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Thursday, 10 January 2013 14:12

Benfica versus FC Porto: the definitive preview

Portugal gripped by Clássico fever

slb-fcp-logo.jpgOn Sunday night fierce rivals Benfica and FC Porto go head to head at the Estádio da Luz. Always a special occasion, this season’s Clássico is set up beautifully, with both teams in magnificent form and inseparable at the top of the table. PortuGOAL previews a match that has the makings of a historic clash.
 
 
 

The Backdrop

It is often said in Portugal that the championship title is decided in the matches between the main candidates. History shows us that is something of a simplified misconception. However, this season it is increasingly looking like the matches between Benfica and FC Porto will indeed be decisive in defining who are the 2012/13 champions of Portugal. Tom Kundert sets the scene. 
 

Irresistible form

In short, the Eagles and the Dragons have shown they are at a completely different level to all the rest. Still unbeaten in Liga play, the two clubs have an eerily similar record this season. Both dropped two points on day one of the season, and a further two before round five was complete. And no more. It’s been nothing but victories since the end of September, including many of the robust variety.
 
Benfica in particular have been scoring freely of late (22 goals in their last 7 matches), and have enviable fire power in the form of Oscar Cardozo, Lima, Rodrigo, Salvio, Gaitán, and Ola John, all of whom pose significant goal threats for Porto. Porto’s performances this season, in contrast, have been less exuberant for the most part, but the Dragons have arguably shown a better overall balance and more defensive solidity (6 goals conceded in their last 10 matches).
 
As well as this season’s near identical results, the significance of the first meeting between the two teams in the last three seasons also suggests a huge amount is riding on Sunday’s game. In 2009/10 Porto lost 1-0 at the Luz, on the night of the infamous “Hulk tunnel” incident. Benfica had grabbed an advantage they would not relinquish.

Twelve months later and the first fixture was in the north. André Villas-Boas’s swashbuckling side tore apart Benfica, winning 5-0, setting the tone for a glorious season and a resounding title conquest. Last season the first meeting was again at the Estádio do Dragão, and a close-fought 2-2 draw mirrored what would be a nip and tuck title race. Benfica led for much of the way, but a strong finish from the northerners saw Porto crowned champions again.
 

Ferocious rivalry

Two shifts in the Portuguese football landscape over recent seasons have served to turn what was always an intense rivalry into a ferocious one. The fall from grace of Portugal’s third grande (although Braga have gleefully stepped into the void), has edged the Liga ZON Sagres ever more towards becoming a copy of the situation at Iberian neighbours Spain, and a league that essentially one of only two teams can win.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, the appointment of Jorge Jesus as Benfica coach in the summer of 2009 ended a period of chronic instability at the Lisbon club. 20 coaches during a fifteen year-spell before Jesus took the hot seat at the Luz tells its own story. Benfica’s newfound consistency has led to an upturn in the club’s fortunes. The ever more vitriolic exchanges between the two rivals is evidence that Porto now respect Benfica, even fear them, as serious challengers to their place on the throne of Portuguese football. May the next act begin…
 
 

Tactical Analysis

Throughout the season Benfica and Porto have been involved in a two-horse race, leaving every other club in the dust. With Sporting no longer a factor in the battle for the title and Braga less consistent than in the past few seasons, Eagles and Dragons will be pitted against each other on Sunday evening, aware of the importance of this particular match.
 
Not unlike the Spanish league (although to a lesser extent), both clubs are involved in a fight of their own - draws having become the new defeats. In fact, both teams will get on the pitch still undefeated - with nothing but two draws on their league record -, as if they were completely unassailable for the remainder of the Portuguese top tier. The duel between the two sides has become so fierce that some of their tactical features are progressively becoming more and more similar. Over the next few paragraphs, Vasco Mota Pereira analyses the expected key battles.
 

High pressing

Benfica have been doing this ever since Jorge Jesus took the helm at the club, a coach determined to attack in repeated waves, put on a good show and stifle his opponents. Porto, in turn, were usually a more withdrawn side. However, despite some mishaps in the past season, Vítor Pereira has been able to improve his side's pressing (and, most importantly, its timing). In that regard, both teams arrive at this crucial tie with the habit of exerting high pressure upon their opponent and occupying their attacking turf. Will either team back down from that approach? If not, will Porto trouble Benfica like they did last year or, on the contrary, will Benfica take the most of playing home and smother Porto right out of the gate?
 
