PHEW It was a week of sheer drama as the Bundesliga and the Champions League saw a series of unexpected/awkward results. On matchday 20, we witnessed the return of the old guards and all the teams ranked second through seventh tasted defeat (if you have missed any of the action, the BundesPL and Talking Fussball podcast will give you the best dose of rewind).
In the Champions League, a monumental PSG side completely smacked aside tournament favorites FC Barcelona 4:0! Luckily for Dortmund though, PSG’s brilliance ruled the internet and media while completely overshadowing Benfica’s industrious win over the German giants. But hold tight! cause I am here to expose the curtains!!!
So how exactly did Benfica manage to undo Dortmund? Is it a case of having one of those nights where things didn’t go in their way? Expected goals seem to think so.
Or did Rui Vitoria spill his tactical magic on this hard working SL Benfica side?
The hosts started the game in explosive fashion, both the sides looked very active in the first 15 mins. Dortmund began to improvise their long lost scheme of ‘gegenpress’ against the home side. Lukasz Piszczek, Sokratis and Marc Bartra comprised the three man backline.
The pressing did seem to be going well for Thomas Tuchel’s team as they managed to craft a few chances in the first quarter of the game. Raphael Guerreiro acted as the receiver for Dortmund’s transition midfielder Julian Weigl. The Portuguese international, who always had the dream of wearing the Benfica kit, ran across the opposition half space, much like a ball carrier, while Ousmane Dembele wreaked havoc for the Benfica defense (in the first 10 mins)
What went wrong?
TOO PASSIVE! – This has been Dortmund’s problem for the entirety of the season. Fruitless possession is exactly what’s failing Dortmund this season. Marc Bartra and Sokratis made 60 passes between them last night(which is one-third of total passes for the entire Benfica squad!). That’s mostly down to the lack of a proper ball carrier or a build up player in the middle. Julian Weigl, even though he had a lot more space and freedom compared to his usual Bundesliga outings, where he often gets marked out of the game, is still too inexperienced to take the responsibility.
So the main problem was their lack of involvement in the opposition half space, a job which was previously given to Ilkay Gündogan. Raphael Guerreiro sometimes, lacked the accuracy to create something on his own. He also failed to create any chances and work the ball towards goal in this one.
We can clearly see Guerreiro’s lack of involvement from the middle. This however, was a problem in the second half, just after Benfica had found the go-ahead goal thanks to Kostas Mitroglou.
This makes it even clear. Note the big dots consisting of Julian Weigl, Sokratis, Piszczek and Bartra. All of them, who tried to find the telling pass but consistently failed, while ending up dawdling the ball among themselves as a result of Benfica’s offensive pressure. Ousmane Dembele in the middle, is almost singled out(Not a good sign on Valentine’s day). The French international attempted just two take-ons, although he averages 2.6 successful dribbles in the UCL so far!(SRSLY!).
The extreme inaccuracy also didn’t help the visitors. Out of 19 attempted crosses, 16 were off target, while just three found its location, that’s just about what Benfica have managed in their eight attempted crosses on the night. Crossing seems to be a problem in the UCL for Borussia, as they have succeeded on just 2.4 out of the 13.7 attempted for 17.5% in the seven games so far, versus 4.3 out of 13.8 for 31% in the Bundesliga. Lord Dortmund!!
Now we’ll turn our attention to Benfica. Personally, I thought it was a terrific night for the Portuguese outfit, whose fantastic work ethic, coupled with the right amount of heroism, saw them overcome Dortmund. Endeavoring a high back line, against the tournament’s best attack is certainly something you don’t wanna do. However, Rui Vitoria’s men did just that. A four man back line consisting of Victor Lindelof, Luisao, Nelson Semedo and Eliseu had a tough evening against the Black and Yellows. An extremely nervy and vulnerable start to the game, was followed by a gem of a defensive work later on, especially from Luisao. The veteran Brazilian defender was making his 500th appearance against Dortmund, as he attempted four tackles, won three aerial duels, completed four interceptions and made nine clearances! Victor Lindelof also got back into the game as it wore on, making four important interceptions.
As for the offense, the Aguias executed a marvelous offensive game plan against Tuchel’s men. The main credit should be given to Eduardo Salvio, who ended up putting half of Benfica’s attacking efforts. While he clearly didn’t have a peaceful evening down the right flank, having had to cope with the likes of Marcel Schmelzer and Raphael Guerreiro. The 26-year-old attempted eight take-ons(double the total of Reus, Guerreiro, Durm, Dembele and Aubameyang combined!!) and completed three crosses.
The Benfica passing map clearly suggests, their offensive game plan of coming down from the right-wing to feed Eduardo. The threatening right-sided dynamics helped the homes side breach the Dortmund half quite easily.
Having said that though, Benfica should also call themselves lucky, considering the number of chances Aubameyang has fluffed on that night. Ever since he came back from African Cup of Nations, the Gabonese International hasn’t been on the best of forms for his club. His penalty miss was massively criticized by most of the Dortmund faithful, in fact, some are even accusing of not having focus because of the ongoing rumors of him moving to Real Madrid. However, regardless of which way you put it, he still leads the Bundesliga scoring charts and is undoubtedly one of Europe’s hottest strikers. A turn of fortunes in next game may change the whole complexion.
As for Dortmund, the odds will still favor them. Two weeks later, the German giants will welcome Benfica to their fortress, Signal Iduna Park, where even the likes of Bayern and Real Madrid have failed this season. A 2:0 win could easily pave their way into the next round. The main task would be to stay resolute and use their firepower against this sharp attacking Benfica side.
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