Roger that!

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Under Roger Schmidt, Benfica have been one of the most exciting teams to watch in the 2022/23 season. With dominant tactics, Schmidt has brought back stability and success after a turbulent season at the Estadio da Luz. Consequently, despite being drawn into a very difficult group with Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica have proven to be one of the dark horses of this season’s UEFA Champions League, and have a very good chance of reaching he finals. Domesically, they sit at the top of the Primeira Liga as one of the favourites to win the title.

After losing Darwin Nunez to Liverpool and Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea among a few other players, the Encarnados have rebuilt their squad with exciting players. First, very promising players like Joao Victor and Alexander Bah have arrived. Additionally, President Rui Costa has signed high-quality players such as Julian Draxler, David Neres, and Fredrik Aursnes to enhance Schmidt’s side. With entertaining tactics and a talented squad, Benfica have certainly been a team to watch this season.


Who is Roger Schmidt?

Schmidt is a former professional footballer. He was an attacking midfielder with third-tier German side SC Verl, and made more than 200 appearances for them. The part-time engineer (this was the 80s and lower league German football) never really progressed to any sort of higher level and spent most of his career in Germany’s north Rhine-Westphalia.

He began managing lower-league side Delbrucker SC as a coach but has admitted “I never wanted to be a football manager”. “It was a hobby to begin with,” he added.

He impressed at Delbrucker and a few years later found himself at Red Bull Salzburg, tasked with winning the Austrian Bundesliga. Which he did. In 2014 he did the league and cup double with Salzburg and was headhunted by German giants Bayer Leverkusen, moving to Germany after two years at Red Bull.

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With his move to Bayer Leverkusen in 2014, Schmidt had the chance to prove that his football style also works in a Top Five League — and it started brilliantly when Karim Bellarabi scored after 11 seconds in Schmidt’s first Bundesliga game.

He hit the ground running and finished fourth in this first season at Bayer and third in his second. But things fell apart in his third at the BayArena. Come the penultimate month of the season, Leverkusen were 10th and after a 6-2 drubbing by Dortmund, he was given his marching orders.

He then joined PSV in 2020, completely transforming the Dutch club. Schmidt then took over Benfica at the start of 2022 and few can argue that it hasn’t turned out to be a good decision.

Roger Schmidt’s tactics and style of play

Schmidt’s teams are not just famous for their high pressing line but also their great counter-press. As soon as they lose the ball, the whole team tries to recover it as soon as possible. The nearest three, or sometimes even four, players immediately counter-press the player in possession. They either get the ball or commit a foul – but don’t let the opponent escape.

This demanding style requires fast players with high stamina and a deep belief in the strategy. A player who cannot identify with this high-pressing game won’t be able to deal with it and will be replaced, as the counter-pressing part especially depends on the whole collective and cannot afford to have a weak link.’

A player that matched these conditions perfectly was the Slovenian Kampl, one of Schmidt’s most favoured players who followed him through his career. Roger Schmidt tends to trust the same players and when he took over at Bayer Leverkusen, he took Kampl with him. Jonathan Soriano is another one that played for two different teams under Schmidt.

At PSV, his team always attempted to build from deep when possible, but the option to play long diagonal passes was always available if they could not construct adequate sequences and combinations to bypass the pressure, especially given that this particular opposition pressed extremely antagonistically.

Alongside the pressing runs of the wide players, the remaining players would become very compact, creating smaller distances between themselves, defending as a unit and consequently forming double and triple teams by underloading inaccessible spaces,

Winning the ball back is one thing, scoring a goal is another. If they manage to recover the ball, Schmidt’s teams follow a direct and vertical approach to use the disorganisation in their opponent’s structure to get to the goal as soon as possible.

When out of possession, Schmidt’s side formed a disciplined and structured 4-4-2. They defended in a high block for the majority of the game, but they had a medium line of engagement as they would patiently wait for either centre-back to drive into the midfield third and this would be the pressing trigger. From that point, the ball-side winger, midfielder and striker would apply pressure and deny passing options, resulting in either turnovers or backward passes to the goalkeeper.

His aggressive pressing stands and falls with its intensity, and as soon as some players start to tire, teams can easily play out of the press and create goalscoring opportunities. He has not changed his approach – he never would – but has added a little bit more balance to his team’s game by instructing his players to not leave their position and overload one wing so aggressively any more.


Roger Schmdit’s Benfica analysis

As far as formations are concerned, Schmidt has been consistent. The German has used a 4-2-3-1 60% of the time, with a 4-4-2 variation of it being used another 25%. Similarly, with a few exceptions, the lineups have been extremely consistent.

Benfica’s structure, despite their initial 4-2-3-1, is very fluid. The fullbacks normally maintain width while the wingers drift inside. The front four is perhaps the most fluid section of their structure, naturally flowing and interacting with each other. In the midfield, the double pivot is extremely coordinated, always moving as one.

Benfica’s most significant characteristic is their dominant and controlled approach. The Encarnados have averaged 59.3% possession with 598.25 passes per 90. Additionally, only 5.69% of their passes are long passes, further highlighting this controlled style of possession.

In the final third, there are a couple of mannerisms through which Benfica can create chances. Under Schmidt, they have averaged 2.28 xG per 90 from 15.33 shots per 90. While this is an impressive number of shots, it is not extremely high, especially when considering how high their xG per 90 and average possession figures are.

In other words, Benfica are efficient. They are extremely patient with the ball, constantly moving it around until space opens up. As a consequence, they can create very high-quality chances and average such a significant xG per 90 figures.

Whilst it is clear to see that some characteristics are synonymous with Schmidt’s teams, such as the aggressive pressing and overloading the ball sides to achieve numerical superiority, it is interesting to see Schmidt experimenting with new player roles and pressing concepts. Despite showing that he can adapt and be flexible, Roger Schmidt has managed to retain the strengths his teams were famous for.

Arnold Lewis
A hardcore Chelsea fan, who is often found playing football on the weekends. He has an exceptional voice and his rendition of old Hindi classic songs will make your heart melt. He is the man with the funky hair.

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