Secondly, both teams share the same issue when it comes to high pressing. While they are usually very effective at that level, they are often quite vulnerable when their opponents manage to get past that initial pressing phase. On those occasions, both sides are often left defending with three or four players at the most, with huge pockets of space to exploit. Against lower teams, that is not a problem most of the times, but against superior teams, it may prove costly.
 

Matic

matic.jpgWhen Benfica sold Javi García to Manchester City, fans feared the worst. The Spaniard had been the defensive fulcrum upon whom the whole all-out attacking approach depended. Despite his numerous goals from set pieces, García was happy to remain in the background, ready to get into action when the team lost the ball. His intensity and excellent game-reading abilities allowed him to break down many of the opponents' attacks, often in numerical inferiority. His departure did not seem to bode well for Benfica.
 
However, according to Jorge Jesus' own words, García was only allowed to leave because the coach thought he had a better player waiting for his chance. That player was Nemanja Matic. The Serb finally got the opportunity to show his worth and was integrated almost seamlessly into the team.
 
However, García and Matic are two very different players. The former Real Madrid midfielder was very much a defence-oriented player, excelling at frustrating the opponents' transitions into attack. Conversely, he was less adept in the offensive side of the game (except for the aforementioned set pieces).
 
Matic is the exact opposite. His great technical skills allow him to be more comfortable on the ball and, most importantly, to immediately turn a defensive situation into a scoring chance for his side due to his better passing ability. On the other hand, the former Chelsea player is slower to get back into position and is often exposed (along with his defence) in quick breakaways. If Porto manage to get past Benfica's immediate pressing, the Eagles may stand to suffer.
 

Defour

James Rodríguez's absence is a huge setback for Porto. Without Hulk on the squad, the Colombian young star has picked up the slack and become one of the most important player in the Dragons' maneuvers. His tendency to start on the right and drift inwards (often exchanging positions with Lucho González) means that Porto often have effectively four players in the centre - where Benfica usually tend to deploy just two. Danilo's progressive adaptation to European football and the manager's requests have also been making him more dangerous down the flank, allowing James Rodríguez to stay tucked in most of the time.
 
According to all suggestions, Steven Defour is likely to take the young starlet's place. The Belgian has played at times on the right wing, but mostly when Porto were desperate to get a win and went 4x2x3x1. As a similar player to João Moutinho, Defour is clever enough to take up virtually any position on the pitch, which does not necessarily mean he will excel at it. If he does end up playing as a right winger, he will also tend to drift centrally, like James.
 
On one hand, without the Colombian, Porto suddenly find themselves almost devoid of a creative spark, which so often comes in handy in such competitive matches. On the other hand, Defour's presence may put the Dragons in some sort of a 4x4x2 diamond formation, which will tilt the midfield battle in their favour, in all likelihood. If Benfica manage to concentrate the match on the wings, Porto may face an uphill battle.
 

Set pieces

Despite having conceded a mere six goals, Porto have looked shaky when it comes to defending set pieces - one of Benfica's fortes under Jorge Jesus, as it turns out. The near post, in particular, is often quite vulnerable, especially when there is a slight deflection towards the far post. In such a tight contest, a poorly defended free kick or corner kick could end up deciding the result.
 

Squad depth

Porto do not possess an outstandingly deep squad. Without Atsu, James and Kléber, Vítor Pereira has only the raw Kelvin to resort to if things go awry - which is why the timing of Izmailov's signing may yet prove crucial. If the Dragons happen to concede first, fatigue may set in and the coach's lack of options may become very much apparent.
 
Benfica, on the other hand, are awash with attacking options, should the need arise for a plan B and an even more attacking approach. Nolito, Ola John, Rodrigo and Kardec will most likely sit on the bench, lurking in the shadows and waiting for the opportunity to punish their opponents when their legs are not quite as fresh.
 

History

Sunday’s Clássico will be the 224th edition of what has become Portuguese football’s most visceral – and trophy-laden – rivalry. Porto currently have 86 victories to their credit, Benfica have 83, with a further 54 matches ending in stalemate. Ben Shave examines five of the most memorable encounters from down the years.


