Oscar Cardozo’s brace pushed Benfica over the line, as the Portuguese club advances to their first European final in 23 years.
Jorge Jesus made five changes to the side that was defeated 1-0 in Turkey last week. Jesus played in a 4-3-3 with Rodrigo Lima joining Oscar Cardozo and Eduardo Salvio upfront. Nicolás Gaitán and Enzo Perez joined Nemanja Matić in midfield, while Luisão returned from injury to partner Ezequiel Garay at centre back. Andre Almeida started at left back, while Ola John was unavailable due to suspension.
Aykut Kocaman was forced to make three changes to his side that was victorious last week, as Pierre Webo and Mehmet Topal were suspended, and Raul Meireles was unavailable due to injury. Kocaman’s men played in a 4-2-3-1 with Moussa Sow leading the line. Caner Erkin, Dirk Kuyt and Salih Uçan played behind the Senegalese striker, while Cristian and Selçuk Şahin made up a midfield two.
Benfica dictated the match in terms of possession, and they were rewarded with three quality goals, courtesy of Gaitán and Cardozo.
The pattern of the match was identical to what we expected, with Jesus’ men having majority of the possession, while Fenerbahçe looked to break on the counter attack. Unlike the first leg, Jesus played a stronger lineup, considering he didn’t have a derby game in a few days. Surprisingly, Fenerbahçe had no intent of pressing Benfica, as they preferred to keep their shape – Benfica hunted Kocaman’s side relentlessly when they had the ball, forcing the Turkish club to constantly concede possession.
Fenerbahçe dropped into two banks of four with Sow further up the pitch, and although they were organized, they conceded too much space to Jesus’ men. Kuyt and Erkin tracked the runs of Almeida and Pereira well, preventing Benfica from creating overloads out wide.
Considering we witnessed two German sides succeed with effective pressing in the Champions League over the past two weeks, it was odd to see Kocaman’s side failing to make an attempt to close down any of the Benfica players in midfield. Being organized is important, but the Turkish side wasn’t compact and failed to minimize space across the pitch, which allowed Jesus’ men to exploit the space that was available in central areas.
Kocaman’s side sat deep in their third without the ball, and this prevented them from getting forward as a unit. When the Turkish side won the ball, Benfica’s pressing forced them to concede possession or they played long balls to Sow, who was isolated. Fenerbahçe struggled to string passes together, seeing as all ten Benfica players completed more passes then Fenerbahçe player Cristian, who completed the most passes for the Turkish side. Kocaman’s side, failed to create legitimate goal-scoring chances, and their goal came from a penalty, that was wrongfully given by the referee. Kuyt had a chance to equalize the game in the 40th minute, but he failed to slide the ball into the open net, and it hit side netting.
Fenerbahçe’s shape was negative, and not only did it affect them defensively, but it stifled any offensive threat they possessed on the counter attack.
Benfica attack down the right
Although Jesus’ men were successful in central areas, they aimed to get down the right flank. Pereira and Salvio had the highest pass combination throughout the game, and Benfica’s opening goal was created on the right side.
Pereira played in Lima who made a run through the channels, and the Brazilian striker cut the ball back into the box, as Gaitán ran onto the pass and fired his shot past Volkan Demirel.
Ultimately besides that goal, Salvio and Pereira struggled on the right flank. Pereira got forward, but his deliveries into the box were quite poor, and Salvio failed to skip past defenders. As you can see, both men got into advanced positions, but failed to get in behind defenders.
Cardozo’s third goal was a poacher’s finish, but it did stem from Salvio’s long throw into the box. Although, Salvio and Pereira didn’t cause much havoc on the right flank, both men played a factor in two of three Benfica goals.
Benfica’s midfield dominance
Benfica’s midfield trio was superb on the night, and Fenerbahçe’s naïve approach suited Jesus’ men. Perez, Gaitán and Matić found themselves often in 3v2 situations, and this provided Jesus’ midfield with a spare man at all times. Gaitán and Perez received the ball in between the lines, and were involved in quick combination plays with Lima and Cardozo.
Due to Kocaman’s side having no intent on pressing, Benfica’s midfield trio were free to play incisive forward passes, and push higher up the pitch, mainly in the final third. Gaitán’s goal was created on the right side, but his run started from deep in the midfield, and not one Fenerbahçe tracked his run. Unlike the first leg, Jesus’ men received more time on the ball, and it led to their superiority in midfield.
Perez and Gaitán pushed forward to help link play, while Matić’s freedom to receive the ball from deep, play forward passes and skip past defenders was vital. Benfica’s numerical advantage in midfield, allowed Matić, Perez and Gaitán to have a significant influence on the match.
In the first leg, Sow and Webo were dominating Garay and Jardel in aerial battles, and it was key to Fenerbahçe’s success going forward. With Webo suspended, Sow was unable to have an impact on the match, especially with the return of Luisão. Sow often found himself isolated, with Fenerbahçe dropping deeper, and Garay and Luisao relishing their 2v1 battle with the Senegalese striker.
On the other hand, Cardozo and Lima were exceptional, as both strikers provided a different element going forward. Lima found himself making darting runs into the channels, mainly on the right side, which led to the first goal. Cardozo got into central positions, as the Paraguayan striker was involved in some lovely combination play with Gaitán and Perez.
Cardozo and Lima took turns dropping into the midfield to hold up the ball, and then spreading the play out to the wings. Cardozo’s fantastic finish for the second goal, and poacher’s instinct for the third was the difference on the night, but both strikers made fine contributions throughout the match, which played a role in Benfica’s dominance.
Kocaman was forced into making two substitutions early on in the match, replacing Sahin and Gökhan Gönül – where Gaitán was fortunate not to be sent off. Kocaman’s final change was to introduce Miroslav Stoch, who provided more energy and a direct threat going forward, but saw Fenerbahçe play with three at the back. Stoch often played unsuccessful long balls to Sow, but he did trouble Artur with a shot from distance.
Jesus brought on a midfielder and a defender towards the final minutes, as he was content on closing out the match. Fenerbahçe threw everything they could at Jesus’ men, but the Turkish side lacked the quality in the final third to trouble Benfica’s impressive back line.
This was far from a tactical master class, but Benfica’s will to regain possession, along with their numerical advantage in midfield was key to their success. Benfica was dominant, and Cardozo’s clinical finishing combined with Kocaman’s negative approach to the match was the difference on the night.
Jesus’ men have a date with Chelsea in two weeks time at the Amsterdam Arena. The suspension of Maxi Pereira will be massive, as Benfica will be missing a defensively astute fullback. Last season The Blues knocked Jesus’ men out of the Champions League quarter-finals, so revenge will be on their minds, but they will need to improve tactically if they intend on being victorious.
1. Oscar Cardozo
2. Nicolás Gaitán
3. Nemanja Matić