Portuguese giants Benfica travelled to the Commerzbank arena on Thursday for their second leg tie against Eintracht Frankfurt, in their hopes to secure a place in the semi-final of the Europa League. Benfica arrived in Germany with a 4-2 advantage over the home side after winning their first leg with a hat-trick from the Portuguese wunderkind João Félix.
However, the two away goals in the first leg from Frankfurt deemed to be crucial to set them up for a chance of winning the second leg; anything less and they were in for a tough contest to see themselves go through.
Frankfurt is the only team in the Bundesliga who have performed well in the competition reaching the semi-final after knocking Benfica out in the quarter-finals. It wasn’t an easy journey for the Eagles having to secure massive wins over Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk.
In this tactical analysis, we will analyse the tactics used from Frankfurt to attack effectively but also to keep a clean sheet against a strong attacking Benfica side who have won their last six away games.
How did the teams line up?
Frankfurt manager Adi Hütter had the challenge of setting his team up with a good balance of attack to come back into the contest but also in defence as they could not concede a goal if they wanted to make it through to the semis. The solution to this was a 3-4-1-2 formation with a back three, five players in the midfield including two wide players and the in-form duo of Ante Rebic and Luka Jovic was the strike force up front.
In the other dugout, Bruno Lage lined his team up in the commonly used 4-2-3-1 formation with two defensive midfielders in Fejsa and Samaris to protect the back four. This enabled an attacking approach further up the pitch with youngster Gedson Fernandes playing as the number 10, Rafa Silva and João Félix played on the wings with Haris Seferović playing as the lone striker ahead of Brazillian forward Jonas who was kept on the bench.
Frankfurt go all out
Straight from the kick-off, Frankfurt wanted to score early on and dominated the possession in the final third in the first half. The German side had a total of nine shots with Benfica only having two and made almost 90 more passes than the away side inside the first half. The graph below shows the percentages spent in each third of the pitch, showing that Frankfurt was the more attacking side of the two.
To back this up, Frankfurt only had to make one clearance whereas Benfica had to make 17 clearances before the half-time whistle, showing us that Frankfurt was playing very offensively from the kick-off.
When mentioning Frankfurt playing attacking football, the first thing fans will think of is their strike force of Ante Rebić and Luka Jović. The clinical partnership has racked up an ongoing total of 26 goals between them this season, worrying any opposing defenders. Rebic is the more creative player between the two, having played as an attacking midfielder in previous games.
Adi Hütter played them both up front in the second leg and allowed them to play close together with one holding the ball up as the other gets in behind the opposition’s defence. We saw this many times throughout the game with one playing as the target man which created problems for the away side.
From the kick outs, Rebić and Jović were targeted and kept close together in their hopes to take the ball down to feet and play one-twos between each other. They also had support from the wide midfielders of da Costa and Filip Kostić who looked to get in behind the opposition’s defence.
The pair pressed high from the front of the pitch with one pressing the defender on the ball and the other cutting off potential passing lanes, putting the Benfica back line under pressure and forcing them to play long ball and give the ball away.
Kostić made the difference
A man of the match performance from Filip Kostić was the most dangerous player on the pitch having to put his team 1-0 up in the first half. The left-sided winger got in behind the wide spaces left by the Benfica full-backs and was the motor of the team right up until Frankfurt equalized on aggregate. He also showed a great work-rate to track back and help his teammates see out the draw to go through on away goals.
Kostić’s positioning was excellent and was in the right place at the right time to give his team the lead at a crucial time in the game just before the second half. The goal came from Rebić cutting inside and laying off a pass to Gaćinović who struck the ball from range. The ball hit off the post and fell back to Kostić who made a difficult finish look easy and put his team 1-0 up, only needing one more goal to go through.
With Kostić being Frankfurts most influential player, it is no surprise that most of the home sides attacks came from the left-hand side of the pitch with a total percentage of 50% coming from that side.
Benfica switched on in the second half
After a top display from Frankfurt in the first half, you would be surprised to think that Benfica finished the second half with 67% possession as opposed to Frankfurts 33%, which shows that Frankfurt played much more defensively in the second half and Benfica pressed higher up the pitch to get a crucial away goal that may have won the game.
Benfica used zonal-marking on each Frankfurt player throughout the second half giving Frankfurt fewer options to pass to or to play it out from the back. Similar to what Frankfurt carried out in the first half, The press from Benfica forced the defence to play long balls which is the reason why the away side finished the game with more possession.
Although Benfica managed to create a total of seven shots and ended the game with more possession Frankfurt’s wingers Kostić and da Costa dropped back to full-back positions giving Frankfurt a solid back five and was enough to see out the victory after Rode curled a shot with finesse into the bottom right corner from outside the box, levelling the score on aggregate and sending Frankfurt through on away goals.
Frankfurt look ahead to the semi-finals
Frankfurt plays against Premier League side Chelsea in the semi-finals of the competition and will face players such as Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuaín. After the eagles display against Benfica, they should be going into this matchup full of confidence and have given the fans something to be very excited about. They have scored more goals than any other Bundesliga team in European competitions this year and have knocked out some great teams along the way. Time will tell if we have yet another upset on the table.