Benfica’s “difficult” relationship with the Champions League played out another sorry chapter in France on Tuesday as the Portuguese champions were beaten 3-1 by Lyon to all but end hopes of progress in this year’s competition. A 13th defeat in Benfica’s last 17 Champions League matches has again led to uncomfortable questions about why the Eagles cannot compete in Europe.

Elsewhere, Olympiacos goalkeeper José Sá was arguably the outstanding Portuguese player of matchday 4 despite his team going down 2-0 to Bayern Munich, but there was better news for Shakhtar Donetsk’s Portuguese coach Luís Castro as his side scored two stoppage goals for a dramatic 3-3 draw in Croatia against Zagreb to give the Ukrainians a good chance of making the knockout stage. PortuGOAL rounds up all the Champions League action from the Portuguese perspective. 

 

Lyon 3-1 Benfica

Buoyed by a recent upturn in form and a 2-1 victory in the reverse fixture a fortnight ago, hopes were high that Benfica could get a positive result from their visit to Lyon. That optimism was shattered within the first 10 minutes as Lyon scored with their first attack, Dubois’ terrific cross converted by a thumping header from Andersen, then Benfica centre-back Ferro had to be stretchered off after being clattered by his own goalkeeper Vlachodimos.

The experienced Jardel came on for the visitors, but his presence failed to have a calming effect as Lyon completely swamped Benfica in the opening half. 18-year-old full-back Tomás Tavares was being given the run-around by Koné and Aouar down the right flank, in the centre of the park Florentino and Gabriel were beaten to every ball by more physical and hungrier Lyon midfielders, and up top an isolated Vinícius failed to make any impact the few times the ball arrived at his feet.

It was no surprise when Lyon doubled their lead, Aouar beating Tavares for the umpteenth time before crossing for Depay to finish first time. Chiquinho stung the fingers of Anthony Lopes just before half time with a fierce snap-shot, but as the whistle went for the break the French side were good value for their 2-0 lead.

The ever-impressive Depay did not come out for the second half having picked up an injury, while Benfica coach Bruno Lage brought on Seferovic for the anonymous Gedson. The Eagles improved with Chiquinho’s free kick whistling just over the bar and Seferovic forcing Lopes into a sharp stop with a long-range effort. Lyon remained dangerous when they quickened the pace, however, and Reine-Adelaide twice came close to increasing their lead.

As in the game between these two teams in Lisbon, Pizzi began the match on the bench but made a big impact as soon as he was brought on. A superb throughball set Seferovic racing in on goal, the Swiss striker controlling well on his chest and producing an emphatic finish in 78th minute. The goal was initially chalked off for offside, but validated after a VAR check.

Suddenly Benfica believed they could get something from the match, Jardel heading not far off target from a corner, but with the Portuguese side committing men forward, Lyon killed the match late on as a swift break ended with a cross-shot into the corner of the net by substitute Traoré.

Psychological block?

The Portuguese press began the inquest into another Champions League fail by Benfica on Wednesday, with coach Bruno Lage coming in for strong criticism for his team selection.

While it was true that Tavares had a poor match, he had been one of Benfica’s best performers in this competition to date, especially in the first match against Lyon two weeks ago. Likewise, questions were raised about why Seferovic did not start by the same analysts who have been calling for weeks for the Swiss striker to be dropped and replaced by Vinícius. The benching of Pizzi is perhaps the only truly controversial decision.

Rather than apportioning blame to the coach, Benfica have performed so badly for such a long stretch of time in the Champions League, it appears to have become something of a psychological problem afflicting the entire team. Pointing to the gulf in quality between the Portuguese league and foreign leagues makes little sense considering Porto’s positive performances in the previous two seasons, reaching the round of 16 and the quarter-finals respectively, or impressive displays by the likes of Ajax from a comparable league, for example.

Benfica next travel to group leaders Leipzig before hosting Zenit St. Petersburg in their final match with the target now shifting to securing a place in the Europa League.

 

Portuguese Abroad round-up

 

Napoli 1-1 Red Bull Salzburg

Mario Rui started for Napoli as the Italian side took on Red Bull Salzburg in Naples. On fire striker Håland put RB 1-0 up before Lozano equalised just before half time. Rui had an unspectacular 45 minutes before being replaced at the interval by Sebastiano Luperto in a tactical change. He won 3 out of 4 of his ground duels but struggled to get on the ball and make things happen. The game ended 1-1. Napoli missed an opportunity to seal qualification with this draw, their next Champions League match is Liverpool away.

 

Borussia Dortmund 3-2 Inter

Raphaël Guerriero was on the bench for Borussia Dortmund’s exciting clash with Inter. The German side went down 0-2 but clawed the game back to 3-2 courtesy of Julian Brandt and two goals from Hakimi. Rapha came on in the 88th minute with the game at 3-2. Up next for his side is the tricky trip to the Nou Camp to face Nélson Semedo’s FC Barcelona.

