Champions League matchday one roundup

It was a disappointing start for Portugal’s sole representative in this season’s Champions League as Benfica fell to a 2-1 home defeat against German team RB Leipzig. Two goals by Timo Werner put the Bundesliga outfit in control, Seferovic pulled a goal back, but despite a late rally the Eagles could not find an equaliser.

Meanwhile, like always, a multitude of Portuguese players and managers were aiming to do well for their respective clubs all over Europe. In a largely low-key first matchday for Portuguese abroad, it was Mário Rui, Daniel Podence and João Mário who had most reasons to smile. 

 

Benfica 1-2 RB Leipzig

The Benfica hierarchy have made a big play about improving their performance in the world’s premier club competition this year, but it was a case of déjà vu for the Portuguese champions as they fell to a home defeat in their first group game for the third successive year.

Bruno Lage, who was forced to watch the match from the stands as he served a touchline ban, raised eyebrows before kick-off by giving a debut to 18-year-old right-back Tomás Tavares, selecting Franco Cervi – who has barely played this season – on the left flank, and pairing Jota up front with Raúl de Tomás. First-team regulars Rafa Silva and Haris Seferovic started on the bench.

Unsurprisingly, a team not used to playing together looked disjointed, especially in the first half as the Bundesliga leaders took a grip on the match from kick-off. Timo Werner, Emil Forsberg and company were seeing plenty of the ball and putting together some slick attacking moves. Forsberg had the ball in the net early on, but it was ruled out for offside in the build-up, and on 26 minutes Werner tested Vlachodimos, the Greek goalkeeper diving to his left to make a fine save.

Tomás Tavares impresses

Without creating much in the way of clear-cut chances, the German team looked much more confident and incisive in their forward movements, with the constant feeling that they were just one pass away from the opening goal. To their credit, Benfica’s defence held their shape well for the most part, with Tomás Tavares showing commendable calm, concentration and intelligence any time he was called into action.

The home team could not get anything going in the attacking sense though, relying entirely on Adel Taarabt and the odd raid from Grimaldo and Cervi for creative spark, with Jota failing to make any meaningful contribution. On the stroke of half time Benfica at last showed their teeth, RDT getting his head to a Pizzi cross to force Leipzig goalkeeper Gulacsi into a save at his near post.

The second half started brightly, with Vlachodimos alert to avert the first goal after a neat move by Leipzig, but Benfica responded through RDT, who curled a 20-yard effort just past the post. The Spaniard was putting himself about, and he showed good strength and awareness to play in Pizzi, but the midfielder shot weakly and straight at Gulacsi when well placed. Pizzi was close again soon afterwards, skidding a shot from an acute angle across goal and narrowly wide.

Just when it seemed Benfica were building up a head of steam Leipzig broke quickly, Poulsen cushioned the ball for his strike partner and Werner rifled a low 15-yard shot into the corner of the net.

Crucial miss

Benfica responded well as a Grimaldo free-kick forced Gulacsi into a spectacular full-length dive to keep it out, then a superb run and pass by Taarabt put Cervi clean through, but the Argentine could not beat the Leipzig number one. That proved the turning point, as almost immediately the visitors cut through the Benfica defence to allow Werner to score a second with a tap-in, the goal validated by VAR after initially being erroneously ruled out for offside.

Rafa and Seferovic were now on the pitch, and the two combined well as Benfica executed a perfect counter attack to pull a goal back. The move was started by Tomás Tavares who channelled a pass into Rafa’s stride on the right flank, the winger speeding forward and crossing for the stretching Seferovic to turn into the net.

As Benfica poured forward, Rafa with a shot from inside the area and Taarabt with a header were not far away from an equaliser, but the Germans held on for the three points.

“Given the chances produced, a draw would have been a fairer result,” said Benfica coach Bruno Lage after the match.

While it is true Benfica created chances to score more goals, the superiority of the German side over the 90 minutes cannot be contested, and Benfica will surely have to adopt a more ambitious approach, starting with putting their best line-up on the pitch, if they want to avoid more Champions League disappointment.

by Tom Kundert, at the Estádio da Luz

 

Tuesday’s matches – Rui’s Napoli defeat current holders Liverpool, clean-sheets for Sémedo and Guerreiro, misery for Lille

The early kickoff on Tuesday saw Olympique Lyonnais host Zenit St Petersburg in Group G - the section containing Benfica. Anthony Lopes in goal for Lyon had not kept a clean sheet since the 16th August and the wait unfortunately goes on for the 28-year-old goalkeeper with the match ending 1-1. Zenit opened the scoring following great play between Dzyuba and Azmoun which resulted in a low calm finish by Azmoun past a sprawling Lopes. Not much Lopes could have done to prevent it. Lyon were able to get back into the game courtesy of a Memphis Depay penalty and Lopes remained sharp when called upon for the remainder of the match, making two saves and finishing with a healthy 88.2% pass accuracy.

