UEFA Champions League: SL Benfica 0-2 FC Barcelona: Match Review

David Ramos - Getty Images

Barcelona ran out comfortable 2-0 winners against Benfica at the Estadio da Luz on Tuesday night with goals from Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas securing the three points. However, the victory was marred by a horrific injury suffered by Carles Puyol and the contentious red card shown to Sergio Busquets

Barcelona ran out comfortable 2-0 winners against Benfica at the Estadio da Luz on Tuesday night with goals from Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas securing the three points. However, the victory was marred by a horrific injury suffered by Carles Puyol and the contentious red card shown to Sergio Busquets.

Benfica

Barcelona

Possession

21%

79%

Total Shots

10

8

Shots on Target

7

5

Pass Accuracy

70%

93%

Fouls

23

14

Offsides

0

3

Yellow Cards

4

2

Red Cards

0

1

Bearing in mind there’s a Clasico on Sunday, Tito Vilanova fielded a surprisingly strong XI with Carles Puyol returning to the starting line-up just two days after returning to training. Puyol is a warrior, but many were concerned about his fitness ahead of such a pivotal match. What if he were to suffer another injury, leaving us with Alex Song at the back for the game against Real Madrid? Elsewhere, Xavi started alongside Cesc Fàbregas in midfield while David Villa had to settle for a place on the bench as Tito opted for the same attack that started against Sevilla. Would Barcelona get the three points they needed to keep their spot at the top of the group following Celtic’s 3-2 over Spartak Moscow?

Barcelona started the match brightly and kept possession for the first couple of minutes of the match, although Benfica did threaten on the counter-attack with two shots from Bruno Cesar – the first of which was parried by Victor Valdés, and the second which was blocked by Sergio Busquets. However, they made nowhere near the same impact as Barcelona did with their opening attack.

Cesc Fàbregas was involved in the build-up, passing the ball to Lionel Messi on the left-hand side of the Benfica area, and the Argentine dropped a shoulder, accelerated away from a defender and fired a ball into the area. Who would be in the area to meet it? None other than the Chilean, Alexis Sanchez. It was a good run from Alexis, a fantastic cross to find that run from Messi and a good all-round team goal. Six minutes in and Barcelona were ahead.

Benfica came close to an instant equaliser through Lima’s powerful shot, but Victor Valdés – who was having a great game in goal – made a good save to keep Jorge Jesus’ side at bay. Lionel Messi was the next to have a shot on goal, directing an effort with his favoured left-foot, but Artur Moraes did exceptionally well to get down and tip his effort round the post. Barcelona also had another chance to extend their lead through the scorer of the opener – Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean had made a great run and was picked out beautifully by a perfectly-weighted long ball, but he fired the shot over the bar and with that went Barcelona’s best chance at a second before the half-time interval.

Benfica made one change at the break, replacing Bruno Cesar with the veteran (and former Granada midfielder) Carlos Martins. They had played well in the first half, but they were struggling to capitalise on their chances and Barcelona were making them pay. Similar to Saturday’s match, Barcelona scored soon after the restart with Cesc Fàbregas on the score-sheet for the third time in four days. It was another good finish from the Spaniard, but this time round it was all about the assist from Lionel Messi. The Argentine was relatively quiet in the first half – assist for the opener aside – but he burst into life, charging past a couple of Benfica defenders before slipping the ball through to an unmarked Fàbregas. Much like his second on Saturday, Cesc calmly slotted past the keeper and Barcelona had a little bit of breathing room. Sure, Benfica were causing a couple of problems, but nothing too dangerous; the question was when would Tito start to make changes with the Clasico in mind?

You got the feeling that this was almost like a formal training session for the team; they were keeping possession for fun, raising the tempo when necessary to create chances and keep Benfica at bay. Lionel Messi – who was thriving in a more creative role – played a brilliant pass through to Pedro, but his touch evaded him in front of goal, and while Messi took over his shot was blocked.

Tito made his first change with around twenty minutes left to play, Andrés Iniesta took the field with Cesc Fàbregas making way, but it seems rather inconsequential as Carles Puyol suffered what looked to be a terrible, terrible injury just minutes later. Leaping up for a header, as per usual, Puyol landed heavily on his arm, and well, let’s just say it didn’t look right. Puyol was in massive pain, Sanchez looked queasy and everyone looked visibly shaken. It was the last thing Tito would have wanted, but at this point the first concern is with Puyi’s well-being. Get well soon Capitan!

And then it somehow got worse. Alex Song and David Villa had taken the field for Puyol and Pedro, though neither were involved in the next talking point – a contentious red card shown to Sergio Busquets. Looking back, I actually have no clue what Busi did to warrant a card of any colour – at worst it was a foul for a high foot. Regardless, the incompetent referee brandished a red card, and I’m certain that Barcelona will appeal.

There was still time for Nemanja Matic to elbow Dani Alves, potentially injuring the Brazilian. However, there were no repercussions for his blatantly violent play, which basically sums up the game. A good three points, but as Bostjan said in the Game Thread, at what cost?

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