Currently sitting pretty atop the Primeira Liga and on a scin­til­lat­ing unbeaten run in the UEFA Champions League, Benfica have been nothing short of exceptional this season.

Currently sitting pretty atop the Primeira Liga and on a scintillating unbeaten run in the UEFA Champions League that's propelled them into the quarter-finals of the coveted competition, Benfica have been nothing short of exceptional this season.

Having lost only two games this season, plus drawn with the mighty Paris Saint-Germain twice and beaten Juventus twice, it's been a joy to watch Roger Schmidt's high-flying Eagles take European football by storm.

Operating with discipline, intensity, cohesion and authority within the framework of Schmidt's defined, tactically sophisticated philosophy, they've been exceptional in all phases of play.

Typically setting up in a base 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 shape, this has provided them with a solid foundation from which to be so effective.

To start with the defensive side, and their coherent pressing is unquestionably one of their key tenets and one that allows them to regain possession in ideal areas while ensuring they're an extremely difficult and uncomfortable adversary to face off with.

Well drilled with everyone on the same page, Benfica are masters at forcing opponents wide, responding to triggers, angling their pressure and using the touchline as an extra defender.

Shifting across aggressively and as a collective, they do a wonderful job of trapping opponents and minimizing viable outlets through a combination of their man marking and use of cover shadows to block passing lanes, thus meaning the ball holder is forced into low percentage decisions or turnovers.

Excelling at getting compact, imposing themselves and populating ball-near areas, this is then supplemented by the ball-far players tucking in and the defenders getting touchtight to their opponents so they can't turn or control cleanly.

Due to their connectivity going forward as well, which will be touched on later in this article, they are ideally situated to immediately counter-press once possession is lost in advanced areas. Reacting rapidly and springing to life assertively, opponents are swarmed and passing lanes blocked in their pursuit to quickly reclaim the ball to attack again against unset defenses.

If opponents get beyond their initial harrying, Benfica are notably sound when defending in a mid or deep block as well, as they are often well spaced to minimize access to potentially dangerous central zones while mixing a zonal and man-based system.

Committed in their duels on the ground and in the air, this, in alliance with their capacity to fulfill their marking assignments in their designated area of operation, deal with crosses and be in sync positionally, elevates their stopping success.


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Meanwhile, Schmidt's balanced and fundamentally sound outfit are equally proficient going forward, where they parlay power, finesse, intelligence and physicality.

Enjoying building out from the back to gain control and destabilize their opposition, their initial structure sees the splitting of the central defenders and keeping the full-backs wide and deepish.

The nominal double pivot will then either stay on a similar axis or one will drop deeper or push slightly higher depending on the opposition setup. Wanting to open passing angles, facilitate third-man combinations and form numerical and positional superiorities, they've done so brilliantly to progress.

Creating good structures in wide areas as well with handy support for back and lateral passing means if they can't directly beat the press an option is usually available to recycle possession while waiting for a weakness elsewhere in the opposition block to arise.

When in established possession, there's been much to admire about how the wingers will often drift infield to generate a connected front four. From here, rotations can be smoothly executed, desirable spaces between the lines and in the half spaces can be accessed and quick combination play can be used to unlock, disrupt and discombobulate rearguards, who struggle to know who to mark in what zone.

Whether it be running in behind, hitting the channels, executing opposite movements or generally manufacturing openings for one another to exploit, they've been a real nightmare to keep tabs on for opponents.

Moreover, by indenting centrally, this importantly generates room for the full backs to overlap and stretch opposition backlines horizontally and vertically. In addition, their marauding full-backs, most notably Alex Grimaldo and Alexander Bah, relish attacking these spaces to use their classy dribbling and progressive passing and crossing to enhance their team's offensive threat.

Building such strong understandings and knowledge of one another's tendencies and best attributes, this gives them an edge when dovetailing, interacting masterfully and when unbalancing defensive setups to further compound issues for their trackers.

Boasting a nice array of attackers with varying skill sets technically and physically such as Goncalo Ramos, Rafa Silva, David Neres, Joao Mario, Fredrik Aursnes and Goncalo Guedes, these men certainly keep opponents guessing and are relentlessly wreaking havoc.

Massive weapons on the counter too and loving driving at retreating, backpedaling defenses, their pace, trickery and dynamism make them a formidable proposition to nullify in transition too.

"We have one objective and it’s winning every game we play going forward,” Rafa Silva insisted after their crushing 5-1 recent victory over Club Brugge.

“Things are going well because the team is working hard. We will go game by game, first think about what is next in the Portuguese league on the weekend and winning it. That’s what matters now and we will think about the [Champions League] quarter-finals when the time comes.”

Upon analyzing their numbers in the Champions League, it's truly impressive how well they stack up with the plethora of heavy hitters in the competition that are working with far larger resources, which can be seen in the Wyscout graphics below. The key takeaways come from how they rank second for goals scored, third for shots conceded, third for XG and ninth for deep completions.

Wyscout Rankings - UCL Goal statistics
Wyscout Rankings - UCL shots against
Wyscout Rankings - UCL XG
Wyscout Rankings - UCL Deep completion numbers
Wyscout Rankings - UCL goals conceded
Wyscout Rankings - UCL PPDA stats

Showing no signs of slowing down even after star midfielder Enzo Fernandez left for Chelsea in January and meeting every challenge with gusto, it'll be captivating to see them continue their relentless push both domestically and in Europe when play resumes following the international break, with their UCL clash vs. Inter Milan set to be especially tantalizing.

Navigating every encounter with belief, confidence and letting their football do all the talking, Schmidt's exceptional team, who are carrying so much momentum and riding the crest of a wave, have emphatically shown they're a match for anyone.

Watching how far they can go moving forward will make for unmissable viewing, as this balanced side with a strong identity are certainly not a team to be underestimated.

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