Up next in the Champions League for Lyon before the double-header against Benfica is RB Leipzig away in a group that any of the four teams could potentially top.

In Amsterdam, LOSC faced last year’s semi-finalists Ajax. Renato Sanches and José Fonte both started for Lille with Xeka taking a place on the bench. Ajax’s second-choice goalkeeper Varela was an unused substitute. The match proved to be a thoroughly miserable night for both Sanches and Fonte as their Lille side ended the match soundly beaten 3-0. Sanches struggled to make an impact on the game, his passing was predictable and easily cut out, represented by a less-than-average 64% pass accuracy and he was withdrawn after 63 minutes. Xeka was given a 12 minute-run-out as a substitute. At Lille, Renato will be given more chances than he has had in recent years given that Lille have bought him permanently and while it is clear he is not up to 100% sharpness (this was his first UCL start in 363 days), he will have to start repaying Lille the faith they have placed in him soon.

Elsewhere, at the Signal-Iduna Park Raphaël Guerreiro and Nélson Semedo started for BVB and FC Barcelona respectively. Both men performed relatively well in a match that finished 0-0. Nélson Semedo gave away a penalty after taking down Jadon Sancho in the box, but was let off the hook by Marc André Ter-Stegen who saved Marco Reus’ effort from 12 yards. Aside from the penalty incident, Semedo performed well, winning 8 out of 11 of his ground duels, making 2 clearances and 3 interceptions. On the whole, he coped well defensively with the attacking talent of Dortmund and other than the foul that led to the penalty, put in a performance he will be very pleased with. Raphaël Guerriero had a solid yet unspectacular game, going forward he looked capable of creating chances as he always does but defensively there is still work that needs to be done. It is clear to see why at times last season Dortmund opted to utilise Rapha as a left-midfielder/left-winger as opposed to an out-an-out left-fullback. He made just one tackle in the game and lost possession 11 times.

In Naples, Mario Rúi’s Napoli side defeated current Champions of Europe Liverpool 2-0. Rúi had an excellent game. In the first half he looked shaky at times when going up 1-on-1 with Mohamed Salah but slowly found his groove as the game went on. He played the full 90 minutes, making 4 interceptions and 1 clearance. His attacking play was of a good standard also, he caused Liverpool problems with his positive, forward passing (85.7% pass accuracy) and he made plenty of attempts to get into the Liverpool half to cause damage. Statistically Mário had the highest performance rating out of any of the Napoli defenders with an impressive 7.52, as per whoscored.com, and the only player with a higher rating out of both sets of players was the Napoli goalkeeper Meret.

Gonçalo Guedes had to watch his Valencia side earn a fantastic 0-1 victory over Chelsea from the bench. Rodrigo Moreno scored the winner and Ross Barkley missed a penalty for Chelsea.

 

Wednesday – Félix and Ronaldo share the spoils, Pedro Martins’ Olympiacos fightback against the odds

On Wednesday Olympiacos, managed by Pedro Martins, took on last year’s finalists Tottenham Hotspur. Three Portuguese players featured in the starting line-up in the form of José Sá, Rúben Semedo and Daniel Podence.

Podence put in a wonderful performance out on the right wing; in the first half everything Olympiacos did went through him. After 20 minutes of play and with the game locked at 0-0, he was denied an assist as he expertly chested down a cross into the path of striker Guerrero, who hit the post. Even after Olympiacos went down 2-0, Podence looked a threat with the ball and was rewarded with a goal just before half time, smartly finishing into the bottom corner. He played the full 90 minutes, continuing to attack as Olympiacos pushed for an equaliser, an equaliser they eventually got through a Valbuena penalty.

José Sá, who had only conceded one goal in 9 games this season, could do nothing about the first goal for Tottenham as Harry Kane scored a wonderful penalty. Tottenham’s second again was a great effort that Sá couldn’t do much about as Lucas Moura smashed home emphatically. Other than those two goals Sá had a decent night, dealing with crosses confidently and making 3 saves. Rúben Sémedo had a good game also, he dealt well when Tottenham were attacking in waves, making 3 clearances and blocking 2 shots. Neither goal he can be blamed for in truth. He very rarely gave the ball away, tending to open his body up and find the right pass out of defence, ending the match with a fantastic 95.9% passing accuracy.  

