There was a distinctly South American flavour to yet another win for the Portuguese champions – their eighth in succession – as Benfica continue to chase down leaders Sporting at the top of the Primeira Liga.
In a match dominated by the Eagles from start to finish, the home fans had to wait until the second half to celebrate. Ángel Di Maria notched a goal and an assist, while January signing Marcos Leonardo made a scoring appearance off the bench for the second match running.
Leonardo quick to make his mark
Benfica have made some adjustments to their squad in the January transfer window, bringing in striker Marcos Leonardo, left-back Álvaro Carreras and winger Benjamín Rolheiser, while releasing left-back David Jurásek, midfielder Chiquinho and winger Gonçalo Guedes. Reports suggest striker Petar Musa may also be on his way out of the Estádio da Luz.
So far it is former Santos striker Leonardo who seems likeliest to have the biggest impact on Benfica’s second half of the season. The 20-year-old Brazilian has been substituted into the action by Benfica coach Roger Schmidt late on in the last two games and scored opportunistic goals on both occasions. In 48 minutes of playing time, he has scored twice the number of Primeira Liga goals as Arthur Cabral, who has played a total of 658 minutes (stats as per zerozero.pt). The writing could be on the wall for Cabral.
It was Di María, though, who was the most incisive player on the pitch tonight. The Argentine World Cup winner showed once again why he is excused of all defensive duties but remains a vital cog in Schmidt’s team, his instinct for causing the utmost damage to the opposition intact despite the fact he will turn 36 years old next month.
Di María at the centre of the action
It was Di María who had forced Boavista goalkeeper João Gonçalves into his most difficult save of the first half with a curling shot from 25 yards, and the Argentinian had the ball in the net less than a minute into the second period, only for the goal to be ruled out for handball by João Mário in the buildup.
On the hour mark Benfica finally took the lead, although there was an element of fortune to the goal as Di María’s cross was missed by everyone and nestled into the corner of the net. The result was made safe in stoppage time, Otamendi’s long raking pass picking out his international teammate, who cleverly prodded the ball past Gonçalves into the path of the onrushing Leonardo who couldn’t miss.
Benfica have now gone an entire “volta” (matches against all 17 opponents in the Primeira Liga) without losing, since the opening day defeat to Boavista in the city of Porto. Any slip-up by neighbours Sporting and they are ready to pounce.
Title race on hold
For now though, the title race takes a back seat as the two Lisbon rivals, along with Braga and Estoril, fight it out in the Taça da Liga final four in Leiria next week.
By Tom Kundert
Benfica 2-0 Boavista highlights