Champions League matchday two roundup

Benfica’s awful recent record in the Champions League (12 defeats in their last 15 UCL matches) continued as a poor performance resulted in a 3-1 defeat in Russia at Zenit St. Petersburg.

There was better news for Portuguese participants elsewhere as João Félix, Cristiano Ronaldo and Rúben Semedo all scored, and Luís Castro led his Shakhtar Donetsk side to a crucial victory in Italy against Atalanta. PortuGOAL rounds up all the action from the Portuguese perspective from matchday two. 

 

Zenit 3-1 Benfica

Benfica coach Bruno Lage had been heavily criticised for selecting an experimental side in the Champions League opener against Leipzig, and this time the coach went with a more recognisable line-up for the trip to Zenit St. Petersburg. Tomás Tavares continued to deputise for the injured André Almeida at right-back and centre-back Jardel was preferred to Ferro to counter the aerial threat posed by giant forward Artem Dzyuba.

However it was Dzyuba’s Iranian strike partner Sardar Azmoun who caused Benfica all manner of problems throughout the 90 minutes in another hugely disappointing display by the Portuguese champions in Europe’s foremost club competition.

Azmoun almost scored in the early exchanges, Vlachodimos doing well to deny the lively forward. Benfica responded with a Seferovic header from a corner that went just the wrong side of the post, but that was as good as it got for the visitors.

Calamitous defending

While Benfica enjoyed plenty of possession, they were completely lacking in penetration. In contrast Zenit were increasingly dangerous every time they neared the Benfica box, and were given a helping hand by shockingly poor Benfica defending.

Dzyuba opened the scoring midway through the first half. Fejsa was caught in possession as the Portuguese side attempted to play out from the back, leaving the striker with just Vlachodimos to beat and he made no mistake.

Zenit began to completely dominate the match and further suspect defending resulted in two more goals for the hosts in the second half. A swift break by the Russians resulted in Rúben Dias turning the ball into his own net before Azmoun got the goal his performance deserved as Benfica’s back line incomprehensibly stood still and watched on as Zenit sliced through their defence with a simple move.

Raúl de Tomás up and running

The introduction of substitutes Caio Lucas, Carlos Vinícius and Raúl de Tomás led to an improvement in Benfica’s attacking play, with the Eagles at last asking questions of the home defenders and Spaniard RDT breaking his duck with a terrific strike from 25 yards out.

But it was too little too late and a big turnaround is now required – starting with the double header against French outfit Lyon – if Benfica are not to prolong their miserable recent record in the Champions League. Will the Portuguese champions turn it around and make it to the knockout stage? If you believe so, a trip to Online Sports Betting could prove profitable. 

“I accept responsibility for the two defeats in the Champions League,” said Lage. “I’m here after two games and two defeats. But our goal remains to bring the Benfica we see at home to Europe. Benfica has to reach this level.

“What do we need to do for that to happen? Today we shouldn’t have gifted the goals to our opponents. In the first game we should have taken the chances Pizzi and Cervi had with just the goalkeeper to beat. You pay a high price for mistakes like those at this level.”

Brazilian midfielder Gabriel was brutally blunt in his appraisal of Benfica’s showings in Europe so far this season. “The points we have reflect our performance. We have to improve to be at the level we want to be in the Champions League.”

 


 

Group B: Rúben Semedo nets but Olympiakos undone in Serbia

Pedro Martin’s side made the tricky trip to Belgrade to face Red Star. After a fantastic Portuguese inspired comeback against Spurs, Olympiacos were much less enthralling this time around. The match started well enough, with former Sporting centre-back Rúben Semedo grabbing the opener after 37 minutes. The game was going to plan until Yassine Benzia was given a second yellow card and his marching orders by referee Benoit Bastien. It was at this point the game began to turn for Martins’ men. Red Star scored just five minutes later through Vulic and then put the game beyond doubt in the 87th minute through Milunovic and then grabbed another in the 91st through Boakye. The scoreline flatters Red Star slightly but from the red card onwards, they did enough to win. Daniel Podence came on as a substitute but with his side already reduced to 10 men, he found it hard to engineer anything. José Sá has conceded 5 in 2 in the Champions League so far and will find it even more difficult in the next group game as Olympiacos host Bavarian giants Bayern Munich.

