Match Analysis: Benfica 3-3 Rangers

By Jamie Currie
 November 6, 2020

Rangers and Benfica played out an intriguing 3-3 draw at the Estadio da Luz in Europa League group D. A Connor Goldson own goal had the hosts in front inside a minute. However, the game would turn on its head when Nicolas Otamendi was sent off for a last-man challenge on Ryan Kent which saw Rangers gain control. Not long after Rangers had turned the scoreline around; First a Goncalves own goal had drawn the game level and then surprisingly Glen Kamara gave Rangers a 2-1 lead. Rangers continued their good play and Alfredo Morelos made it 3-1. Rangers were cruising at this point and two goals – one from Rafa Silva and the other from Darwin Nunez – made sure Benfica finished the night with a point.

Line-ups

Benfica's early pressure caused Rangers real problems

The first 15 minutes Benfica came out of the traps and their pressing unsettled the Rangers defence, so much so, it looked like Rangers were shocked by the intensity of their high press.

The first sign of the Benfica high press came almost instantly. As the image above illustrates, Filip Helander has one option to beat this press and that is to use his goalkeeper. He didn't, though, and that decision along with Benfica's midfield being on top of Ryan Jack and Steven Davis, allowed Pizzi to press him into an error and then because Benfica are so high, it allows Rafa to beat Helander to the second ball and Seferovic is able to occupy Connor Goldson and because that is taking place, he cannot help, which allows Rafa to cross and then Goldson knocks it into his own net.

The press continued and was a feature of the opening minutes for the home side. This time, Rangers were bailed out by a Borna Barisic tackle in the end. However, Benfica's four-vs-three press causes Steven Davis to lose possession and they have enough ahead of the ball, to get into the lines between the midfield and defence. The sheer intensity of their press was a joy to watch, if you were an aspiring coach.

The third occasion where Benfica won possession back due to their press came in the second phase. Jack and Helander are outnumbered three-vs-two. But Jack is able to switch it to Davis and he looks to get Barisic away on the Rangers left but Rafa shows tremendous workrate to press the Croat and cause Rangers to forfeit possession and this allows Benfica to recycle the ball and start building an attack again.

Rangers penetrating Benfica's high line meant they created lots of opportunities to hurt the hosts

There was an obvious tactical ploy from Rangers on the night and that was to try and exploit the space in behind that was left by Benfica's high line.

The image above turned the opening 15 minutes on its head. This time Benfica have the numbers on the ball side but they allow Steven Davis all the time in the world to look up and Ryan Kent - who positions himself in the half-space between the right-back and Otamendi – to time his run and allows him to get a march on Otamendi. The Argentine centre-half brought Kent down and was shown a red card, but the situation arose because Benfica allowed Davis space, which he took full advantage of.

They got in behind again. The image above shows Goldson, this time, trying to find the run of Morelos, who positioned himself in between the centre-backs, but couldn't time his run and got caught offside. Rangers again profit from Benfica dropping and not putting on their high press. Furthermore, Adel Taarabt should be pressing Goldson in this instance as he has the protection behind him, but he is caught in two minds.

Rangers kept creating situations like the aforementioned one and it led to them grabbing two of their goals.

The Rangers equaliser came from the Goncalves own goal. However, Davis was able to set Tavernier in behind Tavares. The rest of the Benfica defence had an iffy starting position, meaning to deal with the cross they had to face their own goal. Yes, they had 10 men but having poor starting defensive positions is nothing to do with numerical disadvantages. It cost them as Goncalves, who had to worry about Kent fired it into his own net.

Rangers' third goal was more of the same. Kent gets in between the centre-backs; Goldson is able to waltz forward without being pressed and that allows Tavernier to get in behind Grimaldo and get his cross into the back post for Morelos to tuck home and become Rangers' all-time leading European goalscorer. Grimaldo is far too high and square on, if he drops then Tavernier doesn't have a free run in behind.

Rangers got too cocky and didn't manage their lead effectively

Game management is critical to gaining success at European level. Rangers had all the stats and in their favour. However, if you get complacent and cocky, and make individual errors, you get punished.

Firstly, 75 minutes in, the above image shows Rangers in build-up play. This is Rangers 3-1 up against a quality side like Benfica. 2-3-1-4 in build-up. The question is, why? This is the time to drop the full-backs to the deeper circled areas, or alternatively drop Jack and Davis back to the circled areas on their respective sides. Failure to get either the midfielders or the full-backs to drop is naive from a Rangers point of view.

The carefree approach continued and leads to Benfica taking a quick free-kick and ultimately making the scoreline 3-2. It beggars belief given how Rangers saw the game out against Kilmarnock just days earlier, it was surprising that they didn’t use that experience to help them in this match.

The second shortcoming of Rangers' game management is Scott Arfield –circled– he has had a great few months. However, he tries a through-ball just prior to injury time. He should slow it down, play it to Tavernier and Kent and keep the ball, and see it out. He doesn't and a few passes later Darwin is through on McGregor to score.

Conclusion

From the 15th minute on, Rangers used their attacking threat to get themselves in front and they looked solid at points by keeping the ball, culminating in them having 59% of the ball to Benfica's 41%. However, individual errors cost them as well as poor game management, and that saw Benfica grab two goals from just two shots on target.

Rangers will take heart from the start in group D. They will also believe they can hurt Benfica at Ibrox and go on and qualify for the last 32.

Rangers' players should feel as if this is an opportunity missed. However, a point before the game would have been welcome in Steven Gerrard's eyes.

It sets up a great return match at Ibrox and this point could be a vital one in terms of progression.

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