Friday, August 12, 2011

Start of the season in Portugal: Benfica's first test

The 2011/2012 season in Portugal opener sees Benfica play Gil Vicente, a traditionally difficult team to beat, but the reds should have a lot of local support on their side up north.

This game, and indeed this season is very important for Benfica and its manager Jorge Jesus, for several reasons. Let's start with the game, Benfica have not won the first game of the season for seven years which is an astonishing statistic, and they really need to start off with a win to banish the ghosts of last year, Porto's resounding win in the Portuguese Supercup last year saw Benfica stutter and compromise their entire season in the first four or five games, finding themselves having to play catch up early on.

Last season for Benfica was in stark contrast to the previous one, where in the first year Jorge Jesus produced a team capable of great games and spectacular results, creating an incredible support for the team even in away games so good was the football on show and the manner of the victories. That first season culminated with the conquest of the league, particularly emotional since last time Benfica had won was 2004/05 with Trappatoni a team that didn't fully excite but managed to win the title that had been so elusive for eleven years, and the passing of Miklos Feher on the pitch with the Benfica shirt on. Last year though, Porto saw the return to action of Hulk who had been banned the previous year, according to their supporters as farcical, and that prove to be the motivation for the hunger they demonstrated on their way to one of Porto's most successful ever seasons, whilst Benfica stunned by their convincing defeat in the Supercup and perhaps still drunk on excitement from the previous season were over-confident and lost several points early on.

The manager Jorge Jesus came under extreme criticism last year for failing to mount a credible title fight and for lacking ideas in the tactical department. Some criticism was justified, and certainly the beginning of the season was dreadful but Jesus did rally the troops and Benfica went on a sensational run of form without a loss for the best part of 18 games or so, with a tremendous win at Paris St. Germain away in the middle, where the Portuguese contingent in Paris was heard loud and clear in the Parc des Princes stadium. Even though Benfica did reach the semi-finals of the Europa League, the season was proven to end in disaster. By that time Porto was absolute winners of the league and the other semi-finalists in the other Europa League leg. Any other season getting to the semi-finals would have been extremely positive, but this is football and rarely rational. Of course, the fact that the team playing Benfica in the semi-final was Portuguese, and many thought that Benfica should be capable of beating Braga and reach the final. But Braga were having the season of their life, and their manager Paciência determined to do better than his predecessor, his opposite at Benfica, Jorge Jesus. Benfica lost, Braga progressed to the final, and Benfica's season ended as badly as it had begun, at least in the eyes of most people.

Hence the importance of getting down to a good start this year, tonight. The players brought in this year are of sufficient quality to ensure that Benfica will have a much stronger season and Jesus a lot more options to be able to change his formation should he need to. Still the detractors will say that Rui Costa the managing director and the president Luís Filipe Vieira bought quantity rather than quality but that's unfair, some players were brought in because they may prove to be good in the future as that is what Benfica has to do, to develop players so that their value rises ensuring the club can survive financially. There's a lot more options in midfield, the wings and upfront, my only concern would be the full backs position, especially right-back where there is no one to cover for Maxi Pereira, luckily the man is professional enough to guarantee consistent good performances.

My prediction for this game is that Benfica may win it but it will be a tough one, I think a single goal late on but the reds will come out with a win. I will admit though, my skill at predicting games is not the best!

1 comment:

  1. As I said predictions are not my strong point!
    Benfica's first game ended in disappointment after throwing away a great start. Once again defensive frailties were exposed and the team suffered on the counter-attack. I was actually dismayed by Jorge Jesus unwillingness to change when the team was still winning 2-1 to a more steady and compact midfield.