With the Newcastle United being drawn against footballing aristocrats Benfica for their Europa League quarter final on Thursday, here is part two of my guide to Benfica.
In part one, I took a look at some aspects of Benfica’s history, including it’s links to Newcastle United and the North East in general. In this one, I will looking at things like the club’s current form, it’s coach Jorge Jesus, tactics, some of Benfica’s key players and that sort of thing.
Benfica and Newcastle United have never played each other competitively, so we can get that one out of the way pretty sharpish and take a look at their current form.
Benfica’s form in the Portuguese League is pretty predictable. If they’re doing well they’re top of the League, and if they’re doing not so well they are second, usually behind their fierce rivals, FC Porto. Their other great rivals in the Portuguese “Três Grandes” (Big three) are fellow Lisbon side Sporting Clube de Portugal, but they seem to be in a bit of a pickle at the moment, currently languishing in eighth in a sixteen team league.
The news is that Benfica are doing very well at the moment. They are currently top of the Portuguese Primeira Liga and with 24 games gone, and like second placed Porto they have yet to lose a league game this season. As you can see from the table below, both the Portuguese giants are way ahead of the chasing pack, led by Paços de Ferreira in third place. Having written that, they were in a similar position at this stage last season but eventually lost out to their usual nemesis, Porto.
|Primeira Liga top four 2012-13 (so far).|
|3.||FC Paços de Ferreira||24||12||9||3||35||22||+13||45|
Benfica in Europe this year.
Benfica find themselves in the Europa League after an unexpected departure from the group stages of the Champions League. They were second favourites in their group behind the mighty Barcelona, but due largely to the unexpectedly good performance of Celtic, who even managed to inflict a defeat on runaway group favourites, Barcelona.
Two of Benfica’s three defeats in all competitions this season came in this Champions League group stage, the first being a 0-2 home defeat to Barcelona and a 2-1 away defeat by Spartak Moscow. The third was a defeat on penalties in the semi-final of the Portuguese League Cup against SC Braga. Below, you can see Benfica’s record in both the Champions League and more latterly, the Europa League.
|2012-13 Champions League Group G.|
|4.||FC Spartak Moscow||6||1||0||5||7||14||-7||3|
If we take a look at Benfica’s Europa League recerd, we can see that they’ve won all four of their games against considerable opposition in the form of Bayer Leverkusen, who are currently third in the German Bundesliga, and Newcastle United’s Group D Europa League opponents who we beat 3-0 at home, only to see them get their revenge with a 2-0 victory at their place.
|Benfica Europa League 2012-13.|
The scorelines in Benfica’s games were a 0-1 victory against Leverkusen away followed by a 2-1 victory at the Stadium of Light. In their two matches against Bordeaux, they beat the French 1-0 at home with a 3-2 victory in the away leg.
Coach and tactics.Once described by Jose Mourinho as “an old donkey who’s never won anything,” Benfica’s 58 year Jorge Jesus certainly wasn’t a big name when he was announced as Benfica’s new head coach in June, 2009. He was a Portuguese journeyman whose biggest achivements were qualifying for the UEFA Cup and reaching a Portuguese Cup final with Belenenses, followed by UEFA Cup qualification once more with Braga. However, despite his somewhat underwhelming record before joining Benfica, he somehow managed to wangle a monster sized £3.2 million per year contract out of the Portuguese giants, which makes him currently the fifteenth most well renumerated manager in the world.
Since then though, he won Benfica their first Portuguese League title in five years in his first season (2009-10), as well as winning three Portuguese League cups since that time. Although he has missed out on the two League championships since then, Benfica’s biggest rivals, Porto, were pipping Benfica to the League title long before Jesus took over as head coach. In the last 10 seasons, Porto have won eight titles to Benfica’s two (2004–05 and 2009–10). This means that Benfica have similar worries to Newcastle, albeit at opposite ends of the scale. In other words, if Alan Pardew concentrates too strongly on the Europa League it could affect Newcastle’s relegation battle whereas if Benfica do the same thing, it could effect their battle to win the League over their bitter rivals from Porto. Jesus’s contract is up for renewal at the end of the season and if Porto turn over Benfica like last season, it could be “lampshade time” for Jesus.
Looking at Benfica’s tactics, one thing Alan Pardew should be prepared for is Benfica going straight for the jugular in terms of attack on their home turf. They are an offensive passing side who press hard when they aren’t in possession, though that isn’t very often in their domestic League games against lesser opposition (In their last game they hammered sixth placed Rio Ave 6-1). For those of you who remember the start of our game with Mauricio Pochettino’s Southampton, that’s the kind of thing I mean.
