Benfica prodigy Joao Felix’s startling talent was not enough to prevent Thursday’s chastening Europa League quarter-final exit at Eintracht Frankfurt.
The svelte 19-year-old Juventus and Manchester United target became the competition’s youngest-ever hat-trick scorer in last week’s 4-2 first-leg win for the Portuguese. But the forward – shunted from the centre and onto the left wing in a 4-2-3-1 formation – experienced a quiet night at PSD Bank Arena.
Serbia winger Filip Kostic’s rebound, from an offside position, and midfielder Sebastian Rode’s sharp finish earned a 2-0 triumph on the night. This sent the Bundesliga’s fourth-placed club through to the last-four on away goals, where they’ll meet Chelsea.
Here is a review of the coveted forward’s ineffectual display:
Key passes: 1
Pass accuracy: 69.2 per cent
Dribbles completed: 0
Benfica had appeared strong favourites to make a first UEL semi since 2011 after a dominant opening stanza and run of six wins from their last seven matches in all competitions.
Progression was first threatened by Kostic’s follow up on 36 minutes. The video-assistant referee’s absence was glaring, with overzealous protests causing head coach Bruno Lage’s dismissal.
The 2-0 victory that Eintracht dreamed of then came to fruition when Rode slotted in on 67 minutes after superb footwork from the edge of the penalty area by Croatia winger Ante Rebic.
Benfica substitute Eduardo Salvio would rattle the near post late on, but they couldn’t save themselves.
Flashes of quality
Felix’s innate dribbling ability and appreciation of space still showed from the left wing – the only issue was that he has such little opportunity to do it.
The teenager had ripped Eintracht apart as a false nine in Lisbon. Why Lage felt the need to change a winning formula – deploying game Switzerland striker Haris Seferovic on his own up top – will require searching examination and explanation.
A wonderful feint and drive into the area just after the interval showcased Felix at his best, highlighting the threat on the counter-attack Lage, surely, strived for. So, too, a header that just went over soon after.
There just wasn’t enough.
A lack of experience
An obvious question emerges – could Felix have showed more?
Switzerland midfielder Gelson Fernandes and Japan’s Makoto Hasebe both rattled into him during the early stages. To his credit, Benfica’s latest bright prospect did not appear cowed by this.
Instead, the game passed him by from the wing. From Benfica players who featured for the entire 90 minutes, his 40 touches was the second least and 26 passes was the lowest recorded.
This could be interpreted as a diligent undertaking of Lage’s tactics. Or it could be viewed as a youngster who did not think on his feet and work out how to grasp the mettle.
Felix was far from culpable – his two attempts on goal was the joint most for Benfica.
All football careers are undulating. Even those of players blessed with divine gifts.
Felix’s strong mentality should see this poor night utilised as a formative experience on the road to superstardom.
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