Porto 3-3 Benfica, April 23rd 1939, Campo da Constituição

1938/39 was one of many title Liga races that went down to the final round of matches, and on this occasion, it was the Dragões who needed just a point against the Águias to secure the title. Benfica had demolished Casa Pia 10-1 the previous week, whilst Porto were coming off an energy-sapping 4-4 draw at home to Sporting. Coached by Hungarian-Portuguese Mihaly ‘Miguel’ Siska, Porto took the lead after just two minutes through António Santos, triggering a bizarre match during which the goals arrived in pairs: two minutes, seven minutes (Rogério for Benfica), 44 minutes (Costuras for Porto), 47 minutes (Alexandre Brito for Benfica), 61 minutes (Santos again), 62 minutes (Brito again). At the end of the 90, Porto had won their second national title. 


Benfica 2-1 Porto, December 6th 1959, Estádio da Luz

A match significant not so much for the result – José Águas (second only to Eusébio in the all-time Clássico scoring charts) contributing another brace to hand Benfica the points – but for the man in the home dugout. Belá Guttman had guided Porto to an unexpected title in 1958/59, but the already-famed coach was lured south by Benfica, and set about ushering in a brief but brilliant era at the Estádio da Luz.

Given Guttman’s well-documented awareness of exactly how much his talents were worth, we can safely assume the Porto directors left the Luz wishing they’d emptied their wallets to keep him.


Benfica 3-2 Porto, November 5th 1972, Estádio da Luz

Jimmy Hagan’s Benfica, a side that went the entire 1972/73 campaign undefeated, are rightly hailed as one of the greatest Portugal has ever produced. Humberto Coelho, António Simões, Toni, Jaime Graça, Rui Jordão, Nené, and of course Eusébio (who would go on to win the Golden Boot, but was absent for this particular match)…the names trip off the tongue. Indeed, no other Liga side managed to repeat the feat, until André Villas-Boas’ treble-winning Porto squad of 2010/11.

But it almost didn’t come to pass, as Porto (having a poor season under Fernando Riera, twice a title winner as Benfica coach) set about nearly pulling off something of a shock at the Luz.

Abel, a barrel-chested centre forward brought to Portugal from Moçambique by Benfica, but squeezed out by the considerable presence of Eusébio et al in 1970, struck to give Porto the lead after just 21 minutes; and when Flávio doubled their advantage with less than half an hour remaining it looked good for Porto. But two goals in as many minutes from Vítor Baptista and Graça levelled the scores to set up a tense finish, and Coelho rifled home a last-minute winner. Benfica had prevailed after coming close to dropping points - something they did on only two occasions that season.


Benfica 0-5 Porto, September 18th 1996, Estádio da Luz

A 5-0 result is always something to sit up and take notice of – and all the more so when it comes in a Clássico. The most recent occurrence of course took place at the Dragão in 2010, when the aforementioned Porto coached by André Villas-Boas inflicted an acute humiliation on their eternal rivals, as they marched towards the title. However, this win, which sealed the Supertaça in emphatic fashion, defined the Portuguese football scene during the mid-1990’s, with Porto swaggering, and Benfica floundering.

Domingos had given the Dragões a narrow lead to take to Lisbon in the first leg, but after their traditional opening day draw against Braga, Benfica had recovered with convincing victories over Gil Vicente and Setúbal. Few could have anticipated the mauling that followed. A woefully underhit return pass from Valdo set summer signing Artur free to open the scoring after just three minutes, Edmilson finished off a rapid counter attack moments before half time. Benfica were in disarray, and a powerful but undoubtedly saveable header from Jorge Costa moments after the restart hardly helped matters. A delightful curling effort from Wetl and late strike from Drulovic completed the rout. Mário Jardel (pictured), who ended up with 30 goals that season, didn’t even make it off the bench.

The Dragões would ultimately finish thirteen clear of Sporting and 28 clear of Benfica, cruising to the third of five consecutive title victories. Águias coach Paulo Autuori survived the shellacking, but after another home loss to Porto, followed by defeat at Guimarães later in the season, he was shown the door. Taça winners the previous May, Benfica would not lift another trophy until 2004 – with the intervening years the darkest in their history.


