How Benfica defeated Galatasaray on their own home soil

Artwork by @chapulana.

The first leg of the last-32 in the UEFA Europa League was held earlier this week. In Istanbul, Galatasaray welcomed their Portuguese guests, Benfica Lisbon. The 2-1 away win for Benfica puts them into a great position for the second leg, while Galatasaray will need many goals in the “Estádio da Luz” in order to reach the next round. In this tactical analysis, we will have a look at the tactical measures of both coaches and explain, how Benfica managed to win the game.


Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
Starting XIs

While Galatasaray started with their best starting XI available, Benfica decided to rest some players. Therefore, coach Bruno Lage only used five players who started in the last league match against Nacional. Since that game was won 10-0, the Benfica confidence level was expected to be incredibly high. In terms of formations, Galatasaray’s 4-3-3 was met with a classical 4-4-2 by Benfica. Looking at the average positions though, we can see that the left-central midfielder of Benfica, Gedson Fernandes, didn’t hold his position, but rather focussed more on the right half-space. The reason for this will be explained in detail later on.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
Average Positions of Benfica. Notice No.83 Gedson Fernandes

Lots of possession for Galatasaray

The home team from Turkey dominated the game from the first until the last minute of the game. 66.3% of possession and 558 to 281 passes underline this. Benfica concentrated on defending well and trying to score from counter-attacks.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
Man-oriented defence by Benfica. Notice how tightly marked the players are

In this image, we can see that Benfica used a man-oriented approach. Man-oriented defence is somewhat more simple than other defensive approaches, which may be a reason Lage used this. Since he rotated a lot, this made sense. From Galatasaray’s point of view, this image shows a lack of passing options. Right-back Martin Linnes receives the ball early in the build-up, but since everyone is marked closely, it becomes difficult to maintain possession. Galatasaray had to play the ball early out to the wing though because of Benfica closing the centre at all costs.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
Benfica trying to close the centre – the pass to the circled player still possible

In this image, we can see the back-four of Benfica maintaining small distances to each other. All players of the back-four stay in the centre. The more obvious and more important noticeable factor in this image are the midfielders and attackers though. These six players are near the half-circle and don’t allow a pass into the centre. Galatasaray’s left-centre-back Marcao tries nonetheless a pass into the centre to Badou Ndiaye. The fact that the pass is even successful shows how skilful Marcao is, but also that Benfica’s defensive positioning in this scene isn’t all that great. Even though there are so many players occupying the centre, the passing lane to Ndiaye isn’t closed. There is a specific reason for that.

Benfica try to prevent passes to Fernando

Obviously, Benfica coach Lage gave the instruction that Fernando shouldn’t receive the ball if possible. The Brazilian holding midfielder usually plays an important role in the build-up of Galatasaray. In this game, he managed to get 86 touches nonetheless, but Benfica were successful in limiting his actions.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
Triangle around Fernando – gap between the lines

This image shows an often seen tactical measure. Three Benfica players often build a triangle around Fernando. The moment he receives the ball, they would press him from every side. The midfield four of Benfica is then not on a line, as Gedson Fernandes moves forward. This opens gaps between the lines, especially for Belhanda and Linnes in this example. Unfortunately for them, the pass isn’t possible, as they are positioned behind Fernando right on the same passing lane.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
Man-Orientation on the one hand – Focus on Fernando on the other hand

Another example is provided with this image. Here, we can even see both defensive instructions from Benfica Coach Lage. On the one hand, the man-oriented defensive structure occurs once again. Only left-back Ribeiro leaves a huge distance to Linnes, but this was also an instruction as Benfica defended the whole game leaving the wings open. On the other hand, we see once again the focus on Fernando and the attempt to not let him participate in the game. Once again, the midfield line is somewhat out of shape. This time, Feghouli positions himself between the lines.