Pedro Martins and his men can be very pleased with the result, especially given the circumstances, going 2-0 down to the Champions League runners-up, but showing character and perseverance to turn it around.

“I’m entirely satisfied with the effort and reaction we showed,” said Pedro Martins, the Portuguese coach of the Greek giants. “Nonetheless, at the end I had the sensation we could have done a little better than a 2-2 draw.”

Another manager in action was Shakhtar Donetsk’s Luís Castro. His side have been in outstanding form of late but came up against superior opposition on the night. Manchester City, with both João Cancelo and Bernardo Silva starting on the bench, limited Shakhtar to just one shot on target. City were dominant all over the pitch and deserved their 3-0 scoreline. A tough one to take, especially at home for Castro, but better sides than Shakhtar have performed a lot worse against this domineering Man City outfit. Bernardo played 13 minutes and Cancelo played 9 minutes. Cancelo in particular will be hoping a start for City is not too far around the corner, particularly if Kyle Walker is to play as a central defender in Laporte’s absence.

Ronaldo vs. Félix ends all square

In Madrid, Atlético Madrid with Joao Felix in the starting line-up, played out a highly entertaining 2-2 draw with Cristiano’s Juventus. Félix looked bright and showed flashes of his brilliance throughout, a particular instance was when he collected the ball deep and began to move through the gears towards goal. Running at five Juventus defenders he jinked one way and then the next before letting off a fizzing shot which Szczęsny was able to deal with.

Cristiano had a decent game but will be disappointed that he did not win the game with a late strike cutting in from the left. It looked to be a certain goal, however his strike trickled past the post and out for a goal-kick. His passing was sharp and effective, and he managed to complete 4 take-ons in total, showing he still has the ability to beat his man with ease. Overall a 2-2 result is probably what both teams deserved and Félix’s Atlético must be given credit for the way they came back from a 2-0 deficit.

Now we go over to Germany where Bayer Leverkusen played host to João Mario’s new club Lokomotiv Moscow. Prior to the match, much of the talk was that this game was to be a relatively straight-forward task for Leverkusen, but it was anything but. Mário got himself an assist to make it 1-1 as he supplied Krychowiak in the 16th minute. Apart from the assist Mário, who operated predominantly as a left midfielder, didn’t have the greatest of games, giving the ball away cheaply and only completing 19 passes which is relatively poor for someone as technically proficient as he is. He will be thoroughly pleased with his goal contribution however, as it contributed to Lokomotiv winning the match 1-2 to achieve one of the results of matchday one and take all three points back to Russia.

by Aaron Barton

 

Comments (5)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Bruno Lage did an absolutely amazing job in the second half of last season to win the title, playing great attacking football and properly utilising the Seixal talent. However this season so far he has been making some very questionable selection...

Bruno Lage did an absolutely amazing job in the second half of last season to win the title, playing great attacking football and properly utilising the Seixal talent. However this season so far he has been making some very questionable selection decisions. Firstly stubbornly insisting with the Seferovic and De Tomas front two, when pretty much everyone else is of the opinion that it's not working, and just two goals between them (both for Seferovic) in 7 matches is statistical proof. Against Porto he made the wrong selection for the match, and again against Leipzig. Making wholesale changes for the much more demanding CL, and putting his strongest team for the league? It's what he did in the Europa League last season, but this is the champions League now!

To his credit, despite being a very risky inclusion, Tomas Tavares did very well and looks a real talent and one for the future. But Cervi ahead of Rafa? Fejsa ahead of Samaris? And Seferovic, the top scorer from last season, and our most experienced forward, on the bench for such an important and demanding match? Really backfired and Lage has to assume responsibility, especially with practically all our first choice central midfielders out injured, he should have made a more stable selection for such a demanding match.

Still there were positives to take from the match. Even with the makeshift starting 11 we created some very good chances, definitely enough to have drawn, or even won the match, we really should have scored two more goals. Rdt looked better as the number 9 (clearly his best position) but he still hasn't really convinced yet. So far he has looked a bit slow and weak to get first to balls into the box and doesn't seem to have fully adapted yet to the team's style of play. I think at this point, if one of the front 2 has to be dropped, I think it has to be Rdt. He hasn't scored yet so still has a lot to prove, Seferovic has made a slowish start to the season, but he was the top scorer last season and made a big difference after coming on against Leipzig, showing clearly he should have started.

