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In Focus: Jesus must rise to the task and revitalise Benfica
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Nathan Evans

It has been a summer of change at the Estadio da Luz after Benfica’s worst finish in more than a decade.

The Eagles laboured to third place whilst watching their fierce rivals Sporting lift the title for the first time since 2002.

It was the Lisbon club’s lowest finishing position in the Primeira Liga since the 2008-09 campaign and their first season without claiming any silverware in seven years.

With a host of new faces arriving at the club this summer, we examine whether Benfica have done enough to secure their 38th league title this time around.

Building a stronger frontline

Benfica’s struggles last season were underpinned by a lack of goals.

Returning their lowest goal tally (69) since the Portuguese top-flight expanded to 18 teams for the 2014-15 season, manager Jorge Jesus has looked to address the problem area this summer.

His main attacking purchase has come in the form of Ukrainian striker Roman Yaremchuk, 25, who joins from Belgian side Gent for a fee of around £15million.

The 6ft 3in target man impressed for his country during Euro 2020, scoring twice and assisting once in five matches while proving a constant menace for opposing defenders with his relentless pressing and aerial ability.

Last season for Genk, Yaremchuk bagged 23 times across all competitions, adding eight assists on the side.

Roman Yaremchuk has joined Benfica after impressing for Ukraine at Euro 2020
Roman Yaremchuk has joined Benfica after impressing for Ukraine at Euro 2020

Different attacking options

Yaremchuck’s arrival leaves Benfica’s forward line inflated though with seven senior strikers on the books.

Carlos Vinicius and Darwin Nunez are likely to depart this summer but, even so, they are blessed with plenty of attacking quality.

Swiss forward Haris Seferovic, 29, finished second in the league’s scoring charts with 22 last season whilst German forward Luca Waldschidt, 25, bagged the winner in Benfica’s win over Moreirense on the opening weekend of the new season.

Add into the mix youth academy graduate Goncalo Ramos, 20, who has impressed after making his first-team debut during the 2019-20 campaign, and the capture of experienced attacking midfielder Joao Mario, 28, who spent last season with rivals Sporting, and boss Jesus has a wide array of talent at his disposal. 

A new midfield general

Soualiho Meite spent the second half of 2020-21 on loan at AC Milan
Soualiho Meite spent the second half of 2020-21 on loan at AC Milan

To add some much-needed bite in midfield, the Eagles have also signed Soualiho Meite, 27, from Torino for a reported fee of £5.9m this summer.

The tough tackler was a mainstay with the Italian side for several years but spent the second half of the last campaign on loan with AC Milan, making 21 appearances.

Splitting his time between playing as a box-to-box central midfielder or as a defensive anchor last term, Meite shines on the statistical front.

In 30 Serie A matches for both sides, the former French youth international attempted 1.74 tackles per 90 minutes, 1.08 interceptions and regained possession 7.14 times on average — the latter highlighting his defensive importance.

The versatile midfielder adds a different option for Benfica and really enforces Benfica’s strength in the centre of the park alongside Florentino, Gabriel and Julian Weigl.

Experience at the back

Nicolas Otamendi and Jan Vertonghen form an experienced central defensive pairing
Nicolas Otamendi and Jan Vertonghen form an experienced central defensive pairing

Despite their individual struggles last season, veterans Nicolas Otamendi, 33, and Jan Vertonghen, 34, are expected to heavily feature once again for the Eagles this season.

Otamendi in particular will now be full of confidence having helped Argentina win the Copa America in July.

On the left-hand side of the backline, Alejandro Grimaldo continues to impress, having racked up more than 200 appearances for Benfica despite still only being 25.

Gil Dias, 24, has been brought in from Monaco as cover on that side whilst centre-back Ferro returns from a loan spell with Valencia to add much-needed depth in central defence.

But with only five recognised centre-backs in his squad and given his tendency to operate with a three-man backline, boss Jesus could become unstuck if injuries and suspensions mount.

Balancing the books

With new faces arriving, the books have to be balanced and there’s been a few notable departures this summer.

The biggest of those saw winger Pedrinho, 23, move to Shakhtar Donetsk for around £16m — a sizeable fee given his poor overall performance last season.

The departure of young left-back Nuno Tavares, 21, to Arsenal for £7m has also added vital funds to the transfer kitty but at no great expense given Grimaldo’s dominance in the position.

On paper and on the whole, Benfica look like a stronger outfit this season.

Offensively, in particular, their options appear endless and that will give their fans hope that they can fight back to win another Primeira Liga title this campaign.


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