 

Group C: Cancelo shines for Manchester City, Luís Castro’s Shakhtar grab vital win

Manchester City were visited by Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb who made life very difficult for the Manchester side. Sitting deep with 11 men behind the ball for the majority of the match, City and Bernardo, in particular, found it difficult to play between the lines and break down the defence. Bernardo, who was operating out at left-wing, tried several times to engineer moves but found it difficult. He was replaced on 60 minutes by Raheem Sterling, a much more direct winger. The change was not due to a poor performance from Bernardo but more a change in style. City needed to quicken up their attacks in order to catch this well-drilled Zagreb off guard.

João Cancelo had a fantastic game in what was his first Champions League start for his new club. He wasn’t tested defensively but showed his quality on the ball making several direct, penetrating runs, particularly in the second half when City needed to be more attacking. He would often pick the ball up and drive inside, looking for a short give and go or attempting to get himself into a crossing position. City eventually broke Zagreb down courtesy of a Sterling opener and a Phil Foden goal finished the match off deep into injury time.

Elsewhere in Group C, Luís Castro’s Shakhtar Donetsk were involved in a dramatic encounter with Atlanta. After opening day defeat at the hands of City, they were looking to get their Champions League campaign up and running and get some points on the board. Atalanta opened the scoring after 28 minutes through Zapata but the lead lasted just 13 minutes before Junior Moraes equalised for Castro’s side. The game was locked at 1-1 and looked to be heading for a draw, until the 96th minute when Manor Solomon broke free to score the decisive winner for Shakhtar. A fantastic result away in Italy for the Ukrainian side which puts them on three points, level with Zagreb – against whom Castro’s men now have a double-header in what is likely to be a battle for the runners-up spot and progress to the knockout phase.

 

Group D: João Félix and Cristiano Ronaldo score

With the Seleção about convene for two more Euro 2020 qualifiers, Portugal’s strike partners João Félix and Cristiano Ronaldo chose a good time to sharpen their sights.

In Moscow, Lokomotiv, with João Mário in the starting line-up and Eder on the bench, hosted Atlético and the prodigy that is João Félix. It was a successful night for both Félix and Atléti, the former Benfica forward was superb. He opened the scoring just after half-time to become Atletico Madrid’s youngest ever Champions League goal-scorer. He also was at the heart of the second goal, a driving run with ball followed by an inch-perfect pass into Diego Costa’s path who crossed for Thomas Partey to finish. Félix was withdrawn on 84 minutes after a great night for him. João Mário played 90’ but could not prevent his side from being defeated, while Eder came off the bench for the final 10 minutes.

In Italy Juventus returned to Champions League action against Bayer Leverkusen after an opening day draw with Atléti. Cristiano Ronaldo played 90 minutes and had a good game, his running with the ball as impressive as ever and he linked up well with strike partner Gonzalo Higuain. The Portugal captain scored the third goal in a 3-0 win to seal the victory for the Turin outfit. It is well known that one of Cristiano’s motivations to move to Juventus was to claim another Champions League triumph with yet another club, and whilst other sides might have better squads, you can never write off a team with Ronaldo in. Juventus go top of Group D on four points. You can bet on Juventus winning the tournament at SA Soccer Betting.

 

Group E: Mário Rui picks up an injury

Napoli kicked off Wednesday’s action with a draw against Genk, keeping them at the top of Group E, above Salzburg, Liverpool and Genk. Mário Rui managed just 33 minutes before being withdrawn with a suspected hamstring injury.

 

Group F: All smiles for Portugal full-backs Guerreiro and Semedo

Borussia Dortmund and Raphäel Guerreiro got a great result, running out 2-0 winners away in Prague. Raphäel started left-back but got forward plenty as he usually does. He linked-up well with Achraf Hakimi, who was playing ahead of him also on the left flank. It was Hakimi who scored both of Dortmund’s goals to take them top of a very competitive Group F. Next up for Dortmund in the Champions League is an away tie to Inter.

Elsewhere the section, another full-back in the form of FC Barcelona’s Nélson Semedo featured as his side beat Inter 2-1. Nélson had a very good game playing at left-back, earning the third-highest player rating of any Barça player. His side showed character to get back into the game after going 1-0 down to a Martinez goal. Suarez grabbed both of Barcelona’s goals. Semedo looked solid defensively when 1v1 and was not dribbled past at all in the match. He won 6 out of 8 ground duels and managed two tackles. A solid performance from the Portuguese international in a different position showed his versatility and ability.

