Barcelona face Benfica in their 5th match of the group stage of UEFA Champions league, a game which is crucial for Barcelona’s survival in the competition. The Catalans currently sit 2nd in their group with 6 points (2 wins and 2 losses), just below Bayern Munich, who have won all of their games. Just below Barcelona sit Benfica, who also want to qualify in the round of 16. In their previous meeting, at the Estádio da Luz, Barcelona suffered a humbling 3-0 defeat, a game which was eye-opening as well as humiliating.
Barcelona need just a win, to qualify for the round of 16. A loss would be a massive dent, and Benfica are determined to do that.
Jorge Jesus and his football:
The Portuguese tactician is a bombastic, unrelenting and an inspirational coach. Twice considered as a top 10 coach in the world by IFFHS, the 67 year old knows his football.
In 2021 his team has lost only one match in the league. Moreover, they are battling against Porto and Sporting for the Primeira Liga. The manager arrived from Flamengo in 2020. He came just after winning the Copa Libertadores the previous year, with memories from the most successful period in his managerial career.
Under him Benfica essentially play with a back three, which occasionally shifts to a back 4. But in possession, his team prefers three defenders at the back. Moreover, two wing-backs going up the lines and overloading the opposition’s half to pressurise them. That means it’s a 3-4-3 or a 3-4-2-1, focussed on keeping possession and creating chances via passing. They often try to supply crosses, intending to expose the opposition, but fairly play out from the middle of the field as well. Rotations with respect to the opposition are frequent and create flexibility for the team.
Their defensive unit has their most experienced players, Jan Vertonghen, Nicolas Otamendi and Lucas Veríssimo- who make the coach’s preferred backline. The left hand side of the team consists of the former Barcelona man- Alejandro Grimaldo, the midfielder Joao Mario, Everton Soares and the eccentric Uruguayan winger- Darwin Núñez. Roman Yaremchuk generally leads the attack from central positions. Their right sided players have a lot of depth, including the players Rafa Silva and Valentino Lazaro. Julian Weigl, signed last season from Dortmund, generally leads the midfield.
Here we look at some of their most important players –
Benfica’s top scorer in the UCL, the 22 year old eccentric winger is a joy to watch. 8 goals in 13 matches sounds ordinary, but his skillset is top notch. He scored 2 goals vs Barcelona in the previous meeting as well. His athleticism is his main quality, as depicted in the first goal versus Barcelona, a sensational run rewarding in a goal. His explosive change of pace skill makes him one of the most dangerous players for Barcelona, as our defensive options currently struggle against pacy players.
Signed last season from Dortmund, the 25 year old German is a Manager’s dream. A highly versatile player, he can play as an interior, a defensive midfielder and can act as an emergency centre back as well. A key piece in Jorge Jesus’ side, the 25 year old acts as a key player in circulating the ball in the possession based system the side plays.
With 6 goals and 2 assists, Rafa Silva is Benfica’s second most goalscorer. The 28 year old veteran is the side’s trusted attacker. Rafa’s quickness in and around the box and his decision-making with the ball in tight spots makes him unique. A potent threat, he also scored versus Barcelona on their previous match.
The 25 year old, the player of the match in Benfica’s last two matches, is a special attacker. Using his good game reading skills, He is always looking for spaces on the pitch. He likes to engage in 1v1s and using his brilliant confrontational ability, he initiates attack. He can prove to be a big threat to Barcelona’s defenders, who struggles in 1v1s a lot.
Even though Xavi has said he wants Barcelona to win in style and secure qualification, Benfica will prove to be a really tough test, and in absence of players like Dembele, Fati and the ineligibility of Ez Abde, Ferran Jutgla and Ilias Akhomach, Barcelona can seriously spoil their chances of qualifying for the round of 16. Xavi’s men have a tough task and a lot of work to do.