Barcelona could not take their golden opportunity to clinch a place in the Champions League knockout stages and will decide their European destiny in the final group stage match thanks to a 0-0 draw at home against Benfica. Barça were the better team for most of the 90 minutes and had a few really good chances, but ultimately failed to break down a solid Portuguese backline. Now the Blaugrana will need to win away to Bayern Munich to avoid going to the Europa League. Oh boy.
Xavi surprised with a different lineup and Barça came out with a back three, two holding midfielders and essentially a front five that put a lot of pressure on Benfica and looked to dominate possession and make plenty of runs in behind to try and break down the Eagles’ defense.
Nico González was the main driver of Barça’s attack as he quite literally drove the ball by himself from back to front in multiple occassions, in one of those setting up a great chance for Jordi Alba but the full-back couldn’t beat Vlachodimos in what was Barça’s most clear opportunity.
Benfica did very little in attack in the first half-hour but grew into the game in the following 10 minutes, and Nicolás Otamendi scored an amazing goal to give them the lead only to see it called off because the corner went out of play in the buildup. Barça finished the half strong, and Yusuf Demir almost scored a spectacular curler into the top corner but the ball hit the crossbar.
At halftime, a tense and highly competitive game was goalless but Barça looked like the better side ahead of the second half.
Benfica knew that a draw was a great result, and they played the second half to get exactly that. The visitors were very careful with how many players they sent forward and defended with plenty of intensity to stop Barça from creating any meaningful attacks. They also looked to waste as much time as they could, trying to avoid any trouble at the back and maybe find a winner on the counter.
Barça didn’t show as much urgency as they needed early on, but began to amp up the pressure as the game reached its last 30 minutes. Ousmane Dembélé came off the bench with 25 minutes to go looking to change the game with his pace and skill, and the Frenchman had an instant impact with a perfect cross to Frenkie De Jong but his header was brilliantly saved by Vlachodimos.
Benfica fully parked the bus as we reached the last 10 minutes, and Barça never got desperate and tried to patiently create a scoring chance. They got a goal when a perfect cross from Jordi Alba found Ronald Araujo inside the box for a beautifull volley, but Araujo was just offside and the goal was disallowed.
The Blaugrana never gave up and tried as hard as they could to find a winner, but time ran out and the final whistle came to end a disappointing night for Barça. Because Benfica will be big favorites at home against Dynamo Kiev in the final matchday, Barça will most likely need a victory away to Bayern Munich in the final matchday, and the chances of that happening are very small. The opening two losses have finally caught up with Barça, and playing in the Europa League knockouts looks like a real possibility now.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Araujo (García 86’), Piqué, Lenglet (Dest 86’); Demir (Dembélé 66’), Busquets, De Jong, Alba; Nico, Gavi; Memphis
Benfica: Vlachodimos; Almeida, Otamendi, Vertonghen; Gilberto, Weigl, Mário (Taarabt 59’), Grimaldo (Seferovic 81’); Silva (Lazaro 70’), Yaremchuk (Núñez 59’), Everton (Pizzi 70’)