Eintracht Frankfurt conceded an average of 1,22 goals in this season, and for that reason, Benfica‘s 4-2 victory against them in the Europa League is quite a surprising result. The Portuguese team displayed a strong performance on Thursday night, especially João Félix who scored a hat-trick. They were the dominant side in this match with controlling the game and the possession, restricting Frankfurt to only 41% of time on the ball.
Furthermore, Benfica posed a constant penetrating threat to Frankfurt’s defence throughout the whole game with stretching of their lines which caused an early red card and made the situation even tougher for Frankfurt. This tactical analysis will reveal some crucial points that caused what turned out to be a somewhat shocking win for Benfica.
Benfica came to this fixture with good form as they won the last three games in Portugal Primeira Liga. There is, however, still an open title race between them and FC Porto since they both collected the same amount of points in this season so far.
Due to the suspension and injuries, Bruno Lage made some changes in the starting XI. Rúben Dias and Jardel formed the centre of the defence, whilst in the right back position Sébastien Corchia employed instead of André Almeida. Although probably the biggest change was the formation, Lage deployed a 4-2-3-1 structure where Andreas Samaris and Ljubomir Fejsa paired up as a double pivot. Thus Franco Cervi and Rafa Silva pacing up and down on the wings. Furthermore, Gedson Fernandes took the #10 space while João Félix occupied in the centre-forward position. All that said, these two had a very flexible positioning.
On the other hand, Adi Hütter deployed the usual 3-5-2 formation, although there were also some modifications in his team selection. Since Jonathan de Guzmán was doubtful, Makoto Hasebe took his defensive duties in the midfield, and Martin Hinteregger was thus in the middle of the back three. Frankfurt usually has a flexibility in the midfield which was evident this time as well. Hütter used two #8s in the midfield. Ante Rebić moved further up and was positioned next to Luka Jović in the forward line.
Eintracht Frankfurt’s setup and attacks
Even though Benfica had a bigger portion of the possession in general, at the beginning of the match Frankfurt were able to get a bit more time on the ball. Also, they started the game a bit better as they had a few promising situations and even a huge scoring chance in the fifth minute when Jović collected an open ball and turned towards the goal.
As a general rule of thumb, they relied on their wing-backs in the attacking phase. Filip Kostić and Danny da Costa provided width for Frankfurt, and therefore they often pushed high up when the guests were in possession. In this case, they formed something like a 3-1-2-4 shape. Although most of the times they relied on quick attacks.
The principle that wins the ball and quickly turns defence into attack was evident in their build-up. Frankfurt used air balls to play the ball to the opponent’s half in goal kick situations and even open plays. Their goal was to target Jović who would win the ball and then combine with Rebić to initiate the attack and quickly get to the final third.
However, this was not working for Frankfurt due to Benfica’s double pivots who were close to the centre-backs thus frequently able to create numerically superior situations against Jović and prevent him to win the ball.
Benfica outplayed Frankfurt’s press
The away team was cautious against the ball, which means they generally did not press high during this match. The front two formed the first line of the press while the second line was positioned deeper. Therefore, Benfica were able to outplay the first line of press with ease. Frequently, through the use of full-backs and their combination with the nearby central midfielder or the dropping forward, they would get past the second line of press.
The wing-backs pressed Benfica’s full-backs respectively and Sebastian Rode and Fernandes would cover Andreas Samaris and Ljubomir Fejsa. Nevertheless, due to the deeper positioning of Frankfurt’s second line, Benfica had time to outplay the incoming pressure.
Benfica’s positional play
Once Benfica were in the opponent’s half, they formed something like a 2-4-1-3/2-4-3-1 formation. The wingers were occupied narrow to pin Frankfurt’s last line, and in order to allow more space for Grimaldo and Corchia. Thus the full-backs occupied the high areas which attracted the opposition wing-backs. This made them positioned wider, and Frankfurt’s second line became stretched. This created space for Benfica in the half-spaces and the central midfielders became isolated. Thus they could not provide enough cover and Benfica were able to take advantage of it which, of course, caused a lot of issues for Frankfurt.
Félix often dropped into the left half-space to receive the ball or help his teammates by creating a passing option. His dropping movements created a lot of danger because Benfica were able to create numerically advantageous situation against Fernandes.
This issue was a constant threat for Frankfurt since they could not deal with it properly. Here is another instance with the same issue, right before Benfica’s second goal. Benfica were able to overload the opponent’s last lines. Also, Frankfurt left huge pockets of space for Benfica.
Moreover, Frankfurt’s high wing-backs mean Benfica could find space in behind them which was exactly what Bruno Lage’s man tried to do. Thus lots of counter-attacks occurred on the half-spaces. They often targeted the quick wingers, especially on the right side, through Rafa Silva.
This was an interesting and entertaining clash which revealed some major issues of Frankfurt. Although the red card made things even worse since they were not able to control the game and could not expose resistance against Benfica’s possession.
The home side was able to build from deep and penetrate the guests’ defence in the second half anytime they wanted due to the space that the 5-2-2 system left. The 4-2 result gives a big advantage to Benfica for the second leg but the battle might not be over just yet.
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