In one of the more eagerly anticipated Lisbon derbies in recent memory, Sporting and Benfica played to a one-goal draw at the Alvalade Stadium.
Sporting’s progressive evolution, coupled with Benfica’s inconsistent start to the second half of the season, meant that a win for Marco Silva’s team would reignite the chase for the league title, which only a few weeks ago seemed to be safely within Benfica’s reach.
That Sporting win was agonizingly close. Jefferson’s rebound shot gave the home team the lead in the 87th minute, but a muffed clearance by the same player allowed Jardel to tie the game with only seconds to go. The moment was reminiscent of Kelvin’s last gasp winner for FC Porto in May of 2013, which effectively ended Benfica’s title run that season, and famously brought Jorge Jesus to his knees.
Of course, this time it was Jorge Jesus who became the beneficiary of a fatal defensive mistake. And it was the Sporting players and fans that were left clutching their faces in disbelief after an imposing performance.
Tactical Talking Points
Sporting: dominating midfield triangle and insistent wing-play
“Sporting’s obsessive wing-play became predictable and ineffective”
Sporting’s dominance found its roots in the inverted midfield triangle composed of William Carvalho, Adrien Silva, and João Mario.
The physically imposing William put on the sort of display that has had many suitors knocking on the Lisbon club’s door.
Positioned in front of Sporting’s back four, William provided the defensive balance that allowed Adrien and Joao Mario to push further forward. The anchorman’s sharp passing from the back – an area that has often been pinpointed as his biggest weakness – also proved an important factor in Sporting’s ability to control possession.
Ahead of William, Adrien and João Mario dictated much of the offensive rhythm of the game with their movement and positional changes. Still, the midfield superiority that they helped create was hindered by their insistence on spreading the ball to the wings.
Marco Silva has often emphasized stretching the field in order to spread defenses, but Sporting’s obsessive wing-play became predictable and ineffective. Freddy Montero was never going to be a match for Luisão and Jardel in the air, and most of the crosses never even came close to finding their intended targets. In this area, both Nani and André Carrillo were particularly disappointing.
Benfica: incapable of building from the back and playing for a draw
“Unable to develop its offensive processes, Benfica resorted to defending for much of the game”
Coming into the game, Benfica’s biggest concerns were the absences of Julio Cesar and Nico Gaitan. The Brazilian goalkeeper has brought back the authority in the box that left with Jan Oblak to Atletico Madrid, while the Argentine has continued to be Benfica’s offensive catalyst.
Nevertheless, it’s Enzo Perez’ departure that has left a gaping hole in Benfica’s strategy.
While at Benfica, Perez was often the player who was responsible for building play from the back. With the Argentine now at Valencia, Jorge Jesus is desperate to find players replace him, and Andreas Samaris and André Almeida are clearly not the answer.
Samaris was crucial against Sporting. He was often positioned correctly when the team was defending, and his reading of the game spared Benfica some blushes. Offensively, though, the Greek wasn’t able to keep the ball, and often gifted it to the Sporting players.
The same can be said for Almeida. The Portuguese is not a midfielder by trade, but has been used to shore up the defensive side of midfield on numerous occasions. Almeida can be successful in that role, but only when partnered by more technically sound midfielders.
Unable to develop its offensive processes, Benfica resorted to defending for much of the game.
On the few occasions when Benfica did probe forward, the message was to get the ball to the wings where Ola John and Salvio could use their speed to unbalance Sporting’s back four, but also where there would be minimal damage if either of them were to lose the ball.