Benfica kept up the pressure on Porto and Sporting at the top of the Liga NOS table with a 3-1 victory against Braga at the Estádio Municipal de Braga on Saturday night.
Goals from Eduardo Salvio, Jonas and Raúl Jiménez ensured a second consecutive league victory for the Eagles, although Rui Vitória’s men were made to work for their win after Paulinho pulled one back for the side from the Minho.
The win sees Benfica once again level on points with second-placed Sporting and two points off leaders Porto, albeit with the reigning champions having played a game more.
There was just one change from the side that beat Moreirense last week, with the suspended Ljubomir Fejsa returning to replace Andreas Samaris.
And the Eagles took the early lead, with Eduardo Salvio firing home after being played through on goal by Franco Cervi. The goal came as a result of some good pressing, with Jonas haranguing former Benfica loanee Danilo off the ball in midfield.
The striker would get his rewards in the second half, running free of his markers in the penalty area to nod home André Almeida’s floated cross to notch his 21st goal of the season.
But with 15 minutes remaining, Braga got themselves back in the match via a goalkeeping error by Bruno Varela. He was caught in two minds whether to come out and claim a high ball and Paulinho made him pay for his error in judgement, looping a header over the stranded Varela.
However, the three points were secured in stoppage time, as Raúl fired home his first goal of the season, meeting a floated ball by Cervi with a firm volley past Braga keeper Matheus to continue Benfica’s fine start to 2018.
Here are the player ratings:
Bruno Varela (6) - Two good saves to deny Ricardo Horta, but the talking points will surely revolve around his mistake for the Braga goal. Caught in two minds as the cross was floated in and paid for his indecision. His distribution was also subpar and you have to wonder whether he should be Benfica’s long-term number one.
André Almeida (7) - Defensively solid and much better going forward, providing ample support for Salvio. Floated in a lovely ball for Jonas’ goal, but picked up a booking that rules him out of Benfica’s next league game against Chaves.
Rúben Dias (6) - Decent distribution and defensively solid, but allowed Paulinho to get the run behind him for Braga’s goal.
Jardel (7) - Solid as a rock in defence, making some important interceptions and distributing the ball out well from the back. A real captain’s performance.
Álex Grimaldo (7) - Good going forward again, driving into the final third frequently and even stung Matheus’ palms with a fierce shot in the first half. Does leave gaps at times behind him though and Braga’s cross for their goal came from his side.
Ljubomir Fejsa (8) - Even by his high standards, this was an exceptional performance. Broke up play in the middle of the park time and time again and snuffed out danger before it materialised with some good interceptions.
Pizzi (6) - Quiet performance, marginalised slightly by most of Benfica’s play going down the left-hand side.
Filip Krovinovic (8) - The Croatian magician continues to shine. Dictated the tempo of play superbly and continues to combine fantastically with Grimaldo and Cervi down the left-hand side. Made several eye-catching driving runs with his quick feet and change of direction.
Eduardo Salvio (7) - A much-improved performance from the one he put in against Moreirense last weekend. Combined well with André Almeida down the right and took his goal well, drilling the ball past Matheus after being played through.
Franco Cervi (8) - Combined well with Grimaldo and Krovinovic again and despite some wasteful crossing, got two fantastic assists. Played Salvio through on goal with a delicate ball early on and found Raúl with a wonderfully floated ball to the back post for Benfica’s third.
Jonas (8) - Initiated the press well from the front, dispossessing Danilo in the build-up to Benfica’s first and got the goal as his reward, freeing himself with some good movement in the penalty area and nodding the ball past Matheus.
Raúl Jiménez (7) - Blasted a sitter well over after being played through on goal, but atoned for that with a wonderful volley in injury-time to seal the three points. Remarkably, that was his first league goal of the season.
Andreas Samaris (6) - Brought on in the closing stages to provide the midfield with some fresh legs and defensive solidity.
Rafa (N/A) - A brief cameo in injury-time against his former club.