A second-half Brais Méndez goal gave Real Sociedade a thoroughly deserved victory at the Estádio da Luz tonight against a hugely disappointing Benfica to all but end the Portuguese team’s hopes of progressing from the group stage of the Champions League.
The impressive Spaniards were the better organised, more composed and more tactically astute side throughout the 90 minutes, and Benfica coach Roger Schmidt will be facing some uncomfortable questions in the coming days.
Benfica were without their star man as Ángel Di María failed to shake off an injury, and Schmidt pulled a surprise by leaving Orkun Kökçü on the bench, with Aursnes, João Neves and João Mário the home team’s midfield trio.
It was a cautious start with both teams feeling each other out, the lively Kubo first to try his luck with a low angled shot after cutting in from the right flank. David Neres replied for Benfica, his raking cross-field pass sending Jurásek racing down the left wing, the left-back’s cut back finding Neres whose effort deflected for a corner.
Offside flag denies Musa
In the 13th minute Benfica had the ball in the net, a rapid counter-attack ending with Rafa Silva’s cross poked into the net by the sliding Petar Musa, but the goal was ruled out for offside in the buildup. Musa then sent a powerful shot over the bar on the turn after more good work by Jurásek.
As the minutes went by Real Sociedade became more and more comfortable, progressing up the field with simple passing movements. In the 29th minute Brias Méndez headed into the net, but he had strayed into an offside position. Moments later Kubo took advantage of poor defending, shooting narrowly wide.
João Mário was having a shocker, constantly losing the ball and erring his passes, looking a million miles from the silky midfield maestro who had played such a key role in Benfica’s brilliant first half of last season.
In the final 15 minutes of the first half the visitors definitively took control. The Spaniards protested twice for penalties in quick succession for potential handballs in the box from João Neves and António Silva but the referee waved away the appeals.
Otamendi made a saving tackle, Zubeldia headed over and Barrenetxea shot just wide as the La Liga outfit finished the first half strongly.
Schmidt shakes it up
Roger Schmidt took off João Mário and Petar Musa at the break, replacing them with Kökçü and Arthur Cabral, but it made little difference to the pattern of the game.
Kubo again danced past Jurásek with ease – the Czech defender earning a reprimand from his captain Otamendi – and it needed a sharp save from Trubin to prevent Zubimendi from giving Real the lead.
On the hour mark Bernat came on for Jurásek, again laying bare Benfica’s gaping problem at left-back since the departure of Grimaldo in the summer. The Spanish side continued to boss matters, the irrepressible Kubo bursting past Otamendi and Bernat and shooting over.
On 63 minutes Real Sociedade got the breakthrough their domination deserved with a brilliantly worked goal. A smooth passing move saw the ball transported to Barrenetxea who did superbly to cut to the byeline and cut the ball back for Brais Méndez to score from close range.
Livewire Kubo hits the bar
Things almost got worse for Benfica soon afterwards as Japanese forward Kubo was desperately unlucky not to score a goal his efforts deserved, cutting across the pitch and smashing a shot from the top of the box onto the crossbar.
Benfica managed to cause a modicum of danger in the 68th minute when Neres sent in a dangerous shot from distance but Alejandro Remiro showed safe hands to pouch the ball. That was the last of the action for the Brazilian as he was replaced by youngster Tiago Gouveia.
As the game moved into the final ten minutes Kökçü and Gouveia sent in dangerous efforts and it appeared the hosts would at last work up a head of steam.
Alas, it was only a brief interruption to a tranquil night for the Basque outfit, an Aursnes effort in the closing minutes that Remiro pounced on the only moment of worry for Real Sociedade, whose fans were enjoying themselves in the Portuguese capital.
The final whistle went to the inevitable chorus of boos as Benfica’s Champions League campaign went up in smoke. With zero points from three matches, it will need something miraculous for the Eagles to stay in the competition beyond Christmas. Focusing on trying to climb to third and Europa League qualification is now the more realistic aim.
By Tom Kundert at the Estádio da Luz
Benfica: Anatoliy Trubin, Alexander Bah (Chiquinho, 82’), António Silva, Nico Otamendi, David Jurásek (Juan Bernat, 59’), João Neves, Fredrik Aursnes, Rafa Silva, João Mário (Orkun Kökçü, 46’), David Neres (Tiago Gouveia, 69’), Petar Musa (Arthur Cabral, 46’)
[0-1] Brais Méndez, 63’