Broken promises and 'the curious case of Quim' among Benfica's problems

Before the Portuguese Cup last 16 match against Braga, Benfica manager Jorge Jesus ran the rule over the club’s dismal season. The Eagles currently trail FC Porto by eight points and had to count on Olympique Lyon coming back to hold Hapoel Tel-Aviv last Wednesday evening to ensure the completion of their shaky path to the Europa League. But even if everyone at the club says that the two cups are pretty much in there to be won, internally they should already be planning for next season.

After heavy defeats at the hands of Porto and Hapoel, it seems clear the team is already light years behind their 2009/10 vintage, and serious improvements are required in order for Benfica to reach those performance levels again.

With that in mind, here are the five biggest mistakes they have made since the back-end of last season, all of which they cannot afford to repeat:

1. Keeping unhappy players

David Luiz is not even half the player he was last season. Whether this is because he feels he has already achieved everything he possibly can at the club or because he is still sulking having not been allowed a transfer over the summer we just don‘t know. But the truth is the curly-haired Brazilian defender has been at fault many times this season and has regularly seen criticism land on his doorstep.

Given he was previously such a defensive lynchpin, such a spectacular dip in form clearly doesn’t bode well for Benfica. The only silver lining could be that Brazilian manager Mano Menezes has kept the faith in him, which may act to convince Manchester City that the defender is still worth splashing out a reported €30 million on. At the moment, that would be one helluva’ deal…


David Luiz's form this season has stunk...

2. Selling the most consistent stars

When it comes to departures from Estádio de Luz, Angel Di Maria and Ramires naturally hog the spotlight, but there was also the rather curious case of goalkeeping stalwart Quim.

The veteran had been at the club for some years and was an important figure in the locker room. Like him or loathe him, he was a part of a very reliable backline that conceded just 20 goals in the league last season and the only thing Benfica had to do was to renew his contract. Yet, they allowed it to expire and signed Roberto for €8.5 million. And we all know how well the Spaniard started the season…

3. Making promises they couldn’t keep

After all the euphoria of last season‘s successes, Benfica set their sights on even greater things this term. That included becoming back-to-back championships and producing a strong showing in the Champions League – Jesus would even say at one point that the club was a contender for the competition.

The ice started to crack though when rivals Porto – then underdogs – dominated them at Aveiro in the Super Cup. Unlike the Dragons, Benfica don’t have that knack of winning competitions for several years in a succession, and that early season loss quite possibly represented a psychological blow from which they would fail to recover.

Subsiquently, the Eagles have suffered nine losses in 22 official matches, too many for a club with such high expectations. In hindsight, promising a competitive team in the Champions League was perhaps a tad amateurish.


"I promise we won't lose 3-0 to Hapoel Tel-Aviv...honest"

4. Looking to find a scapegoat

Jesus acknowledged some mistakes while pleading for fans’ support, but he also pointed out that if the refereeing criteria was the same, the difference between the Eagles and the leaders would be smaller.

Earlier this season, the club had also requested supporters not to attend away matches due to the poor refereeing standards.

The problem with burying their heads in the sand in this way is that underlying problems won’t just go away - and when you’re exposed against an average Hapoel Tel Aviv side, you really are in no position to complain of outside factors.

5. Failing to make contingency plans

Everyone at the club was already expecting Di Maria’s departure. What they were hoping for was that industrious midfielder Ramires would stay for one more season, which ultimately proved not to be the case.

While Di Maria’s replacement, Nico Gaitán, has been a disappointment, especially considering his €8.4 million price tag, at least a replacement was recruited - Benfica did nothing to fill the void left by the departing Brazilian. In the end, due to the perceived lack of width, the club switched to a 4-4-2 diamond formation with Carlos Martins and Pablo Aimar often playing together. That itself poses another problem because the duo, while talented, are often plagued by injuries and fluctuations in form.

Now, the Eagles are left with two choices: Getting a Ramires-type player in the inflated January transfer window or risk waiting until the summer and hope there will be more money available.

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