Benfica crush Vizela 6-1 to consolidate top spot and pile pressure on Sporting

Roger Schmidt broke with tradititon by heavily rotating his team for the home match against Vizela this afternoon and was rewarded in spectacular fashion as the Eagles treated their supporters to a 6-1 thrashing of bottom-placed Vizela.

A brace from David Neres and goals from Nicolás Otamendi, Tiago Gouveia and Rafa Silva had the hosts 5-0 up at half time.

Samuel Essende pulled a goal back and then missed a penalty for Vizela in a low-key second half, before Marcos Leonardo put the icing on the cake for Benfica with a sixth. 

Schmidt changes his spots

Despite his debut season in the Portuguese capital being a roaring success, German coach Schmidt has a difficult relationship with a significant proportion of the Benfica fans. The most frequently levelled criticism is his reluctance to rotate a squad packed with high-quality options, instead preferring almost always to select his tried and trusted first-teamers.

Faced with a Vizela team sitting rock-bottom of the table but led by a coach, Rubén de la Barrera, who manifestly refuses to compromise his expansive gameplan, it appeared the perfect opportunity to mix things up.

With Orkun Kökçü suspended, Schmidt decided to give centre-back António Silva, utility man Fredrik Aursnes, winger Ángel Di María and midfielder João Mário – all normally automatic starters – a place on the bench, with Tomás Araújo, Tiago Gouveia, Neres and Casper Tengstedt getting rare call-ups.

Credit to Schmidt who recognised that choosing players who could quickly get behind what was likely to be an exposed defence was the way to go today. David Neres and Rafa Silva in particular enjoyed themselves, racing behind Vizela’s back line time and again. 

Quickfire treble  

The visitors did little to help themselves with two crass errors by goalkeeper Francesco Ruberto and defender Jota Gonçalves allowing David Neres to open the scoring in the 17th minute.

Neres was in the mood for it, soon afterwards delivering a delicious cross that Otamendi thumped into the net with a thunderous header. Two soon became three as Tengstedt raced through a hopelessly frail defence, his chip coming back off the post where Tiago Gouveia was on hand to sweep the ball home.

Half an hour gone, 3-0 to Benfica.

There was a brief respite for Vizela but Rafa was soon accelerating the game again before the break by creating a goal for David Neres and scoring one himself in stoppage time at the end of the half. 

Ice-cool Rafa

On both occasions Rafa showed a side of his game that is often missing – composure and the ability to make the right decision at the right time.

Schmidt rewarded the speedster by giving him an early rest as he was substituted at the interval. If Vizela thought they would have an easier time of it without Rafa, they may have thought again when they realised his replacement was Di María.

However, Benfica went into game management mode in the second half, with a series of crucial matches on the horizon, including games against both Porto and Sporting in a fortnight’s time. The second half largely resembled a training ground exercise.

Trubin makes up for rare mistake

Samuel Essende pulled a goal back for Vizela in the 48th minute, profiting from a bad mistake by Anatoliy Trubin, but the Ukrainian goalkeeper made amends later in the half by superbly saving a penalty from Essende.

There was still time for Benfica to make it a round half dozen with Brazilian striker Marcos Leonardo scoring for the fourth time since his winter transfer from Santos, all four goals when coming off the bench, after more excellent work by man-of-the-match Neres.

Benfica move three points clear at the top of the table, taking advantage of playing before their Lisbon rivals Sporting. The Lions travel to the Minho to take on high-flying Moreirense tomorrow needing victory to pull back level.

By Tom Kundert