Benfica – Juventus: Benfica Put Juventus Out Of Their Champions League Misery (4-3)
Benfica extended their unbeaten run to twenty games and have knocked out Juventus on their path. Roger Schmidt’s side dominated Juventus and secured the victory despite a late scare in the closing stages.
Tactical analysis and match report by Rahul Madhavan.
Benfica have certainly been impressive under the guidance of Roger Schmidt. The Portuguese giants have been one of this season’s most exciting teams to watch, with a high level of tactical organization and some excellent intricate play in the forward areas. Despite facing Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus, they are unbeaten in all competitions and are one victory away from qualifying for the next round of the Champions League.
Benfica are flying at the moment but with Juventus just outside the qualification places, they face a team desperate to rescue their season and stay in European competition. Massimiliano Allegri’s side have been below par and their defeat against Maccabi Haifa summed up their campaign. Having said that, the Italian team have won their last two games and arrived in Portugal with some much-needed confidence.
Schmidt has made the least changes to the starting lineup in the competition and once again lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Odysseas Vlachodimos started in goal with the back four comprising Alexander Bah, Nicolas Otamendi, António Silva, and Álex Grimaldo. Enzo Fernández and Florentino Luís have been at the heart of Benfica’s success and they continued in midfield alongside João Mário, Rafa Silva, and Fredrik Aursnes. Gonçalo Ramos started as the number nine.
Juventus, meanwhile, played in a 3-5-2 shape with Wojciech Szczęsny between the sticks. Danilo, Leonardo Bonucci, and Federico Gatti were the center-backs, while Juan Cuadrado and Filip Kostić played as wingbacks. Weston McKennie, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot formed the midfield, and with Angel di Maria still sidelined, Moise Kean started up front with Dušan Vlahović.
Benfica dominate in the opening stages
The game started with Juventus looking to press high up the pitch. From an initial 3-5-2 shape on paper, they shifted to a 4-4-2 structure while pushing forward with Kostić looking to press Benfica’s right back, Bah and McKennie moving wide to Grimaldo.
Moreover, McKennie and Rabiot also found joy between the lines in the early stages, thanks to Bonucci’s quality line-breaking passes. But Schmidt countered the issue by changing his team’s usual 4-4-2 shape to more of a 4-3-3 setup with Aursnes in the midfield alongside Fernández and Luís. This made sure that Benfica were compact centrally.
Meanwhile, Benfica in possession, as they have done all season, invited the pressure from Juventus before playing long passes into the channels for the likes of João Mário and Rafa Silva to attack. The former particularly thrived in his duel with Danilo on the right side, often getting the better of the Brazilian with runs in behind the defense.
When Juventus settled in a medium block, Benfica used Enzo Fernández, who dropped deep and joined the first line to dictate the play. This meant that Schmidt’s side formed a back three in possession, which allowed both the fullbacks to advance up the pitch. Besides, they also created overloads on the left side with Rafa Silva constantly drifting toward that side to progress the ball centrally.
Minute 40: (Grey ball first pass, white ball second pass) Fernández drops deep. McKennie is forced to press Fernández and Benfica create a four-versus-three situation as a result. Rafa Silva gathers the ball centrally and carries it towards the goal.
Benfica’s low buildup structure lured the Italian team forward, but it looked like they were caught in two minds while looking to close the spaces. As a result, Benfica were able to switch with relative ease and allowed to play line breaking passes to the front four. The home team eventually scored the first goal through a well-worked short corner. António Silva glanced his header into the net from Fernández’s cross, but once again, Juventus let their opponents deliver dangerous crosses into the box.
The Rafa Silva show
Rafa Silva was Benfica’s bright spot throughout the game. He positioned himself in the pockets, especially on the left side, and it caused massive problems for Juventus as the center-backs could not get aggressive on him.
Nevertheless, shortly after Benfica scored the opening goal, Juventus equalized via a corner. After a flick on to the far post, Vlahović’s header was saved by goalkeeper Vlachodimos before Moise Kean scored on the rebound. But before Juventus could settle, Benfica were awarded a penalty as Cuadrado handled the ball in the box.
The positional rotation on the left side between Aursnes, Silva, and Grimaldo was rewarded. Silva and Aursnes swapped positions and whilst the former cut inside and carried the ball infield, Aursnes moved wide from a central position. Following the quick exchange of passes between the Norwegian winger and Grimaldo, who positioned himself in the halfspaces, Benfica won the spot kick which João Mário calmly converted.
The third goal arrived within five minutes of the second to make matters worse for Allegri’s side. As Juventus pressed high, Benfica went long and the narrow positioning of the front four helped them win the second ball. Aursnes was at the heart of it, before releasing Rafa Silva. Mário collected the ball wide and his low cross found Silva in the six-yard box whose improvised back heel found the net. At the half-time whistle, Juventus’ hopes of qualification were hanging by a thread.
A thrilling end to the game
With his side trailing at halftime, Allegri instructed his team to press from the front and block the passing lanes to the midfielders. As a result, Juventus employed a man-oriented approach with Vlahović and Arkadiusz Milik (replaced Kean in the second half) starting the move. Rabiot and Locatelli, meanwhile, tightly marked Fernández and Luís as Benfica ultimately were forced to play long passes.
Minute 48: Juventus’ man-oriented high pressing. Otamendi eventually clears the ball centrally as he is short of options.
Having said that, Silva and Ramos were isolated in a two-versus-two situation and looked menacing. Benfica scored again, this time due to Bonucci’s error. The center-back was guilty of conceding possession as Grimaldo pounced on the loose ball before threading a through ball to Rafa Silva, who netted his second of the night.
With Juventus pushing forward, Benfica were a threat on the transition. Rafa Silva was once again instrumental as the home side used his pace to their advantage. They should have undoubtedly scored more with Silva rattling the post in a one-versus-one chance and Ramos forcing a save from goalkeeper Szczęsny.
But the game state changed as a result of the substitutions by Allegri. Alex Sandro and Fabio Miretti replaced Bonucci and Cuadrado at the hour mark, while Matías Soulé and Samuel Iling-Junior came in place of Vlahović and Kostić. Juventus shifted to a 3-2-4-1 shape with Miretti and Soulé playing behind Milik, and Iling-Junior taking Kostić’s place.
Teenager Iling-Junior certainly impressed in his brief cameo and he added directness to the side in the closing stages. Juventus scored twice in a matter of minutes and almost staged a comeback with the young Englishman involved in both goals. Nonetheless, the game ended 4-3 as the Italian side are knocked out from the Champions League group stage for the first time in eight years.
Benfica are through to the knockout stages for the second season running and could potentially secure the top spot if results go their way next week. The first half display was scintillating and despite a late scare, Roger Schmidt will be delighted with the performance of his forwards, especially Rafa Silva.
Juventus, however, are on the other end of the spectrum as things go from bad to worse. The team are short on confidence and struggling for positive results at the moment. Allegri has been given the time to turn around Juventus’ form, but they look poor defensively and short of ideas in possession. Perhaps getting knocked out of the Champions League could be a blessing, as the manager will work on improving his team.
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