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Women's Champions League tactical analysis: Lyon 4-1 Benfica

UEFA technical observer Katrine Pedersen runs the rule over the Benfica defence that for the most part frustrated Lyon in the quarter-final second leg, and outlines how the eight-time winners found a way past them.

Lyon's Lindsey Horan vies with Benfica's Canadian winger Marie Alidou
Lyon's Lindsey Horan vies with Benfica's Canadian winger Marie Alidou AFP via Getty Images

Eight-time champions Lyon ultimately consolidated their 2-1 advantage gained in the first leg in Lisbon with a 4-1 home victory, yet Benfica's game plan obliged Sonia Bompastor's side to wait for two added-time strikes to inflate the scoreline and secure a place in the UEFA Women's Champions League semi-finals.

As technical observer Katrine Pedersen remarked: "Benfica deserve a lot of credit for a brave strategy that they believed would keep them in the tie, based on patient possession play and confidence in their ability to play through Lyon's high press. By contrast, Lyon's strategy was much more direct, with frequent use of long passing that bypassed the visitors' midfield."

As it happened: Lyon 4-1 Benfica

Denmark's most-capped footballer (with 210 international appearances) saw a game where only 7% of Benfica's 454 passes were long, whereas Lyon more than doubled that percentage. However, despite making 10% fewer passes, Lyon's 71 entries into the final third generated 20 goal attempts; the visitors managed seven from 33.

The video clips compiled by UEFA's analysis unit illustrate the different approaches to the construction of attacking moves.

Benfica's game of patience

Benfica build confidently through Lyon’s high press

The first clip starts with Benfica goalkeeper Lena Pauels in possession, with five Lyon players ready to pounce on short-passing options and eight in Benfica territory. The keeper's pass into midfield is chested down, triggering immediate movement by both teams towards the Lyon goal. A backward diagonal to the left is then a cue for Lyon to press with three players, with a further trio closing midfield options. This prompts a pass back to the keeper at the base of a defensive diamond and a series of interchanges until, with Lyon's players looking to their left, Benfica's patience is rewarded by an opening on the other flank, where a solo run sets up a diagonal pass to the right and a 5v5 attacking scenario.

Benfica have a six-player overload on their left in the following clip, with Pauels then playing to the right, where an outward run in midfield allows a team-mate to drop into an unoccupied central area between lines. Turning with the ball, she sets up a passing move on the left and points to the space in the box where her forward run is taking her.

Pauels again has the ball at the start of the final clip, with Lyon's outfielders set up in 4-1-3-2 formation in the Benfica half. The home team's high press forces a return pass to the keeper but, with eight Lyon players drawn to one side, Benfica are able to play their way out and advance on the opposite flank, looking to exploit individual skills.

Lyon's fast-forward approach

Lyon preferred a direct approach bypassing midfield

The first starts with Christiane Endler on the ball – and the Lyon goalkeeper's ability to hit an accurate long pass is one of the key components of the team's successful strategy. Lyon's outfielders are deployed in a 4-1-2-3 formation with Benfica tight on the front six. Horan backs her way towards the halfway line, keeping her marker behind her, looking to shorten the distance between herself and Le Sommer. She nods on Endler's accurate delivery to the No9, setting up a one-two with Kadidiatou Diani on the right and a scoring opportunity when Le Sommer prolongs her run into the Benfica box.

In the second example, Endler sees her team-mates in a 3-3-4 set-up with the front seven subjected to individual marking. Again, she delivers with precision to Le Sommer who, after a one-touch lay-off, breaks on the left with five team-mates flooding forward to exploit spaces between the components of Benfica's stretched defensive line.

The final clip shows a further variation on the theme, this time with Lyon deploying five at the front and five at the back with space in between. Another long pass finds substitute striker Dumornay – the most advanced on the attacking quintet – with ball, once again, laid off to a closely situated team-mate. Delphine Cascarino (selected by Pedersen for the Player of the Match award) then cuts in from the left and beats Pauels to put her team 2-1 ahead.

Lyon's high and wide approach

Lyon exploit wide areas to create scoring chances

"Another aspect that Lyon did well," Pedersen reflected, "was to play the ball wide after receiving those passes centrally and then to go forward with powerful runs to challenge markers and to get into positions where they could connect with crosses." The home team delivered 18 crosses compared with four by the visitors.

"Lyon tended to keep one player wide," Pedersen added, "and they were always ready to take on opponents 1v1 in the wide areas. There was also a good understanding between Diani and the right-back Ellie Carpenter who was always prepared to make hard runs when the winger cut inside." The video clips demonstrate that wing play created clear scoring chances.

In the first clip, a throw-in finds its way back to Endler with Benfica's outfielders slightly out of their 3-4-3 defensive shape. The keeper's long delivery to Le Sommer is diverted to the right wing while five players make surging runs through the middle. Carpenter's overlapping run culminates in a low cross and a clear scoring chance.

The second clip shows an interchange of passes in midfield, leading to Cascarino, one of five players overloading the left while Diani lurks patiently on the opposite flank. The ball is played back to open a passing route to the right-winger and her low cross also generates a clear scoring opportunity. The following sequence opens with a Benfica throw-in on their left with 19 of the 20 outfielders congregated in that area. A regain is the cue for Lyon to attack on the other flank while Le Sommer, on the blind side of her marker, moves across to receive and to play the ball into the path of another overlapping run on the right, with the ensuing cross finally intercepted by a Benfica defender.

"I think this was one of the keys to Lyon winning," commented Pedersen. "They showed initiative ahead of the ball and Benfica struggled to match the intensity of their hard running at the back line and their willingness to get numbers into the box. It was a team effort, played with high levels of experience and unselfishness."

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