Porto 3-2 Benfica, October 28th 2006, Estádio do Dragão

From one relentlessly successful Porto side to another. Under Jesualdo Ferreira, who succeeded Co Adriaanse in the summer of 2006 the Dragões combined boatloads of silverware (four successive titles and two Taças between 2006-2009) with thrilling attacking football, produced by the likes of Lucho González, a young Ricardo Quaresma, Lisandro López, and the mercurial Moroccan Tarik Sektioui.

But although they were relentless, they were not as ruthless as their counterparts from the previous decade. Porto had been somewhat flat in their 1-1 draw at Sporting the previous weekend, whilst Benfica, who had emerged from the doldrums under Giovanni Trapattoni in 2004/05, were becoming a force once again.

That fact was underlined on a thrilling night at the Dragão. Porto raced out of the blocks, and Hélder Postiga almost deflected a slack clearance from the dallying Luisão over Quim and into the net during the opening stages. The Portugal international has never been known for his goals to game ratio, but he does tend to pop up when it matters, and this night was no different. On eleven minutes, he did well to hold up a Lisandro flick-on before turning to shoot, and the ball flicked off the Argentine to deceive Quim and put Porto ahead. Ten minutes later, the fresh-faced, swivel-hipped Quaresma provided yet another indicator of his potent talent, making Nélson look rather foolish with some exquisite footwork before curling an unstoppable strike home from the left hand edge of the box.

Porto were thrown out of their rhythm by an injury to Anderson (the Brazilian would go onto miss the next six months, and set the tone for his subsequent career to date), and Benfica emerged for the second half a different team. Katsouranis was left unmarked to head home at the near post with an hour gone, and when Nuno Gomes converted from Nélson’s low ball Benfica were level with nine minutes to go – despite Porto’s vehement appeals for an offside flag.

The game’s decisive protagonist wasn’t even on the field at that point. Bruno Moraes, last seen warming the bench at União de Leiria in 2011/12, is one of many players brought by Porto, only to flicker rather than burst into an extended European career. But on this night, he was the undisputed hero, nodding home from a goalmouth scramble in the 92nd minute. It would provide a crucial victory come May, with Porto retaining the title by a single point from Sporting – Benfica finished two back.  
 
by Tom Kundert, Vasco Mota Pereira and Ben Shave

For full, in-depth coverage of Sunday night's Clássico, be sure to visit PortuGOAL.net. 

Comments (10)
Bitter Rivals
10 Monday, 14 January 2013 08:36
Benfiquistas are such sore losers they even switch off the stadium lights while the fans are still in the seats!!!.
Força Benfica!!!!!
9 Friday, 11 January 2013 21:30
Nice little video to get us Benfiquistas pumped up for the game!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuaO7KfKFYA
A must win for Benfica
8 Friday, 11 January 2013 17:32
The SuperLiga has become very much like La Liga, with Porto and Benfica running away as big favorites. For me, these matches are always must wins for the home team. While a must win for the home team, I do feel either team could win on the road.

Porto has proven over and over to be a Big Game team. They have come up big at the biggest moments, except for their CL play last season.
Benfica, in my opinion, has come up small in big matches. We tend to be frontrunners, and falter when adversity strikes. We sometimes look nervous and apprehensive, which is hard to imagine.

We will miss Luisao, should he not play. But if Garay is at his best, I feel Jardel will be fine. Max has been shaky, but Ugh really scars me. He will most definitely start, since we'll be trying to exploit Porto out wide. I think that will leave us open out wide and middle, when players need to cover for him.
For me Matic and Enzo should start in the middle. Gomes has been impressive but don't discount how well Enzo has played. On a side note I would like to see Enzo out wide with Gomes and Matic in the middle and Ola wide, just once.
I too feel Salvio and Nico will be the wings. That concerns me because Nico pinches in so much that we'll lose that wide presence. Worst yet, Ugh will be way up field and get caught off, all match long.
Cardozo and Lima will start up top and have a big advantage on Porto's center backs.

As for Porto, they will miss James. Defour, who was supposed to have been better than Axel, hasn't really exploded onto the scene. I feel they will and should the more cautious of the two teams. As its been mentioned, Porto is likely to score against the run of play, while Benfica will need more quality chances.

