Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Club Brugge 0-2 Benfica: Talking points as defensive mistakes prove costly for Scott Parker’s team

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Benfica have gained an important advantage over Club Brugge after the first leg of their encounter in the round of 16 of the Champions League, leaving Belgium on Wednesday evening two goals ahead, courtesy of a Joao Mario penalty in the 51st minute and a fine finish from David Neres with two minutes of the 90 left on the clock.

Brugge’s costly defensive woes

There can be no questions about the penalty awarded to Benfica which Mario converted to break the deadlock. Brugge centre-back Jack Hendry was completely oblivious of his surroundings as he went to clear the ball from his box, utterly careless as he allowed Goncalo Ramos to stick his leg out and get the ball first, before kicking the Benfica striker in the calf with all his might.

There wasn’t even a shred of doubt in the mind of referee Davide Massa as he blew the whistle and pointed to the spot, and no objection to the call came from the VAR room. Even Hendry himself had no complaints and could only bow his head in acknowledgement of the offence.

Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, known from his days in the Premier League as an excellent penalty stopper, did his best to spare his defender the blushes, guessing rightly where the shot would go, but luck failed him in that moment as it bounced off his palms into the underside of the crossbar and into the goal.

As for the second goal, Bjorn Meijer, tasked with covering the left defensive flank for Brugge, intercepted a long pass aimed at Neres, but his first touch let him down and he lost control over the ball, as the last man in front of Mignolet and just outside the box. The Benfica winger reacted in a flash of lightning, robbed Meijer, charged into the box and doubled his team’s advantage with a very important goal ahead of the second leg.

Not that Benfica didn’t have other chances to score, but these two situations obviously led to the goals that did happen, and it’s hard to ignore the feeling that had Brugge been just a little more concentrated at the back, the outcome of the match would’ve been far more favourable from their point of view.

The stats

Nonetheless, it cannot be disputed that Benfica dominated the proceedings for a majority of the game. The visitors enjoyed a possession of 55% and took a total of 14 shots, four on target, while Parker’s team had four all told, hitting within the frame of the opposition goal just once.

The Portuguese team completed more passes with a greater accuracy percentage, committed less fouls, received less yellow cards, and took more corner. There wasn’t a single aspect of the game where Brugge statistically outdid their opponents, apart from the number of goalkeeper saves which doesn’t really go in their favour.

Momentum seesaw

Not that there weren’t periods of the game when Brugge actually looked more likely to score than Benfica; they started on the front foot, looking determined to get the first goal and do it as quickly as possible.

Tajon Buchanan on the left wing looked particularly dangerous, showing a lot of pace and deftly combining with equally lively-looking Noah Lang. The pair of them gave quite a lot of trouble to Alexander Bah and Antonio Silva on the right side of Benfica’s back line.

But after a quarter of the game had passed, Brugge’s momentum seemed to be gradually subsiding, with the visitors pushing them back and getting more control over what was going on on the pitch. Then it was Benfica’s turn to threaten, and Rafa Silva and Ramos both had plenty of chances to shake the scoreline before the break. Even centre-back Antonio Silva came close. And yet, it didn’t happen for them either.

Nonetheless, Benfica continued their offensive into the second half, and it obviously paid of very quickly – it was on the stroke of three minutes from the restart when Hendry fouled Ramos in the box and conceded the penalty which led to the first goal.

Having gone down, Brugge started pushing forward again, risking more and more as they went in search of an equalizer, but not only did they fail in that task, they also offered the visitors plenty of space to hit back by committing more men to their attacks. And as the end approached, their focus at the back obviously wavered again and in the 88th minute, Neres took advantage of that to score Benfica’s second.

All over?

The question that now needs answering is, are Benfica already a sure partakers in the quarterfinals, or is there a way back for Brugge? Can Parker inspire his team to do in Portugal what they couldn’t do at home? Can they beat Benfica by two goals or more?

Judging on what the first leg showed, it’s not impossible, but it seems extremely unlikely. Brugge don’t need much in any, but they need at least something more in every department. Apart from Mignolet between the posts, there is a feeling they all have room for improvement.

And it seems the former Liverpool shot-stopper has plenty of faith in his teammates.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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