Spurs’ late resurgence against Benfica fails to disguise inferiority over two legs and 3 talking points from this week’s Europa League action
Nacer Chadli’s two late goals made for an exhilarating finish at the Estádio da Luz but fundamentally, Tottenham were outshone by Benfica over the course of the two legs. Indeed, the Portuguese’s side performance in the first leg bared the hallmarks of a genuine European powerhouse; resolute at the back, efficient in midfield and potent up front. Spurs knew they had a mountain to climb by attempting to overhaul a 1-3 deficit in the return leg. Tim Sherwood will be encouraged by his team’s character in the final 15-20 minutes as they could have given up and looked ahead to the next Premier League game. But in truth, Benfica warrant their place in the quarter-finals.
Indeed, this further highlights the increasing gap in quality of English and foreign teams in European competition. We are led to believe that the Premier League is the pinnacle, the absolute cream of the crop. Yet a perennial top five Premier League club has been comprehensively beaten by the leaders of the Primeira Liga. Foreign teams are improving all the while; honing their youngsters, doing their homework on the opposition and surprising the favourites. Benfica are a prime example.
Benfica boss Jorge Jesus may well cut a petulant figure on the touchline but he was spot on tactically in the first leg at White Hart Lane. He employed a counter-attacking 433 formation which saw veteran captain Luisao – who notched two on the night - marshal the defence and the pace of Miralem Sulejmani, Rodrigo and Lazar Markovic caused Tottenham all sorts of trouble. Benfica weren’t as devastating in the second leg but they did get the job done and much of their last 16 success is down to the tactical prudence of Jesus. Nicolas Gaitan, Enzo Perez and Lima didn’t even start in either of the matches and the latter is the club’s second top goal-scorer.
The Eagles played slick, cogent football and it was great to watch. According to WhoScored, in the second leg eight out of the eleven Benfica starters earned a pass percentage rate of over 80%. Right-back Kyle Naughton had the most touches for Spurs (81, the only player for his team with 80+) while Benfica had three players who enjoyed over 80 touches. It was expected that Benfica would dominate possession on home soil but Sherwood’s men allowed their midfield operators to drop deep and dictate. There was seldom pressing high up the pitch or penetration from the futile Roberto Soldado and it told. Too many games in too short amount of time, perhaps?
Spurs tumble out of the Europa League in frenetic fashion but now at least they can focus on the end of their Premier League campaign. Sherwood is a man under pressure and the longer this winless streak continues, the more frustrated the fans will get. As for Benfica, they can look forward to their quarter-final tie with AZ Alkmaar. A tie in which they can definitely progress from.
Pirlo comes up trumps again with another scintillating free-kick
Andrea Pirlo inspired Juventus to a slender 0-1 victory over Fionrentina, who had to play part of the second half with ten men after Gonzalo Rodriguez was sent off. Pirlo, now 34, nonchalantly dispatched the resulting free-kick (his second FK in a week after scoring a late winner against Genoa in Serie A last weekend).
The Italian’s set-pieces just seem to get better, and better and better. He hit the free-kick with so much swerve and speed that Neto in the Fionrentina goal stood no chance. It was classy. It was clinical. It was Pirlo. He was instrumental in his side’s win – completing 90% of his attempted passes and making and completing a whopping 17 long balls. The midfielder is a joy to watch and once more he illustrated his imperativeness to Juventus and why age is just a number.
One of the most well-worked goals I’ve ever seen from Porto
Ricardo Quaresma. Remember him? Once of Barcelona and Inter Milan, his career dwindled when moving to money-laden Al Ahli in Dubai but since rejoining Porto, he’s been in a superb vein of form. And he can’t stop scoring magnificent goals.
The winger’s crisp, curling finish against Frankfurt in the last 32 was pretty damn special. But his strike against Napoli on Thursday evening was breathtakingly good. The move originated from Eliaquim Mangala picking out Steven Defour, who exchanged a neat one-two before allowing his central midfield partner to spray the ball out wide to Dani. He fed Quaresma and sprinted down the line for the return before crossing. The ball was deftly flicked on to Quaresma, who jinxed his way past two Napoli defenders before rifling the ball into the top corner. It was stunningly precise and it was another indication of why Porto should be ranked as potential Europa League winners.
Not only was it a big win in boosting Porto’s Europa league credentials but also for newly installed interim manager, Luís Castro. Following a poor run of results in February, Paulo Fonseca was axed and Castro was named as his successor. Last week the team knuckled under to old rivals Sporting Lisbon (losing 1-0) and obviously this didn’t bode well with the fans expectations and Castro’s reputation. So this victory over Napoli is massive. And they won it in style.
Follow me on Twitter @_Carr16