So anyway disappointing start to the group, but we should take confidence in the chances we created against probably the toughest of our three opponents. As long as Lage stops "inventing" and rotating in European matches and plays his strongest team, we will still have a good chance to make it our of the group.

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Andre/UK
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What I'd much prefer to see for the remainder of the CL campaign from Benfica is a formation resembling a kind of 4-2-3-1. As soon as this little central midfield crisis we have at the moment has passed and everyone is fit to play, I would like...

What I'd much prefer to see for the remainder of the CL campaign from Benfica is a formation resembling a kind of 4-2-3-1. As soon as this little central midfield crisis we have at the moment has passed and everyone is fit to play, I would like to see Florentino and Gabriel together, with a more advanced midfielder ahead of them which could be Taarabt or even Gedson. Rafa on the left and Pizzi on the right with Seferovic (or Rdt if he begins to find his feet and his form improves) up front. But with this formation, Rafa would be instructed to play almost as the second forward and to cut into central positions in the final attacking third to support the centre forward, so this could actually shift between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2 within the same match, giving us more flexibility.

I believe this would be the best formation to play in Europe this season, where it is imperative to have a stronger central midfield. We saw in the game against Leipzig that we need a stronger CM for more demanding matches like these. In the Liga, against less demanding opponents who will mostly sit back against us, we can continue with a more traditional 4-4-2, but I think in the CL we need to have a stronger CM, but with Rafa being a key player activating as almost a false second forward, if you like.

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Andre/UK
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Someone insisted not too long ago that RdT would end up being a bust. I consider a forward that doesn't score goals a bust. I can't really critique though, since I'm a Sporting fan. Benfica does have the far superior team in terms of both...

Someone insisted not too long ago that RdT would end up being a bust. I consider a forward that doesn't score goals a bust. I can't really critique though, since I'm a Sporting fan. Benfica does have the far superior team in terms of both starting eleven and depth. It's really up to Benfica to carry the torch if the Portuguese league is to gain ground on the Russian one. I have my doubts though. Oh well.

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Angelo
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I understand that the league should always be our priority and that winning the champions league with such a limited budget is all but impossible, but I still see no reason why we can't field our strongest possible 11 in a group stage home game...

I understand that the league should always be our priority and that winning the champions league with such a limited budget is all but impossible, but I still see no reason why we can't field our strongest possible 11 in a group stage home game against Leipzig.

Rafa is hands down our most dynamic player. There is no way lage is resting him against Porto or Sporting so why rest in in the Champions League. This is Benfica we are talking about.

We are a club that has been to 7 Champions league finals; a club that has over 10 million diehard fans scattered across the globe, yet instead of approaching the most prestigious tournament in club football with the seriousness it deserves, LVP appears content to simply use it as a shop window to showcase academy talent and fringe players we desperately want to sell.

As for the game, I think we played relatively well. Neither side created much, especially in the first half. Leipzig were simply more clinical in front of goal. They had 3 or 4 clear cut chances and took 2 of them. We also created 3 or 4 but only managed to score one. Pizzi and Cervi in particular were particularly wasteful.

The good thing is that this group is still wide open and with the other 2 teams getting a tie, we could jump back into 2nd place with a win in our next game. We most likely need to defeat Zenit and Lyon at home and look to get a couple of away draws if we are to have any chance of advancing.

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jon/usa
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Severely disappointed. I can accept that losing happens, but only when you give it your best shot.
Lage again like last season isn’t taking the European competition seriously. This is game 1 of the group and at home. You are expected to go for...

Severely disappointed. I can accept that losing happens, but only when you give it your best shot.
Lage again like last season isn’t taking the European competition seriously. This is game 1 of the group and at home. You are expected to go for the win, especially considering they weren’t playing any powerhouse but rather someone on their own level.

This switching half the team around, playing players who have not seen many or any minutes this season is a joke. So Cervi isn’t good enough to get a couple minutes in against Gil Vicente and the like, but Leipzig he is fully capable of starting without any play under his belt? I’m not targeting Cervi as this goes for his other changes as well.

Take the damn competition seriously or get out. I don’t expect to win the champions league, but I do expect them to do the best they can and this is not even trying to do that.

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Nunogomes21
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“I hadn’t wanted to play Nani, as he hasn’t trained for a month, but he’s a champion and showed his quality with just a couple of moves. I trust that he can become an example for our younger players.”

Paolo Zanetti
(Venezia coach delighted with Nani after the Portuguese forward provides the assist for an equaliser as a late substitute on his debut) 

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