It was a game that was meandering towards an inevitable conclusion. That was until a frantic last 15 minutes almost turned the tie on its head and it finished Benfica 2 Spurs 2.
The keys for us was were quick switches in play and getting in-behind the Benfica left back zone.
Benfica attack our left
The first half saw Benfica take the lead, but Spurs created arguably the better chances.
Playing in a 4-2-3-1 we were content to give Benfica’s centre backs the ball and dropped off to press the first pass in to midfield.
In the centre of the park, Tim Sherwood had gone with two box-to-box midfielders in Bentaleb and Sigurdsson, with a direct running number ten in Nacer Chadli. Without the ball we had these players in the centre, but in order to congest this zone even more for Benfica, we had Lennon and Townsend playing extremely narrow.
In the first leg we saw the Portuguese side dominate this central zone. They often had five bodies in here, stifling Kane, Adebayor and Eriksen, so Sherwood obviously didn’t want to be overrun in this area again.
Whether this is what prompted Benfica to play with much more width or not was unsure, but they went heavily down their right side to attack Danny Rose. With Andros Townsend tucking in from this side, every time the ball went out to Maxi or Salvio, he had to shuttle out to help his full back.
The ball was being switched to these two players from Andre Gomes in the centre. The young Portuguese playmaker touched the ball more than any other player on the park and switching out to the Benfica right, our left, was his preferred target.
After getting both Maxi and Salvio in to crossing positions in our left back zone, it was no surprise to see Benfica take the lead by creating through here.
Salvio had initially forced a corner after trying to run in-behind us down the left flank. The following set piece was cleared, but he got in-behind in this zone once more to chip the ball back to Garay, who powered a header home.
Spurs set pieces
Whereas Benfica were attacking our left side, we were looking to counter through the pace of Lennon, Townsend and Chadli.
Nacer Chadli was once more deployed in a position off the central striker. He looks much better running on to the ball, rather than having it played up to him with his back to goal. Chadli is a wide forward by trade and he drifted out in to wide positions, as he seemed more comfortable here than in the centre.
This movement to the flanks saw him score, which we’ll come to next. However, in the first half, the pace of our three dribblers behiind Soldado on the break saw us earn a number of free kicks and corners.
This was how our best chances arrived. Soldado chested down a corner that was flicked on by Fryers and when all alone at the back post, shanked his shot in to the floor. Chadli headed another corner narrowly wide, but then made excellent use of his height once again. A corner was partially cleared and the Belgian nodded down Kyle Naughton’s cross back across the box. Soldado couldn’t bring the header down under control quickly enough and his shot was blocked over the bar. The chances were there though.
Quick switches open up Benfica
With Benfica 1-0 up, Spurs had given the first half a decent go. After the interval, the match was meandering towards an inevitable conclusion, with neither side doing too much to hurt the other.
That was until the introduction of Harry Kane. After this, Spurs started to switch the ball quickly and scored twice.
On the first strike it was from back to front; on the second goal it was from side-to-side, but Kane’s use of his height featured heavily in both goals.
The first arrived after Brad Friedel sent a long clearance downfield.
As the American switched play quickly from back to front, he took out the entire Benfica midfield. They were caught high up, but so too was Luisao. The Brazilian centre back had been dragged out of his position by the movement of Harry Kane.
Kane’s flick-on meant that Nacer Chadli, who had drifted out to his favoured left side once again, received the ball 1v1 against full back Maxi Pereira.
With Luisao caught forward, this then meant that the inside left channel was open for Chadli to dribble in to. He didn’t need a second invitation to drive inside on his preferred right foot and fire an unstoppable shot inside the near post.
Chadli’s first arrived after a quick switch from back to front, the second came courtesy of one from side-to-side.
Danny Rose recovered the ball after it was partially cleared and angled an excellent pass across the formation to fellow full back Kyle Naughton. This took out Benfica’s midfielders, whilst also catching their back four narrow, as their full backs were tucked in.
Naughton took the ball down and played a nice through ball in-behind the full back for Aaron Lennon. The nippy winger wasted no time in chipping a short cross to Harry Kane at the back post, who once again used his head to find Nacer Chadli to fire home.
The goal was made possible by the quick play between Rose and Naughton, but it then signified the way to goal. That was getting beyond left back Guillherme Siqueira.
Spurs attack Siqueira
Going ahead 2-1 saw us in a position to almost pull off the impossible by grabbing a third to force extra time.
We looked in the Tottenham tactics before the match at moving the ball behind the full backs. The key here was getting beyond left back Guillherme Siqueira. Aaron Lennon had stolen in to create for Nacer Chadli’s second goal, but then we started to open up this space in a frantic last ten minutes.
Aaron Lennon raced on to Nabil Bentaleb’s through ball and chipped the keeper who was racing from his line, but only for Luisao to clear back in to the arms of the goalie.
Heavy pressing then lead to Harry Kane being played in-behind through the left back zone too. He was bundled over by Sulejmani and denied an obvious penalty.
Nacer Chadli, who had pulled out to the flank once again, then sent in a wickedly curling cross to pick out Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Icelander had stolen in behind left back Siqueira once more, but saw his header clawed to safety.
A fourth chance then arrived, again through the left back zone, as Christian Eriksen sent Nacer Chadli through to race in to the space behind the full back.
Chadli’s cross was marginally too high for a stretching Harry Kane, who couldn’t get enough power on his header to trouble the keeper.
Following Kane’s header, Benfica then went up the field and gained a penalty after a tired challenge by Sandro. However, with all the chances created from getting in-behind Benfica’s left back zone, it’s a wonder why we didn’t attack here earlier?
Benfica 2 Spurs 2 overall
This was an excellent performance from a very patched up team.
Sandro and Zeki Fryers did well at centre back; Nabil Bentaleb was superb in winning the ball back and moving it forward through midfield. Nacer Chadli had his best outing in a Spurs shirt and Harry Kane’s introduction flipped the match, and almost the tie, on it’s head.
Kane coming in to the game meant we suddenly had more of an aerial presence, but it also allowed Nacer Chadli to run off him. The Belgian looks much a better player when he can get the ball travelling towards goal than with his back to it. The result was two assists for Kane and two goals for Chadli, with both created from quick vertical or horizontal switches in play.
There were then plenty of openings for a third goal, and had we got it, then who knows what could’ve happened. As it was, it finished 5-3 on aggregate, but we go out with our heads held high.
Final score: Benfica 2 Spurs 2 (agg 5-3).