Galatasaray unable to take advantage of Benfica’s weaknesses

As we have seen, Benfica’s defensive structure wasn’t stable. Unfortunately for Galatasaray, the Turkish team weren’t able to exploit these weaknesses.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
Huge space behind the attacking line – GS unable to get the ball there

Here, we see another example of Benfica leaving huge gaps between the lines. Galatasaray’s positioning doesn’t allow them to play the ball into there though. Belhanda receives the ball in a triangle where he is forced to lay the ball off to Fernando. The wingers and full-backs stay wide, so Ndiaye is the only player who could be in that space. A fast pass to the left-centre-back, followed by a fast vertical pass to Ndiaye would start a dangerous attack, but in the 90 minutes, Galatasaray weren’t able in doing so. The weaknesses in the defensive structure of Benfica, despite being so obvious, couldn’t be punished.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
Belhanda need more courage and has to play the ball deep vertically to Diagne

One of the situations where they almost were able to take advantage of the described weaknesses is shown in this image. Belhanda receives the ball in a good position. He can turn and play the deep vertical pass to striker Diagne. But in this scene, he lacks courage. Instead of playing the ball deep, he decides to play it short to the right-wing to Martin Linnes. A promising attack came to an unsatisfying end.

Bad positional structure leads to low-quality possession for Galatasaray

Most of the time, Galatasaray showed bad positioning. This was one of the reasons why they couldn’t exploit the weaknesses of Benfica.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
No pressure on Luyindama – but no passing option except the long ball either

In this image, right-centre-back Luyindama had to play a long diagonal ball. Even though it was the absolute right decision and the ball was played perfectly, the positioning of his companions must be noticed. Almost no one moves out of the defenders’ cover shadows. Apart from left-back Nagatomo, no one provides a passing option. Luyindama is basically forced to play a long ball. Interestingly, Benfica don’t even bother putting him under pressure. Normally, one would expect one of the strikers to press Luyindama, but they decide to stay passive. The quality of the pass is then high, as without any pressure he is able to use his technique properly.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
Players occupy the same line

Here, we see that many players just occupy the same passing line. Basically, one could say that Feghouli is in Belhanda’s cover shadow. This is somewhat ridiculous as they play in the same team. But being positioned this way, there is no chance that Marcao can play the ball to Feghouli as long as Belhanda doesn’t move, or Feghouli himself moves into a more optimal position. A similar pattern occurs on the left-hand attacking side, where Ndiaye, Onyekuru and Nagatomo occupy the same line. A pass to the left is once again only possible if a long ball to the wing occurs.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
Midfielder falling between Centre Backs – still no improvement

In the second half, Galatasaray Coach Fatih Terim tried to change the build-up with a midfielder falling between the Centre Backs. But once again, the positioning wasn’t all that great. In this image we see Diagne and Belhanda being at the same spot. While Feghouli has a good position, the difficulty to play the ball between the lines remains.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
Same problems as before

Here, the use of a midfielder falling between the centre-backs didn’t get any better result either. Right-back Linnes needs to go a lot higher up the pitch in order to open up space Feghouli, who is trapped in a triangle and can’t get the ball in that position. The other central-midfielders are in the cover shadow of the Benfica striker and once again occupy the same passing line. Thus, the connection into the attacking third can’t be established. The lack of quality in terms of positioning led to a lot of possession for Galatasaray in areas without any danger. In the final third, attacks from the wings proved to be a good idea.

Galatasaray’s attacks on the wings provide some danger

Benfica concentrated on closing the centre. Although they showed some weaknesses in doing so, it was even more obvious that they let the wings open defending. Some dangerous attacks occurred when Galatasaray managed to get to the wings in the final third.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
Belhanda plays the ball to Linnes – Benfica don’t defend properly

This image is another example of Benfica having a lot of players in the centre, but nowhere near defending brilliantly and leaving no space. Instead, Belhanda isn’t attacked by six players. Linnes stays wide, but could use an even wider positioning in order to have more space. When he receives the ball from Belhanda, a dangerous attack emerges as three Galatasaray players are ready to go into the box.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
Feghouli has a lot of space on the blind side

Unfortunately for Galatasaray, there were many positions like this where switching wings would have been a great idea. Most of the time, the blind side wasn’t covered at all. In this image, Feghouli on the right wing has all the space in the world. If Galatasaray played the ball to him, the attack would shape differently, probably more promisingly.