 

Group G: Lopes and Lyon back on track

Antony Lopes’ Lyon earned a crucial backs-to-the-wall victory over RB Leipzig by running out 2-0 winners despite being dominated for most of the 90 minutes against the Germans. Lopes was fantastic, earning the highest rating of any player with a 7.9/10 score and keeping a clean sheet. He made four saves, two of those from close range and was comfortable throughout the match, coming confidently for corners and dominating his area. Benfica will be hoping the Portuguese goalkeeper is not in such inspired form as the two teams prepare to go head to head in the next two matches.

 

Group H: disappointment all round for Portuguese contingent

Not a great night in Group H for the Portuguese contingent. Firstly, in the Lille v Chelsea match, Renato Sanches and Xeka both started off the bench and came on for 20 and 15 minutes respectively but were unable to have any real impact on the match. José Fonte played the full 90’ as Chelsea ran out 2-1 winners courtesy of a brilliant Willian effort and a Tammy Abraham winner. Victor Osimhen got Lille’s goal.

In Valencia’s showdown with Ajax, it was the Portuguese players again on the losing side with Gonçalo Guedes and Thierry Correia’s men battered 3-0 by the Amsterdam outfit. Guedes started and was a bright spark in moments, winning a penalty after a fantastic run into the box before being felled. Dani Parejo missed the penalty which would have levelled the match at 1-1 and possibly made the evening very different. Correia came on in the 70th minute but by this point it was 3-0 and the game was wrapped up.

By Aaron Barton & Tom Kundert

(All statistics used are courtesy of the @SofaScore Database)

 

Comments (1)

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Well it was an absolutely awful performance and result from Benfica in such a key match, a match we absolutely needed to get something out of. I complained here about Lage after the previous loss to Leipzig, and again he made serious errors in...

Well it was an absolutely awful performance and result from Benfica in such a key match, a match we absolutely needed to get something out of. I complained here about Lage after the previous loss to Leipzig, and again he made serious errors in selection for this game, again somehow suggesting that he is prioritising the Liga over the CL, which is simply baffling. I am tired already of winning domestically and handing out goleadas to the weaker teams in our Liga, I think i echo most Benfica fans in this, when are we finally going to do something in the CL? LFV and now Lage too, keep mentioning in their speeches that the club "has the future assured", "are building for the future", future this and future that. Well what matters most in football is the present moment, and this already looks like being yet another season of mediocrity from us in the CL...in the present moment.

As I mentioned in my post after the Leipzig match, I haven't been very impressed with Lage so far this season. He did wonders last season to bring us to the title in such style and we all thank him for that, but that's long gone already and again I mention what matters most is the present moment, the current season. He has been making very questionable selections for matches, again vs Zenit. Jardel and Fejsa starting such a key match, which was always going to be of real high intensity, something which those two aren't capable of anymore.... really? In my opinion the only matches those two should be starting for us anymore are domestic cup matches!

I am also tired of LFV already, I think he's been in charge long enough already and it's time for new direction for the club. We have progressed in his time in charge, no doubt about it...but essentially he hasn't been able to sort out the financial problems of the club. Every summer we lose at least one of our very best players and all Benfica fans are sick and tired of this. We made something like 200 million euros from Felix, Jimenez, Jovic etc. Where has the reinvestment in the squad been? We spent a fair amount on two number 9 forwards, neither of whom is a replacement for Felix (a second forward). But as we've seen in recent weeks, we have issues all over the pitch, why hasn't there been real strengthening? We made 200 million in the last year from player sales, and we still have the likes of Jardel, Fejsa and Andre Almeida starting big matches? I sincerely hope that we get a new president in the next elections, we really need someone in charge with more ambition....again for the present moment!

Anyway I think this international break comes at a good time for the club. I think Lage and his team have to take the time to revaluate what they've been doing wrong, and hopefully we turn the corner asap. I still think we have the strongest squad in Portugal and should be favourites to win the Liga. But as I mentioned again, what most Benfica fans want is to make an impression in the CL. Simply domestic trophies are not enough for a club with such a history and pedigree in European competition.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“We knew we had to start well, try and score early and not give Lithuania the chance to counter-attack. I think we did that. Scoring early was important.”

Ricardo Pereira
(Portugal right-back explains the recipe for the thumping win in the Euro 2020 qualifier against Lithuania) 

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