Benfica won their 4th consecutive Primeira Liga title on Saturday with an impressive 5-0 victory over 4th place Vitoria de Guimaraes. Both teams came out in a 1-4-4-2 with Benfica employing their attacking style aimed at intense vertical passes, combination play, and counter pressing.
Overloading wide areas
Benfica organises their attack by occupying the wide areas of the field with as many attacking players as possible. They use quick, short, vertical passes and combinations to try and create crossing opportunities or to get in behind the opponent back 4. Although, the real benefit of Benfica organising their attack in this way is that it allows them to counter-press as soon as they lose possession. In fact, because they have as many as 6 players in a small area of the field, it is very easy for them to press to win the ball back and create chances based on this counter-pressure.
Movements, Rotations, and Positioning to Create Vertical Passes and Combinations
During the attacking phase of the game, Benfica would sometimes employ a back 3, or 4 depending on the position of the ball. For instance, if the ball was in a wide area, then Benfica would use a midfield rotation between the outside back, outside midfielder, and central midfielder.
The central midfielder, usually Fejsa (#5), would drop into the back line, which would trigger the right back (Semedo #50) to move into the wide midfielder position and the wide midfielder (Salvio #18) to move into a central midfield position. This movement created opportunities for Benfica to overload the wide areas like I discussed earlier. In addition, the outside back could also move centrally and the wide midfielder could stay wide. The rotation was used to create confusion among Vitoria’s players and create vertical passing lines and to overload numbers in the wide areas to be able to play quick combinations between players to get in behind for a cross, or to create shooting opportunities.
However, if the ball was in a central position, then Benfica would push both outside backs up into the wide midfield position and push both wide midfielders centrally to overload numbers in central spaces. Once these movements were completed, the centre backs would look for vertical passes into the highest player available; after which Benfica would use quick combinations to try and create shooting opportunities.
This movement put Benfica into a 3-3-4, or 3-5-2 shape. The formation really didn’t matter much – what was important was that Benfica was looking to push 5 or 6 players into the central areas to be able to quickly combine to get in behind the opposition back 4.
Benfica’s third goal was a thing of beauty. You will see the positioning of Fejsa (#5), the central midfielder, in the back line to create Benfica’s back 3. You will also see the left back, Grimaldo (#3), move into a central position to overload numbers centrally. Fejsa is able to play a beautiful vertical pass and some quick combinations centrally eventually find Pizzi free for an easy goal.
Runs in behind the opposition back four
Benfica were also comfortable playing the ball in behind the opposition back 4. If they were unable to find a vertical pass on the ground, or create an overload in a specific area of the field, they would happily look to play one of their strikers, or wide midfielders in behind the opposition back 4. Typically, when the ball is on one side of the field, the ball-far wide midfielder will move into a striker position in between the opposition fullback and ball-far center back. This gives Benfica 3 strikers, but because they position themselves centrally, they create a 3v2 against the opponent’s center backs. This was very hard for Vitoria to deal with due to the speed at which Benfica made these runs and played the passes in behind.
Benfica is one of the most exciting offensive teams I have seen this season. Their intentions on the ball are similar to the intentions of Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli team that scored 86 goals this past season in Serie A. Benfica looks to overload numbers in specific areas of the field and emphasize vertical passes with quick combinations in order to terrorize their opponent. Vitoria had no answers on the day and no one had an answer for Benfica’s impressive offensive organization throughout the Primeira Liga campaign. All in all, it is 4 titles in a row for the Lisbon based club and the second under manager Rui Vitoria.