Here, Fernando receives the ball and faces a lot of pressure from the defenders. Laying the ball off to Belhanda with one touch would have been the key to start a promising attack, but unfortunately, he isn’t able to find a solution with one touch. Thus, he loses the ball and the attack is over.

This is one of many examples where Galatasaray failed to find a solution playing to the wings. Their only goal resulted from a cross from the left-wing though, underlining that this should be a focus for them in the second leg. As Benfica leave the wings open, playing to one wing and then switching to the other wing seems like a reasonable idea.

Benfica’s effectiveness wins them the game

Offensively, Benfica didn’t do much. They relied on counter-attacks and were successful with this strategy. In terms of build-up, Benfica didn’t waste a thought on that. Rather, they focussed to reach as fast as possible, the final third. This was even easier when Galatasaray tried to press high, as a lot of gaps occurred.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
High press, man-orientation and an assignment problem

Here, we can see that the two players up-front aren’t able to pressure the ball. While Galatasaray also tried a man-oriented approach, the three-against-two situation on the right Benfica wing produces an assignment problem.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
No pressure on the ball. Strikers are pinning the back-four. Space on the wings.

Reaching the opponent’s half, a lot of gaps occurred. Benfica tried to pin the back-four of Galatasaray with their two strikers. Thus, the players on the wings would have a lot more space. Also, with good movement between the lines, passing options emerge. Galatasaray also tried to stay compact occasionally. Here, we can see a defensive triangle as well. But without pressure on the ball, the triangle is useless. However, we could observe that Galatasaray put a lot of pressure on the ball when Benfica had a longer period of possession. Then, Galatasaray would lack defensive discipline and try to win the ball back by force. An example of this is the first goal by Benfica.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
Fernando needs to secure the centre as Galatasaray offer a lot of space

In this situation, right-back Corchia has the ball. Fernando marks his man closely. The rest of the team isn’t organised well. The back line doesn’t hold the line, as Marcao is too deeply positioned. Feghouli is in no-mans-land, while the centre is wide open. Here, the best course for Fernando would be to tread lightly. Instead of winning the ball, his focus has to be on securing the centre.

Galatasaray Benfica UEFA Europa League Tactical Analysis Statistics
Fernando decides to gamble

But for some reason, Fernando decides to attack fearlessly. He opens up the centre even more and tries to pressure Corchia.

Emergence of Benficas first goal
Pass into the open space – Fernando is missing – the attacks ends with Benfica scoring the opening goal

Corchia plays the ball to Luis into the centre. The open space, created by Fernando and also by his teammates, provides a perfect opportunity for Benfica to attack. The backline decides to back down, instead of closing the space by going forward and speculating on putting the attackers offside. Probably, it was too late in this situation though, so they had to back down in order to slow the attack down and giving Fernando and the others time to come back. However, Benfica did what Galatasaray failed to do. They exploited this weakness and scored an important goal. This effectiveness secured them an important victory and gave them the edge right before the second leg of this matchup.


Even though one would expect a high-quality game in the knockout stage of the UEFA Europa League, both teams showed some weaknesses from a tactical standpoint. Benfica most likely can live with that, as they clearly focus on the national league more. Galatasaray, on the other hand, aim to repeat the biggest moment in Turkish Football history, the win of the UEFA Cup in 2000.

Besides starting with a 2-1 deficit into the second leg, the team of coach Terim needs to find better solutions in possession. Their weak positioning made their life a lot more difficult. They weren’t able to exploit the space between the lines, which occurred due to the Benfica midfield line being out of shape quite often. Benfica’s focus on Fernando, as well as their man-oriented defensive approach, were the main cause for that. Since Fernando will miss the second leg due to his yellow-card-suspension, it will be interesting to see how this changes Benfica’s approach. Besides all that, Galatasaray should try to take advantage of the wings being left wide open. Definitely, there lies a lot of potential for them to score in the second leg.

If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Pre-order your copy of the February issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.