Portuguese League: FC Porto-SL Benfica (Key Takeaways)

FC Porto 0-1 SL Benfica (Estádio do Dragão), 21 October 2022 – key takeaways below

Line-up (4x4x2): Diogo Costa, Pepê, Fábio Cardoso, David Carmo, Zaidu; Uribe, Eustáquio, Otávio, Galeno; Evanilson, Taremi

Also played: R Conceição, Wendell, Veron Toni Martinez.

What a let down. Benfica left Porto with the 3 points after a hard fought game, with little football being played and a fair amount of refereeing controversy. Despite playing for over an hour with just 10-men, I don’t think Porto were inferior to Benfica and a draw would have been the correct score. At the end of the day though, Eustáquio got sent off, Bah didn’t, Porto were all heart and little brain, and Benfica scored one. That’s really the summary of this game.

Key Takeaways

  • I was quite surprised when I saw the starting line-ups – a very attacking line-up by Sérgio Conceição, with Pepê at right-back, Galeno on the left and Evamilson up front next to Taremi. Benfica lined-up as I expected (you can read my preview here), but with Bah starting instead of Gilberto.
  • To Sérgio’s credit, Porto came out with fire and Benfica were really struggling. They’re not used to being pressured high up the pitch and it really showed. Benfica lost the ball 12 times in the opening 20 minutes, which is quite an incredible stat. And Porto almost capitalised on it, but Vlachodimos made a superb save to deny Taremi on the 15th minute.
  • Benfica started to stabilised a bit and then got a massive help from Eustáquio. He got sent off with two yellow cards in the space of three minutes (24th and 27th), both of which were deserved. Both plays, especially the second one, were borderline red cards. No complaints. He has been kind of a revelation this season, but has really struggled to impose himself in the majority of our big games. This sending off was inexcusable.
  • Whilst I’m not going to argue about Eustáquio, why didn’t Bah get sent off soon after? Already on a yellow card, he made 3 fouls in the space of 11 minutes, the third of which should have resulted in a yellow card in isolation – let alone if you consider the previous plays. I don’t understand the different criteria. Is it because one plays in blue and the other one in red? Definitely looked like it.
Ridiculous sending off. Eustáquio needs to go to the doghouse for a while after this one.
  • Sérgio adjusted by moving Otávio to the centre and Taremi to the right-side of the midfield. I didn’t love that. I understand why he didn’t want to over react and make a substitution on the spot, but he should have changed it at half-time. It’s really concerning how Sérgio just seems to freeze whenever we are down to 10. That was the downfall at Atlético as well.
  • We needed some muscle in midfield, because it was clear Benfica would have a lot more possession. Playing Taremi on the right just doesn’t make sense. I would have brought on Grujic for Evanilson at half-time and moved Otávio back to the flank. You could argue Otávio was playing quite well and so it could be a mistake to take him out of there (I disagree), but then at the very least you bring on Rodrigo to play right-back and have Pepê play as right-winger.
  • Schmidt had no fear about changing things around and replaced Bah for Gilberto, Draxler for Enzo and Neres for João Mário at half-time. I don’t think Benfica played any better, mostly because Draxler is like half a player these days. But he saw where the issues were (Bah should have been sent off, Enzo was playing poorly and João Mário was also on a yellow card) and tried to fixed them.
Taremi played on the right-wing for the majority of the game, which I thought was a mistake.
  • Veron came on in the middle of the second-half, replacing Evanilson. I thought that was a potentially good sub, but for most of the time it looked like Veron was playing centrally, whilst Taremi stayed on the right. It made little sense. Draxler (injury) had been replaced by Musa, which I thought was a net positive for them.
  • Benfica had a lot of possession but weren’t really creating any chances. If anything, it felt like Porto might be able to make something happen, as we had started to gain the upper hand. On one of the rare times that Pepê appeared on offense, Porto nearly scored and then Benfica hit us on the break and scored.
  • Sérgio tried to go for the equaliser, bringing on Toni Martinez and Wendell for Zaidu and Galeno, but it was too little, too late. Benfica mostly controlled the game and nearly scored again on the 91st minute, but Diogo Costa made a tremendous save. There was still time for Rodrigo to get a few minutes before the game ended.
Rafa scored the winning goal after a well designed counter-attack.
  • Porto had one big chance by Taremi and a couple of half chances in the second-half. Benfica had four chances overall from Rafa (straight the keeper, hit the bar, shot deflected and a goal). There wasn’t much separating the two teams, and I think a draw would have been a truer reflection of what happened during the 90mins.
  • I had identified Pepê and Rafa as the two key men – one scored the winning goal (Rafa) and the other one spent the whole game defending (Pepê). Who’s fault is that? Sérgio for insisting on a bad idea or the board for not providing him with a trust-worthy right-back? It’s becoming a defining issue for Porto this season. I hope Rodrigo or João Mário get the start in Bruges and play well.
  • Otávio looks like he is back to the form he showed last season. But the midfield continues to underwhelm in big games. Even Uribe hasn’t been as impactful as he was earlier in the season. It’s a big concern that won’t be resolved for another 2 months (at least). I think it’s time to give Grujic a run of games and see what he can do.
Otávio will be absolutely key in this final stretch of games before the break.

Benfica are now 6 points away. There are 24 games still to play, but that is a fairly sizable lead. Porto cannot afford to drop anymore points until the break. We’ve got Santa Clara away after Bruges and then Atlético. These next three games will be decisive. I expect a strong response on Wednesday in Belgium (kick-off at 5.45pm).

Match ratings (1-5):

D Costa (3), Pepê (3), F Cardoso (3), D Carmo (3), Zaidu (2), Uribe (3), Eustáquio (1), Otávio (4), Galeno (3), Taremi (3), Evanilson (3).
Veron (2), T Martinez (3), Wendell & R Conceição (n/a).

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