Don’t let “Experts” Tell You Otherwise…Benfica go into Super Cup as Underdogs

Key pieces missing as Benfica limp into Aveiro for Super Cup against Porto.

Luis Miguel Afonso Fernandes, known better as Pizzi is Benfica’s most in form player at the moment but is ruled out of Thursday’s match after testing positive for COVID19

Aveiro– just over 24 hours from kickoff and the biggest news to come from the Benfica camp today is that current top performer and key playmaker Pizzi will miss Wednesday’s Super Cup after testing positive for COVID19 and that will be a huge blow to the Eagle’s chances Wednesday at the Municipal Stadium in Aveiro against the defending Champions and Cup winners F.C. Porto. Normally, this fixture is a reoccurring nightmare for the Glorioso as we’ve become accustomed to watching our team get not just outplayed but outworked, intimidated and flat out bullied by our rivals each time the two sides square off. Supporters of the Eagles lament time after time that it seems we always enter these matches behind 2-0 before a ball is even kicked.

Our rivals are known for their high work rate, efficiency on set pieces and “us against the world” mentality when they take the pitch. Sergio Conceicao is no doubt the perfect man to lead the club into battle as manager leading by example and bringing an unrivaled intensity on the touch line and a demand that his players “die if necessary” on the pitch for the better of the team. The 46 year old manager epitomizes everything the club and fanbase value and look for in both managers and players and his team is no doubt built in his image. His players run hard up and down the pitch and never shy away from a challenge, a tactical foul or a shouting/pushing match when it’s called for just the same exact way their manager carried himself in his two stints as player for the club. Style points count for little at the Dragao and mean little to their fans, what Portistas want to see is “garra” or fight, they want their players to leave every once of blood sweat and tears on the pitch for the blue and white striped jersey they loved and when effort is lacking the “Tripeiros” make themselves heard. What Benfica has failed to understand for the better part of atleast the last half decade is that they need to match this intensity when facing this monster we all know and hate called Futebol Clube do Porto.

The matches tend to follow a familiar formula. Benfica enter trying to build play out of the back in the first phase of construction, usually with slow and predictable passing. It doesn’t normally take long for the opposition to start in with a high press and in the process amplifying the intensity and when the opportunity presents itself the physicality as well. Within minutes Benfica’s slow build up play is either met with a dangerous turnover or a high pressing Porto player will get stuck in and happily come in late with a challenge and put a Benfica player on the turf and make him question how many times he really wants to receive the ball in this match. Porto players and staff know Portuguese referees are quite lenient in the early stages of these Clasicos . They know it’s in the first quarter hour that they will need to set the tempo and environment they want the match to played in. They quickly establish they are the bullies and that will beat Benfica up all 90 minutes unless the boys in red jerseys decide to do something about it. Should a Benfica player get brave and retaliate well then the referee will have 5,6, 7 or more Porto players surrounding him and the Benfica player will also find himself surrounded, see Porto enter these matches with a gang mentality and our side has yet to figure out how to deal with it. Before you know there’s a set piece in a dangerous area and we find ourselves behind on the scoresheet. Going back several coaching staffs nobody at Benfica has been able to consistently come up with a plan to deal with the psychological dominance this club has over us.

So looking to Wednesday’s match without Pizzi or Andre Almeida and possibly missing other players such as Gabriel, Rafa and Otamendi who are all facing fitness questions how do Benfica possibly approach this match and how can they cope with the style of the opponent that has proven time and time again to be horrible match up for SLB. On one side you have a team that all eleven players live by the mantra that the ball may get by but the man will not, on the other you have Benfica the team with the fewest fouls committed in Portuguese Football and who have already surrendered so many goals this season that could have been prevented buy an early tactical foul.

The Bully/Victim relationship between Benfica and Porto goes back decades!

Jorge Jesus needs to instill in his players once and for all so that they understand these matches are not like other matches. Technique and tactics take a back seat to the fact that if Benfica want to beat Porto they need to take the pitch as a cohesive united squad that’s will stand up and fight for each other. There will be egregious fouls and our players cannot back down like they have in the past. Regardless of the XI that JJ selects Benfica will have to keep their shape and protect their backline with their lives. Benfica will no doubt have a fair share of the goalscoring opportunities as Porto are suffering from many of the same defensive weaknesses as we are. The players in red will especially have to hold their territory especially when defending set pieces as the last meeting in last season’s Portuguese Cup final proved to be deadly for the defending champions. Benfica will have to do things they are not comfortable with like committing early fouls to prevent counters as well as holding the referee accountable when he begins to be influenced by Porto. Jose Mourinho is quoted famously in the Amazon Primer Series ” All or Nothing ” (which followed him around his first season at Spurs) as telling his players ” You’re all nice guys, and nice guys don’t win titles, for those 90 minutes you need to be more mean and want to win at all costs”. Once of the players the Special one preached that to was Jan Vertonghen who is now a Benfica player and I’m hopeful the Belgian International (as well as manager Jorge Jesus) will pass that message to Benfica players on Wednesday. It’s true, in this rivalry Benfica have taken much injustice laying down and thus allowing it to continue. Last February in a crucial league match we saw Adel Taarabt get knocked out by a swinging back forearm from Moussa Marega, nothing happened to Marega. Referee and VAR alike failed to address the assault on Benfica’s Moroccan attacker, no Porto player was dealt any type of retaliation and in fact Benfica defender Ferro would be soon after be called for a penalty for handling a ball in the area after being shoved with a two handed push in the back by a Porto player. Benfica responded like “nice guys” and trying to answer with good football. Ferro would never recover mentally from the penalty conceded as he would spiral into an epic drop in form that today has him firmly outside the managers plans. Again we allow Porto to do these things to us match after match. My hope for this Super Cup is a collective response, a team ready to dig in and battle their arch rival for a trophy that we have won far too few times. There’s no doubt Benfica are the underdogs, anyone saying otherwise is either fooling themselves or just being politically correct. But if O Glorioso can answer the bell and stand up to this bully who has for too long been allowed to walk into our house, take our food, kick our dog and make love to our wife and then leave smoking our cigarettes, then that type of brave performance and united stance can catapult this team into 2021 on the right foot and give this side the oxygen bubble it needs to get out of third gear in this 2020/21 season and start stepping on the gas on our way to number 38. Carrega Benfica! Juntos Somos Maiores!!!

Published by Mike Agostinho

Former Coach turned Podcaster/Blogger involving all things Sport Lisboa and Benfica from the perspective of the Mister and in English for Benfiquistas all over the English speaking world.

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