Formation wise they seem to be very flexible and fluid, though Jesus’s default certainly seems to be a 4-1-3-2, with the Serbian Nemanja Matic as an automatic choice as the holding midfield “1”. Formerly a young bit part player at Chelsea who was loaned out to Vitesse Arnhem in his last season there, he has become a key player for the side since Javi García was sold to Manchester City, he is their fulcrum who can turn defence into attack in a heartbeat as besides being defensive, he is also a very good passer who is comfortable on the ball. As I mentioned above though, Jesus can be flexible, expecially so in Europe. Hence we may see them lining up as a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1. Whetever it is though, Matic will still be that fulcrum in the centre somewhere.
Looking at things from the Newcastle United side however, every Geordie’s favourite trumpet playing Peruvian, Nolberto Solano, has been fighting wor corner. In a piece entitled “Newcastle tem nada de futebol” or “Newcastle has nothing of football” in Portuguese sports journal O Jogo (“the Game”), The Peruvian maestro said that Newcastle’s strength in the games will be their er, strength, and that is what will eventually see the Toon through to the semi finals. Over to Nobby:
“Newcastle has a strong physical presence. They have amazing players like Sissoko, Tiote, Cisse, and Ameobi who are physically powerful. Distinguished by height, strength, and speed and jumping ability. I want to say that Newcastle will pull off a football shock.”
PS: The following is the 19 man squad Alan Pardew has taken to Lisbon.
Tim Krul (G), Rob Elliot (G), Danny Simpson (D), Steven Taylor (D), Mike Williamson (D), Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa (D), Davide Santon (D), Vurnon Anita (M, D), Jonas Gutierrez (M. D), James Perch (M. D), Yohan Cabaye (M), Moussa Sissoko (M), Sylvain Marveaux (M), Dan Gosling (M), Gael Bigirimana (M), Gabriel Obertan (M), Shola Ameobi (F), Papiss Cisse (F), Adam Campbell (F). .
Benfica’s top hitmen.
|Benfica top scorers 2012-13.|
|1.||Óscar Cardozo (CF)||34||27||5||2217||82.1|
|4.||Eduardo Salvio (RW)||39||10||10||2960||296.0|
|Gms – Games, Gls – Goals, Ass – Assists, MPl – Minutes Played, MPG – Minutes Per Goal.|
As you can see in the goalscoring table above, Benfica have a very potent front two in Óscar Cardozo and Lima, with Cardozo scoring a goal every 82 minutes on average and Lima every 110. Of course though, this must be tempered by the fact that this is mostly in Portuguese League matches. As for Rodrigo, he is still the 22 year old apprentice who is making a very good name for himself with Benfica. You might remember him from a loan spell in the Premiership with Bolton back in the 2010–2011 season (Newcastle United’s first back in the Premiership), though he only featured as a very late substitute in one game against the Magpies in that season.
Finally in this section, as a personal indulgence, I must mention Benfica’s Pablo Aimar. He’s 33 now, and not always the automatic choice he used to be for any team he played for in the past. However, he is one of THE great European players of the last few years and if you don’t believe me, you can listen on one of his biggest fans, Lionel Messi. I know Aimar very well from my trips to see Valencia years ago, when he was the creative engine of the great Rafa Benitez side that won two la Liga titles and the UEFA Cup between 2001 and 2004. It was always a privilege and a pleasure to see the great artist at work.
Pablo Aimar – “The complete player from Rio Cuarto.”
Benfica in action.
Benfica’s last game, a 6-1 Primeira Liga demolition of sixth placed side, Rio Ave. The goalscorers for Benfica were Lorenzo Melgarejo (11), Lima (43, 48, 76), and finally Enzo Pérez (81).
Without the huge TV and commercial revenue of the big clubs in the UK and Spain, Benfica have to rely on their their their reknowned footballer farm to grow players of the highest calibre to sell on to the ones who have. Along with clubs like Ajax and one or two others, they are arguably world leaders in the development of top level talent. Recent sales to the moneybags clubs next door in Spain and over here in the UK include talents such as Ramires and David Luiz (Chelsea €47 million), Fabio Coentrão and Angel di Maria (Real Madrid €66 million plus Ezequiel Garay), Javi García (Manchester City £15.8 million) and more. If Benfica were in the Premiership, or negotiating their own TV deals in Spain like Barcelona and Real Madrid, they would almost certainly still be one of the world’s great teams, as they were in the 1960s.