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Newcastle United 1-1 Benfica: 5 talking points

FEATURED COLUMNIST
Top 5 / Top 10
796   //    12 Apr 2013, 23:06 IST

Some stories don’t have a fairytale ending. For Newcastle, there was to be no glory at the end of their arduous road of the Europa League. Benfica, the better side at the end of the two legs, deservedly went through to the semis of the competition but not without giving their own fans 30 heart-stopping minutes before Salvio finally brought the curtains down. Newcastle were spurred on by 50,000 Geordies for the second goal that would eventually not come to fruition, but it was worth it all. Newcastle went for it, but got caught out in the end.

While the passion of the city and the club that is Newcastle was on full display, Benfica showcased some tantalizing, slick footballing skills which eventually paid off. In all, it made for one great European tie and should have whetted the appetites of Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias enough to strengthen the squad even further.

Here are 5 talking points from yesterday’s thrilling encounter:

Weird line-ups from both teams

Alan Pardew has made head-scratching decisions all through-out this season and last night was no different. Sylvain Marveaux, like so many times, got the axe despite putting in some impressive shifts in previous games. Going into the game with a virtual mountain to climb against Benfica, Pardew opted to give start to Gael Bigirimana and that too on the right wing. The only reason behind Pardew opting for such a decision was giving cover to Danny Simpson who was up against the enigmatic Nico Gaitan. With the optimal need being that of getting goals however, the decision certainly left even more heads scratching.

On the opposite side, Benfica manager Jorge Jesus certainly didn’t go unnoticed as he opted to leave the dangerous Rodrigo and the club’s highest scorer this season, Óscar Cardozo, on the bench. There was still zip in their passing and movement but they certainly lacked a killer edge in the final third.

Yohan Cabaye fails to take the game by the scruff of its neck

Cometh the hour, cometh the man? For Newcastle, it wasn’t to be so. Cabaye has always been a deciding factor in whether Newcastle play well on the day or not. Sadly for the Magpies, Cabaye was one of the poorest players on the pitch in black and white. Although he was their best tackler in midfield and created a few opportunities with his first time balls, the Frenchman failed to control the tempo of the game and keep possession when they needed it most. His crosses as well as attempts from set pieces certainly left much to be desired. Pardew will have to take a long and hard look at where Cabaye is most effective. While the Frenchman has the passing skills to unlock most defences, there were too many Hollywood balls from the Frenchman which resulted in turnovers. Benfica literally overran Newcastle’s midfield in the first half as the home side failed to settle down and play their game.

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It may be primary and simple, but sometimes it’s most effective

With Newcastle unable to impose themselves on the visitors in the first half, Alan Pardew brought on Shola Ameobi to set the cat amongst the pigeons. The introduction of Ameobi changed the complexion of the game almost instantly as Garay and Luisão now had to deal with the big-bodied Nigerian international along with the perennial threat of Papiss Cissé. In today’s footballing world, the order of the proceeding is mostly playing slick passing football which is pleasing to the eye but not always effective if the personnel is lacking. With Ben Arfa, Marveaux and Tiote not involved in the first half, the Tynesiders certainly didn’t play to their strengths.

With Ameobi thrown in the mix at the beginning of the second half, Newcastle now had a target man up front. Balls were soon coming in from the wings as well as lumped forward for Ameobi to attack and flick on. Alan Pardew’s change paid rich dividends as it was Ameobi who set up Cissé for Newcastle’s goal and an enthralling finish.

Benfica still sharp without their top two scorers

Newcastle certainly had the vibe and the passion but it was Benfica who looked more likely to open the scoring in the first half. While Newcastle played in straight lines and looked for the perfect ball, Benfica burned holes in the Newcastle midfield with their intricate passing and ball control as they controlled the proceedings. The Portuguese were able to play the game on their terms and pace as Nemanja Matic, Enzo Perez and Gaitán created little triangles. Their work off the ball was exemplary as well as they pressed high up the midfield, giving little time for the likes of Anita and Cabaye to settle on the ball, leading to a large number of erroneous passes from the home side.

While they may not have scored in the first half, it certainly wasn’t for the lack of creating chances. Lima’s ingenious backheel effort with only three minutes on the clock was an indicator of things to come. Newcastle were made to count there lucky stars on 28 minutes when Massadio Haïdara was there at the right place at the right moment to clear an effort from the goal-line. A Salvio header and a Perez shot from long range were enough indications of which side had more impetus in the game in the first 45 minutes.

Europa League may have a winner from Portugal this year

It really wouldn’t surprise anybody if a team going into the semi-finals goes on to win the whole thing, but if I had to put my money on one side, it would certainly be Benfica. While many pundits may tip the scale in Chelsea‘s favour, the thing that makes me put their name above the Londoners would be their work when not in possession. Both Chelsea and the Portuguese league leaders have players throughout the team that can be match winners on the day, but while Chelsea’s off-the ball work has been exploited by many in the recent past, Benfica are a class above in that respect with players closing down opposition players and spaces with the utmost proficiency. Benfica is a well-drilled team which possesses fire-power in every area of the field and has a record which lies testament to the fact. In 37 games this season, they have been on the losing side only twice, with Barcelona the only team to beat them by more than a goal.

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