 

Barcelona 0-0 Slavia Prague

Nélson Semedo played the full 90’ as Barcelona struggled to break down Slavia in a match that ended 0-0. Barcelona dominated the match as expected, having more possession, shots, shots on target and hitting the woodwork once. Semedo wasn’t overly tested defensively and tried to make things happen going forward. He went over to the left-back position in the second half when Sergio Roberto came on. His ability to operate effectively on either flank is invaluable, this versatility is important not just for his club side but also for the Seleção going forward into major tournaments. It makes him an option that is hard to resist for Santos.  Up next for Barcelona is 2nd-place Borussia Dortmund and the Catalan club will have to be at their best to get something from the game against Dortmund.

 

Valencia 4-1 Lille

Valencia put themselves right back into Champions League qualification contention with a resounding 4-1 victory over Lille. Just one Portuguese player started this game in José Fonte.

Renato Sanches, Tiago Djaló and Xeka were on the bench for Lille and Thierry Correia was on the bench for the Spanish side.  Lille took the lead through Victor Osimhen but were pegged back to 1-1 after a cool Dani Parejo chipped penalty, José Fonte penalised for handling the ball in the box. The game was tied at 1-1 until the 82nd minute before an unfortunate Soumare own goal made it 2-1 to Valencia. Kondogbia and Torres added a goal each to make it a rather flattering 4-1 scoreline, although in actual fact the game was a lot tighter than this and Valencia had to work extremely hard for the result.

Sanches managed 15 minutes and saw his side concede three late goals during this time. This was his first involvement since the Chelsea match in early October after missing five straight games with an injury. Xeka, Correia and Djaló were unused.

 

Lokomotiv Moscow 1-2 Juventus

Juventus’ victory in Moscow featured three Portuguese players in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo for Juventus and Eder and João Mario for Lokomotiv.

Ronaldo was denied an early goal, his free kick which should have been routine for Guilherme ended up trickling through his legs and into the net, with Aaron Ramsey on hand to smash it into the net and the goal was given to the Welshman.

Cristiano managed 82 minutes before being withdrawn for Paulo Dybala. His shooting as always was dangerous, hitting three efforts on target and having two shots blocked but he couldn’t find the net. He didn’t look particularly pleased after Ramsey wheeled away in celebration following his free kick.

Miranchuk equalised soon afterwards for the Russian outfit and the game began to dwindle until Douglas Costa stole the show with a spectacular solo 93rd minute winner.

Eder had a solid game and tried to make things happen up front but he remains goalless in this year’s edition of the Champions League.  João Mario operated as a left midfielder but was unable to put in a successful cross and ended the match with zero successful dribbles, and he also lost possession 10 times in his 85 minutes on the pitch. Mário worked hard throughout and tried to engineer moves through his short passing and it looked like he had helped his side gain a point until Lokomotiv conceded after he had been withdrawn.

 

Bayern Munich 2-0 Olympiacos

Olympiacos’ poor run of Champions League results continued at the Allianz as they were beaten 2-0 by German Giants Bayern Munich. Pedro Martins’ men did well in the first half, particularly the defence. Rúben Semedo was solid as his side were constantly under the cosh from Bayern. José Sá pulled off a string of impressive saves at 0-0, the best being a marvellous save to deny Coman just after half an hour, he demonstrated quick thinking and wonderful reflexes to send the shot over the bar.

Daniel Podence ran and worked hard but ultimately failed to create anything substantial, although when you visit the Allianz, a team’s defensive display always going to be the most important aspect of a performance. Olympiacos executed their game-plan well but after 70 minutes they were undone by Robert Lewandowski, and two minutes from time Perisic added a second goal. The scoreline is somewhat harsh but against a top side, it always seems a matter of when rather than if in regard to when they eventually find a breakthrough.

It is not all doom and gloom for Martins men however, a positive result in the final two matches against Tottenham and Red Star could result in a third-placed finish and Europa League football, a long-shot but Olympiacos are a better side than their points tally indicates.

 

Atalanta 1-1 Manchester City

Manchester City started with João Cancelo at right back and Bernardo Silva started as a central midfielder in a midfield three with Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gündogan.

City went ahead early on through Raheem Sterling and were playing with a freedom, Atalanta looking a shell of the side that competes in the Serie A. Iličić gave away a penalty just before half-time after handling in the box, which Gabriel Jesus put a good two yards wide. City should have been 3 or 4 up by half-time but had to make do with 1-0. João Cancelo didn’t have much to do defensively, ending the first half with 1 tackle and 1 interception but that had more to do with the fact Atalanta approached the game so conservatively with so many men behind the ball.

