Seven goals, thrilling attacks and counter attacks, sublime individual skill, great team moves, extra time, player errors, debatable refereeing decisions, and two red cards. This was, above all, brilliant entertainment. Let’s take a look at some of the key aspects of the game and what we may have learnt from it.
Serious questions need asking of Sporting’s defensive capabilities as keeper Rui Patrício was called upon far too often, producing a number of good saves and one costly error.
The marking for Benfica’s second goal was atrocious, with Óscar Cardozo finding himself with all the time and space in the world to drift in at the back post and power an excellent header past Patrício.
The defending of the long throw that led to Benfica’s fourth was also rather feeble; it’s not just Patrício that won’t want to see that one again.
Another notable error nearly allowed Cardozo to grab a fourth goal for himself late in normal time when Jefferson failed to deal with a cross with the Paraguayan lurking behind him. Patrício made a good save with his foot, though, to keep Sporting in the game at 3-2.
Marcos Rojo’s expulsion for two rather rash and arguably unnecessary challenges raises further questions about his status as one of the first names on Leonardo Jardim’s teamsheet. His suspension should at least give English teenager Eric Dier another chance to stake his claim.
After his derby heroics, Benfiquistas must be mighty glad that Cardozo and Jorge Jesus patched things up over the summer after their falling out at the end of the Taça final last season; or, rather, that no club was willing to match Benfica’s asking price for the striker they seemed quite keen to sell. Cardozo’s hat trick was superb and he could have had even more. His first a clever, low free kick; his second a cross-goal header; his third a powerful finish into the top left corner after doing well to drop back and adjust his body.
Sporting midfielder Adrien Silva is one of a number of players who have been growing in confidence since the brief reign of Jesualdo Ferreira at the tail end of last season and has continued to improve under Jardim. He was hugely influential for Sporting on Saturday in linking defence and attack and showed some very nice touches. His dead ball deliveries were also a threat and it was his free kick that provided the assist for Slimani’s stoppage time leveller to take the game to extra time.
Adrien, 24, has not yet been capped at senior level by Portugal, although he was in the squad for the friendly against Brazil in September. His colleagues in Sporting’s youthful midfield triumvirate are also on Paulo Bento’s radar: André Martins, 23, has two caps and was most recently called up in October, while William Carvalho, 21, is uncapped but the only one of the three named in Portugal’s squad for the upcoming play-off against Sweden.
On Saturday, however, it was Adrien who shone brightest in Sporting’s midfield. If he can continue to perform at that level then it won’t be long before full international recognition comes his way.
Benfica’s late goal curse
Conceding late goals is something that Benfica fans are all too familiar with, given the events that derailed their season in 2012/13. Late goals conceded against Porto, Chelsea and Vitória Guimarães saw hopes of a treble extinguished in the most painful fashion. Against Sporting they should have been comfortable with a 3-1 lead at half time but Maurício halved the deficit in the 61st minute before Slimani equalised in the 92nd. Benfica got away with it this time but fans must have been feeling déjà vu as they witnessed that stoppage time header find its way past Artur. We can debate whether there is a psychological hangover from last season’s disappointments or if it can just be chalked up to coincidence; perhaps events in the rest of the season might better inform any conclusion there.
No manager likes to concede goals from set pieces and, despite the eventual victory, one imagines that Jorge Jesus might have one or two things to say behind closed doors at the club’s training centre in Seixal after watching his charges concede from two set pieces in the second half. A man on the back post might have prevented Maurício’s goal, while Slimani was totally unmarked for his.
Duarte Gomes’ decisions
It wouldn’t be a day ending in ‘y’ (in English that is, none of the days of the week end in ‘y’ in Portuguese) if refereeing decisions weren’t a talking point in Portugal, which is a shame, especially after such an entertaining match, so let’s keep it brief.
Óscar Cardozo’s third goal looked fractionally offside, but it’s easy to see how his movement caught the linesman out.
Sporting felt they should have had two penalties – and some of their party didn’t hold back in saying so at the end of the game; however, while both may have been decent shouts, neither was a clear-cut stonewaller.
In the first incident Fredy Montero appeared to nick the ball away from Luisão just before he attempted to clear, resulting in the contact apparently being made with the Columbian’s shin. That said, the contact appeared minimal and Montero was arguably not in control of the ball. That was probably the weaker of the two penalty claims.
The second saw an attempted volleyed cross from Carlos Mané strike André Almeida’s arm. Replays showed that Almeida’s arm seemed to move towards the ball but at such close range and at such speed it’s easy to see why the ref didn’t give it, or perhaps why the ref missed the possible intent in Almeida’s movement.
But, as stated, it’s a shame to be talking about referees after such a feast of football. While these decisions are worth a passing mention, it would be much more positive and productive to focus on the football and, in this case, praise the game for what it was: an enthralling derby which any football fan would have appreciated.