The Super Cup is lost, as is the League Cup. The championship is little more than a chimera and in the Champions League Benfica hasn’t even dreamed of it. This Thursday, Jorge Jesus’ team took another small step to add to the already long list of mistakes this season.
It says “in Rome, be Roman”, but in Rome, Benfica was just average. The Portuguese team played in the first leg of the eighth finals of the Europa League against Arsenal (1-1). The result of the Olímpico de Roma, which was loaned to Benfica due to flight restrictions, requires the “red” team to score at least one goal in Athens in the second leg of this match.
Far from it, nothing is lost, but at least it is misguided. To blame for a game in which Benfica had an unprecedented and still somewhat lost defense – couldn’t stop Arsenal from penetrating in a number of ways – and in which they again demonstrated their already chronic inability to hold the marker – a limitation which has already been addressed in PUBLIC.
Benfica with three central
Benfica originated in Rome with a system of three centers, but not the expected 3x4x3. Jorge Jesus set up a 3x5x2 with Darwin and Waldschmidt in the lead (which was so well understood this season) and a midfield triangle with Weigl behind Pizzi and Taarabt.
This system gave Benfica a better balance and occupancy of spaces (this is where three exchange systems are most useful), but arrivals were few in the area.
Not necessarily because of the system itself, but rather because of the attitude of the interpreters: Grimaldo and Diogo Gonçalves weren’t very “brave” in the corridors, while Waldschmidt, who was separated from the game, rarely managed to connect with Pizzi and Taarabt. And Benfica’s game was invariably devoid of verticality and offensive presence due to this lack of connection between attackers, wingers and midfielders.
Benfica seemed afraid to see this game as a home tie and Arsenal seemed in no hurry to break a tie that they will still play at home (even if they were loaned by Olympiacos). And so several minutes passed with “no goal”.
Arsenal had the global dominance of the game and even without choking they made some dangerous moves out of the 20 ‘, almost always on the right side of Benfica.
At that time, Bellerín was launched in depth, overtook Grimaldo (who was “asleep”) and served Aubameyang, who missed an almost certain target. Jesu 3x5x2 may even protect Grimaldo and Diogo Gonçalves, but he doesn’t work miracles: the Spaniard who defends three or four continues to struggle to defend the space between him and the central defender.
At 39 ‘, a movement identical to the previous one, again overtaken with Grimaldo, Saka left room to cross. Many thanks to Vertonghen and Helton.
A few seconds later, Benfica’s right side was back in the spotlight. Odegaard, Bellerín and Ceballos made a “Meinho” with the players “Incarnados”, but the Norwegian failed in front of Helton. There was offside, but the problem was there.
After a shy shot by Darwin (born from the only connection between midfielders and strikers), Benfica spent 45 minutes without disturbing Arsenal – playing at home.
Only seconds before the break, the “Reds” caused a danger, in which Grimaldo exploited an Arsenal flaw in the construction to win the ball back and cross with danger (Darwin and Waldschmidt were in the target position).
To give Rafa what Waldschmidt did not give
At halftime, Jorge Jesus saw Rafa as the player who was able to work between the lines in a way that Waldschmidt did not. And there was a move created by the “Reds” for that area with a weak shot from Pizzi at 48 ‘.
Shortly thereafter, a new combination by Arsenal on the right with short passes and triangulations ended with a shot from Saka to the side in good position.
At 53 ‘, Rafa’s presence was felt again. A short corner gave a combination between Pizzi, Rafa and Diogo Gonçalves and the crossing of the side gave Smith-Rowe. Penalty for goal by Benfica and Pizzi.
Rafa and Diogo Gonçalves gave a lot to the game and Benfica obviously benefited from it in their offensive plan. Still defensive. Benfica remained very attached to individual credentials and Arsenal’s “laced” football continued to allow them to overtake “red” defenders.
In the 57th minute, when Diogo Gonçalves was defending much from inside, Cédric was able to cross with space and Saka ended up in the middle of the field without difficulty. The defensive issues haven’t changed over the course of the game and another aspect that hasn’t changed was Benfica’s chronic inability to stick to the scoreboard.
After 61 minutes, after Rafa had reached an agreement with colleagues so far, he decided to solve the problems himself. He pierced Arsenal’s defense with the ball taped to his foot and shot from outside the area to defend Leno.
Arsenal were again able to drive the ball down in the lost “red” defense and left Aubameyang in front of goal after 63 minutes. The Gabonese failed again.
With a result that interested him, Arsenal began to control play with the ball, lengthening the attacks and risking less in the pass. Benfica, less capable than after the break, lost gas over the minutes. The exception was a shot by Everton in the 73 ‘, which was ahead.
Soon after, Aubameyang was launched at depth, but it took some time to complete in isolation. It was long enough for Lucas Veríssimo Benfica’s “firefighter” to fix the problem – and it would be a serious problem to score another goal in Rome.
After these two raids, one on each side, the game returned to a calm tone, with Arsenal controlling the game in possession of the ball. Benfica saw a clear physical lull between the risk of looking for a triumph and the need to do so because they conceded a goal at home. He decided on the first route and the game went smoothly to the end.