In the second half, Atalanta began with much more confidence and scored through Pasalic in the 49th minute. The game then took a turn to the quite bizarre. Ederson was withdrawn with a suspected injury at half-time and his replacement Claudio Bravo was sent off for fouling an Atalanta attacker in a 1 on 1 situation. With the substitute goalkeeper having been used, Kyle Walker was brought on for the last 15 minutes in goal as the game ended in a 1-1 draw. In a game of two halves, Bernardo tried to make things happen in midfield and did well in the first forty-five minutes but in the second half he and his City teammates failed to find any consistent rhythm.

City are still top of the group but lose their 100% record and will have to wait until matchday 5 to attempt to qualify.

 

Dinamo Zagreb 3-3 Shakhtar Donetsk

Luís Castro’s men earned a point in Zagreb under circumstances that made it feel like a victory. At 1-1 and with both sides down to 10 men following Moro and Marlos receiving second yellow cards, the game started to look like it had run out of steam. Then Dinamo Zagreb pulled off what appeared to be a late snatch and grab, scoring in the 83rd and the 89th minutes through Ivanusec and Ademi respectively. The three points would have given the Croatian side a huge boost as regards qualification to the knockout stages, however Castro’s men were not done. A 93rd minute Junior Moraes goal made it 3-2 and sparked a glimmer of hope and then in the 97th minute Tete converted a penalty to make it 3-3. A truly unbelievable last 20 minutes that saw four goals.

Castro’s men sit in second place on 5 points, 5 adrift of Manchester City who they face next at the Etihad. Qualification is very much still on the cards.

By Aaron Barton & Tom Kundert

 

Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

The reason benfica keeps failing in champions league is simple, no Portuguese refs and media.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Another dreadful performance and result for Benfica in the CL! We are now on the brink of elimination, still have a chance to qualify should we win the remaining two games, but I'm not holding my breath anymore for Benfica in the CL. Yet again...

Another dreadful performance and result for Benfica in the CL! We are now on the brink of elimination, still have a chance to qualify should we win the remaining two games, but I'm not holding my breath anymore for Benfica in the CL. Yet again more selection errors from Lage for the match. In such a crucial game which we desperately needed to get something from, why did we again have an 18 year old novice who hasn't even played in the Liga, starting at right back? Tavares hasn't played any Liga or domestic cup matches, yet starts every game in the CL against demanding opponents. The experienced Andre Almeida and Pizzi (who scored the winning goal no less in the first match again Lyon!) left on the bench. The experienced Samaris didn't even make the squad for this match. Crap decisions from Lage yet again, and we paid the ultimate price.

Well it's coming up to a year already since Lage has taken charge of the team. And if I were to make my personal assessment of his first year, it's mixed in all honesty. It's divided into two parts: domestic and Europe. In comparison to his predecessor Rui Vitoria, he's been a big success domestically, sweeping the floor in the Portuguese Liga for the most part during the last year. But domestic success simply isn't enough for the vast majority of SLB fans anymore. And in Europe Lage has been thoroughly suspect. If we compare again to Rui Vitoria....let's not forget Rui Vitoria made the CL quarters in his first season in charge, and the round of 16 in his second season...beating some strong teams like Atletico Madrid and Dortmund. And he certainly put out his strongest and most experienced teams for the CL matches. I have been very unimpressed with Lage in Europe. Starting with the Europa league already last season, his tinkering with the line-up for every match, cost us a great chance of winning the Europa league last season. Everyone thought that his tinkering was just because it was the second tier Europa league and that this year in the CL it would be different. Not at all, he's tinkered just as much this season in the CL so far. A stable and consistent line-up for the LIga against teams we blow away every week, and a completely different line up for every European match since he's been in charge. What the hell is the logic in that?

I think I've sussed out what Benfica's big problem is in the CL, and as mentioned in the article it's completely psychological. It seems we can only perform at our best in matches when we are the clear favourites. This is why we sweep the floor in the Portuguese league....but the moment we are up against an opponent of a similar level or stronger than us in Europe, we struggle and just don't perform. This is completely psychological, because on paper and on the pitch Benfica can beat any of our CL opponents in recent seasons. The thing is when you play a team that's of a similar level or stronger than you, what you have to do to make up for it, is to fight tooth and nail and give 200%.....but we just don't see that from Benfica. This is a problem that needs to be solved very quickly, or we are going to continue to see this continuing. We have to get out of this mentality and comfort zone of a "big fish in a smallish pond", and start fighting tooth and nail in European matches. I see teams like Bruges and Slavia Prague going to the Bernabeu and the Camp Nou and fighting and getting positive results. The difference in level between the teams in the CL is smaller than ever in the last couple of seasons and it's currently more competitive than ever. If teams like this can get positive results against strong opponents, so can Benfica. It's all a question of attitude, and Benfica has to apply a stronger attitude and fight more, because we all know we can and should be doing so much better.

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