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Benfica-OM: a vintage Di Maria, Balerdi’s mistake… Tops and Flops


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Benfica-OM: a vintage Di Maria, Balerdi’s mistake… Tops and Flops


Like good wine, it does not age. This is the expression which illustrates the meeting and more generally Angel Di Maria's season in the Benfica jersey. Facing Marseille, the Argentinian international recalled good memories of his Parisian days. Always technically fair, he took charge of creating Benfica's attacking play with over 100 ball touches, while maintaining a solid 84% successful passes. He was simply everywhere in attack: from the right side where he was established by Roger Schmidt to the center of the pitch where he played a valuable dezoning role. The former PSG player succeeded in eleven of his thirteen long balls attempted. In the counter phases, Di Maria showed his talent as on the goal he scored (52nd, 2-0) on which he masterfully led the transition by combining perfectly with David Neres before being re-served to conclude. He was also very vocal at the end of the match, asking his teammates not to stay too far behind and playing his leadership role with the referee.

What more can be said ? The Gabonese once again came to the rescue of Olympique de Marseille by scoring his 10th goal of the season in 10 Europa League matches played. Experienced and regular, he perfectly fulfills his role as technical and vocal leader. If some OM players have suffered in recent weeks, the former Arsenal and Dortmund player knows how to hold on. Thanks to his goal, all the people of Marseille can still believe in qualifying for the return to the Vélodrome in a week. Passing by finding his teammates in the spaces of the defense or finishing like on his goal where he did not tremble against Anatoliy Trubin, one of the best goalkeepers in Europe this season, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang responded present in all offensive compartments.


This is what we call a real see-saw match. It's difficult to make a total judgment against Balerdi, as he was able to save OM several times in the match with 3 interceptions, 7 balls recovered, 62% duels won and 91% successful passes. But where the problem lies, as too often with the Argentinian, is that he is able to get out of his match with one or two actions. On Benfica's opening score, he was completely behind his back and poorly placed when Rafa Silva deflected (16th). An error which cost OM dearly but which generally pays for certain individual failures. At the end of the match, he almost did the irreparable thing on Marcos Leonardo who collapsed in the box. And on certain offensive climbs, Balerdi showed a lack of accuracy as on this volley (49th).

The subject was already on everyone's lips before the match when UEFA announced the distribution of referees for European matches. This Thursday evening, Olympique de Marseille crossed paths with the English referee, Michael Oliver. The man who caused a lot of ink to flow during the return match of the Champions League play-offs between OM and Panathinaïkós. Again this evening, it's difficult not to come back to the performance of the referee and of both sides. On the OM side, supporters can rightly be angry to see that the penalty on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was not awarded. However, the images seemed quite clear that the Gabonese was pushed illegally by Joao Neves who did not touch the ball (57th). And his colleagues at the VAR did not disagree with his choice, curiously. On the Benfica side, even if it is less glaring, the foul on Marcos Leonardo at the end of the match in the Marseille area would have at least been worth a look at the VAR as Leonardo Balerdi seems very late (76th).

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