at Patricio who easily pushed it from harm’s way (62’). The action didn’t stop there as a great corner from Talisca found Andre Almeida’s powerful header in the box, forcing Patricio to make a spectacular flying save on the Portuguese International (64’). Lima then again made a dangerous run off of a Gaitan diagonal and found Salvio open at the back post (66’), but Salvio could only hit the side netting from the deadly cross.
Although Benfica had the Lion’s share of chances (excuse the pun) Sporting was never out of this game and a menacing free kick from Jefferson in the 71st minute forced Artur to make an acrobatic save to keep the match tied. Nani then headed easily right at Artur (73’) from a good cross from Capel.
Gaitan got Benfica back in the action in the 79th minute off of an Eliseu corner, when he rose above everyone in the box and just missed the near post with a powerful header.
SportingCP got the final good chance of the game when Nani delivered a dangerous cross to Slimani in the box, which forced an instinctive reflex save out of Artur to keep things level.
In the end both sides dropped points in the title race, but are still undefeated.
Benfica fan favourite Nicolas Gaitan has been in the transfer rumour news all summer with Monaco, Manchester United, and Liverpool all keen on picking up his services. I’ll take a look at why Benfica should transfer him.
This will not be a popular article with Benfiquistas in light of all the transfers Luis Felipe Vieira has made this summer, but with all the player purchases last season, and few sales. Tough decisions have to be made at the club, and the pipeline restocked with good younger talent.
It is imperative for Portuguese Liga teams to sell to maintain their club co-efficient standings and performances in Europe. Benfica currently rank 5th; quite an impressive feat when you look at it.
So stars like Gaitan will come and go that is the nature of the business. The more important part is selecting the players that should stay, pay them more and keep them a few seasons at BIG RED. Gaitan has had his few seasons, most of which have been losing ones with only one Liga win for Benfica, while he has featured in primetime. The more important part is that 3 out of those 4 seasons he has starred Benfica had the better team, and has one Liga crown to show for it.
So I hope you keep an open mind as I play Red Devils Advocate. Here are the main reasons I think Gaitan should be sold now:
- If they don’t transfer him, Enzo Perez will go – Enzo actually plays for his National team and is a workhorse both offensively and defensively on the pitch. He is not an easy replacement whereas Benfica have Ola John & Pizzi to replace Gaitan on the wing.
- He is a selfish player – Gaitan averages a lot of shots a game, with very few on target. He has averaged 3.3 goals a year in the Liga and doesn’t feed his strikers who have a higher goal rate (even when they are open in the 6 yard box). Time is also running out on his valuation, IF Benfica have a rough season we will never get the transfer fee which is currently being offered in excess of the £30m mark. He also looks for highlight reel plays (looking to get a bigger clubs attention) and accomplishes it every 4 games, but it hurts the team game in game out.
- Need to restock the pipeline with younger/better prospects – With the sales of Garay, Cardozo, and Oblak players who aren’t easily replaced and will require many buys to do so. The sale of Gaitan would generate enough money to purchase a new stable of young players that can fight for those important roles.
- He doesn’t know defence – Gaitan is a notoriously bad defender that believes in a one way effort. The same is not true for his countrymen Enzo and Salvio. Eduardo might not be the best defender but he chases relentlessly to the backline in the meantime scoring on average 4.25 goals the last 4 seasons which is higher than Gaitan’s average. With Jesus’ all out attacking team formations you need players to track back on the opposite wing to balance out the attack. The holes Gaitan leaves make us vulnerable at the back.
- Ola John is faster and a better crosser/passer – With his speed Ola John is a terror on the left, has a great shot that does hit the target, and tracks back well as a defender. Ola is only 22 and it is time he was given his full run out. Ola John also knows where his bread gets buttered and links up well with his Fullbacks and Strikers to over-run opposing defences and improves the score line. In 2012/3 when Gaitan was out with injury Ola combined with Luisinho and his strikers for a team average close to 4 goals a game. As soon as Gaitan came back in the line-up that average dropped to 2 goals per game for the team. Same goes for Pizzi who is 24 as with Ola, Pizzi has averaged 5.5 goals on some bad Spanish teams. Just imagine what he could do on a great Benfica team.
So as you can see there are many great reasons to transfer Nico Gaitan, and to cash in now while the valuation is good. Failure to do so will result in Benfica selling him on the cheap next season. So you have to pick your poison.
For Benfica to do well this season they need to keep Enzo Perez (give him a raise and sell him next year), and dispatch Gaitan to the outhouse.
Agree or Disagree?
So what is your opinion?
Would you like to see Gaitan sold?
If not what do you think LFV should do?
Keep the comments coming…
Written by Orlando Mac (@OrlandoMaxxx)