That being said, I think Benfica will beat the Tripeiros. We're home, and we should have learned from past matches. I still feel that Pereira is more of a roll the ball out there type of manager. JJ has his issues, but I don't think Pereira will hurt us tactically. I'm just hoping that JJ doesn't get cute and outsmart himself.
I see a 3-1 Benfica win, with the last goal coming at extra time at the end with Porto pressing.

Eu Sou Benfica
Eu Sou Campeao
History match
7 Friday, 11 January 2013 16:18
I think u guyz should add the 03-04 taca de Portugal final to the list. What a game that was!!!! benfica took away porto's tremble dreams
Correction
6 Friday, 11 January 2013 13:18
"In 2009/10 Porto lost 1-0 at the Luz, on the night of the infamous “Hulk tunnel” incident. Benfica had stolen an advantage they would not relinquish."

Fixed.
Thoughts
5 Friday, 11 January 2013 10:19
First off, great article and preview of this huge match, easily one of the biggest and most fiercely contested encounters in European football. For Benfiquistas, Sporting may be our cross-town rivals and the Derby...but definitely in recent years, Porto has become our biggest rival. Whatever happens I don't think the result of this match will determine anything just yet, it's still way too early in the season...and both clubs have other difficult matches coming up this season where points could be dropped...i.e Benfica away to Braga, Porto away to Sporting etc etc...

A win for Benfica would be huge, as that would put us 6 points clear, albeit with a game more. That would put big pressure on Porto, even with a game in hand. On the other hand a Porto away win would give them a psychological edge. However I repeat, whatever happens there will still be a long way to go and more twists and turns to come.

Benfica is in the better form at the present moment without question, we have been winning games in style for the last couple of months. Porto have been doing just enough for the last few weeks. Benfica had a stronger squad with more depth, to start off with, and even more so now with Porto missing James, Atsu and others for the match. Benfica would therefore appear to be the favourites in this respect, however I will never under-estimate Porto's big match mentality, and superiour record against us in recent head-to-heads....so it's intriguing to say the least, and too close to call.

I agree with the point made on how much Matic has been a key figure in our team this season. In terms of his comparison to Javi Garcia, I would even add further that I think even defensively he's superiour to Garcia...more of a physical presence and has a better positional sense. In short Matic has given us a much better balance between defence and offence compared with last year.

I am pretty sure what team JJ is most likely to pick, the back four will be the current usual (I doubt Luisao will be risked), Matic and Perez (just ahead of the in-form Gomes) in the midfield, Gaitan on the left and Salvio on the right, with Cardozo and Lima up front.

Personally I'd much prefer Ola on the left than Gaitan. I know Nico tends to play better in the bigger matches, but I think the Dutchmen's trickery and unpredictability would cause the Porto defence more problems...also as the article and other posters have pointed out, SLB must look to the flanks as much as possible to prevent Porto bullying in the middle against us as they've done in recent seasons...again, Ola's superiour pace to Gaitan would be better suited to this approach. The great thing for us is that we also have such a strong bench with plenty of options for the second half. Anyway it should be one hot match, can't wait!
Good piece
4 Friday, 11 January 2013 04:58
Gentlemen, well done. It shall indeed be both a battle of wits and nerves.

I find the article to be slightly pro-Benfica at the end. Yes, Benfica has more depth and yes maybe a slight advantage in set pieces but here are some other factors to consider from a Portista point of view.

1. Offside trap

VP has adopted the high back line from the days of AVB. It keeps the opposition from creating flowing attacking options. The defenders can also drift a bit wider thanks to Fernando's excellent marking. Which leads me to point number 2.

2. Fernando

Assuming the Octopus stays healthy between now and Sunday, I think he will be one of the keys to shutting Enzo and Matic down. Fernando is the linchpin that allows such a great transition from defence to attack. Benfica as good as they are need many chances to score. They are amongst the worst wasters of opportunities in Europe. Just look at the Barca game. I see Fernando and Alex Sandro as two reasons why Benfica will actually be able to create lesser chances.

3. Jackson vs Cardozo & Jesus vs Victor

In keeping with the theme of opportunity, Cardozo is quality but he really needs several chances to create a single goal. Jackson is the opposite. He may slip in and out of the game but he only needs one chance to slot it into the back of the net. The other key factor is the coaching matchup. Jesus' rotation and attack vs VP's midfield formation. Here, I think is where we will see the game results. Benfica is more the risk taker and Porto is more the opportunist. I actually see these aspects nullifying both teams.

My prediction is a 0-0 or 1-1 draw. We all want to see a high octane game of football and we might but there's a lot and stake and I see both coaches playing to their team strengths. If James was in the side I would pick Porto to win. But his absence combined with a less stacked bench means that VP will play it safe.

Let's hope its a good one folks.

Cheers.
Clássico
3 Friday, 11 January 2013 03:33
Glorioso !!!!
What a game
2 Friday, 11 January 2013 00:06
So excited, can't wait until the games starts. Should be really close and hard to say who will win.

Benfica is really reaping the rewards of keeping one manager and backing him rather than constanting changing at the slightest sign that the team results are poor (i.e. Sporting lol). While Jesus might now be the best manager in the world he is loyal, dedicated, committed to the cause and the team has grown and becomes feared throughout Europe since he took over. I must admit though when Witzel and Javi Garcia left I really didn't know who would replace them but dispite a slow start Matic has been brilliant and one of the best players. Andre Gomes who I think is a future star of the Seleccao, has been amazing and shown maturity beyond his tender age of 19 and Enzo Perez has fitted in well to the team. Benfica also ironically sorted out their left back situation and they now have Luisinho and Malgarejo as solid options. Emerson was solid but in the big games his flaws were clear to see as he was often cuaght out of position by smarter and better players. The only weak point of Benfica that I can see is their depth at Center back. Luisao and Garay are quality but Jardel for the most part is solid but he gets caught out every so often. Against a top team like Porto this can cost you a goal and if he plays then Porto can defiently exploit this weakness. Benfica's attack is by far the most potent of any team in the league without a doubt and they can score goals from any positons. Benfica also have a number of in form subs that they can bring on if they are loosing like Gaitan, Rodrigo, Aimar, Andre Gomes etc.

Porto on the other hand have a really team that are winners and are used to beating Benfica. This year they also welcomed back Lucho a solid player for them in the past and a top goal scoring in Jackson Martinez. Having said that they sold Hulk their talisman and also their creative play maker in James Rodriquez is out. Hulk was not just a goal scorer but he was a big game player that could raise the game of others around him. He also took the attensions off the best defenders which allows other players more time and space. The key Porto is can Jackson Martinez find space and make the most of his chances and the tireless worker Moutinho as he has the work rate of two players. The key for Benfica is to play the ball down the flanks which will take Portos strong midfield and Moutinho out of the game from a defensive standpoint and allow them to attack at will.

Whatever the case it is going to be a wonderful game and I can't wait
Fantastic preview
1 Thursday, 10 January 2013 22:58
I cannot wait for this game! I know that Porto has an excellent team, but I'd still give us the slight edge. Porto will be missing James while Benfica has a plethora of creative talents to choose from.

However, Porto's potential 4-4-2 diamond does worry me. Defour may not offer the same creative spark in the final third, but he'll definitely help Porto dominate the midfield alongside Moutinho, Lucho, and Fernando.

JJ will likely utilize his favorite 4-4-2, so it is extremely important that our second striker (Most likely Lima) drops into the midfield to press Fernando. Otherwise, Porto will dominate the midfield, making it a very tight match without many chances.

Given Porto's change in tactics, it will be interesting to see who JJ uses in his midfield. Ola John and Nolito started yesterday so Salvio and Gaitan will likely start against Porto. Matic has been brilliant thus far and will certainly start, but who will partner him in the crucial #8 role?

The extremely impressive Andre Gomes would be my pick, but he did start against Academica yesterday, thus making Enzo Perez the more likely option. I love Enzo's work-rate, but I fear he'll be overwhelmed since it is not his preferred position. Gomes offers more muscle and a much better pass. I know he's still only 19, but he proved his class in the Camp Nou and in the Alvalade.

Hopefully we'll get a sumptuous feast of futebol rather than a tight, cagey game without many chances. May the best team win!

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