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SL Benfica v Newcastle United - Eusebio Cup

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Benfica 3-2 Newcastle: Almirón keeps it tight, ten-man Magpies can’t survive

Newcastle put on a very solid effort in Portugal but ultimately surrendered the winner after Joelinton’s late red card

Photo by Zed Jameson/MB Media/Getty Images

One thing I was not expecting to watch yesterday: Newcastle putting on such a fight as they did on Portuguese soil facing a UEFA Champions League mainstay and a perennial Portugal league challenger. Call me a party pooper, but it is what it is.

I thought after a good-not-great few preseason games played, the Magpies would get absolutely demolished in their first true test of the summer against a minor-league giant such as Benfica. Alas, they shut my mouth closed.

So much so that not even four minutes into the afternoon and with the sun going lower by the minute, Miggy found himself facing the SBL keeper on a one-vs-one situation... only for the South American to show his (mental or not) issues with using his right foot, instead bouncing the ball out with his left on the weirdest possible move you’d ever see on a football pitch. One has to understand Eddie Howe’s concerns and demand for a (preferably right) winger to man the flank instead of having to rely on Almirón. Good for him, though, he had the chances and the talent to redeem himself later on the day.

Newcastle deployed the oft-used 4-3-3 with Pope once more under the bars, Botman and Captain Lascelles out in front of the goalie, Trippier and Targett on the defensive wings, the trio of Bruno-Anderson-Longstaff in the middle of the pitch, a couple of well-known wingmen in ASM and Miggy, and Callum Wilson as the highest-up-the-pitch men up front and leading the Men in Black offense.

A few notes on that starting XI and the latest news making headlines of late:

  • Pope is going to be the GK1 next season, and there’s nothing preventing that from happening. Coach Howe inherited Martin Dubravka, himself a nice and capable keeper, but Howe was the one chasing and approving Pope’s acquisition so there is no reason he won’t favor him in most games next season.
  • Lascelles won’t start often but he’s in Newcastle to stay. In fact, he got named captain of the squad a few days ago. Some weren’t pleased with the decision given he’s got many men ahead of him in the pecking order, but I’m cool with it. Lascelles has been around the club for a while. He’s a tried and tested veteran. He’s definitely one of those must-have veterans to nurture up-and-coming players—yes, that includes the likes of still-young Sven Botman and other lads—and he’d provide a strong option off the bench when rotations and substitutions call for it.
  • The forward triplet is going to face a very long season unless reinforcements arrive. Almirón, ASM, and Wilson are by far the best players eligible up front. There is no arguing against that. Chris Wood arrived in January as some sort of desperate move to have another warm body around, but he’s not edging Wilson for the starting striker role. When Howe says he wants some additions and reinforcements in the final line, well, you can try and read that he needs additions there instead. If he and Newcastle can’t work the transfers there, the team is going to have a tough one ahead.

Back to that Almirón chance. What a waste that was. Miggy didn’t even have to shoot the ball, he could have just touched it with his right toward the middle and Wilson would have finished the play because he was completely by himself and alone waiting for the pass to arrive. Anyway.

In a very ominous but unpredictable way so early in the game, Bruno did what he did at some particular moments last year through his brief Premier League stint. Trying to murder folks in the middle of the pitch. That got him booked in the 11th minute after his brain got short-circuited and the Brazilian committed a no-ball foul on Benfica’s Rafa who, yes, was launching a counter-attack, but also no, had nowhere to go with Newcastle having enough bodies on defense as not to have Bruno committing such a hard foul.

Less than five minutes later Benfica was celebrating the 1-0 with Goçalo Ramos heading the ball into the net off a corner kick from the right side of Pope. Ramos must be a very unfriendly man because no one was around him when he got to head the ball, one has to assume...

Then, with the clock already past the 21st minute, something incredible happened. Actually, not that much. Trippier got the ball on the right side of the field and into the final third on offense (reasonable, given his offensive wing-back role) and luck was definitely on Almirón’s side. The tiny winger was instead a midfielder arriving from deep on the second wave of attackers on this play. He got the pass from Trips all alone and waiting in the penalty-kick spot, and—this is the one thing you need to see to believe—decided to kick it with his right foot to score a goal. Right foot. Score a goal. Right foot. Score a goal. Almirón should get Bart’s punishment and write those two things until he couldn’t stand up.

The moment Miggy liberates himself from the oppression of the left he will reach unsuspected heights. Not until then, sadly.

Less than 15 minutes from reaching halftime, Benfica hit its second goal—against from a spot-kick. It was Alejandro Grimaldo this time scoring a beauty after putting the ball literally out of Pope’s reach and into the right corner of the goal. Unstoppable, but again on a play that could have been prevented before it came down to the ultimate kick that brought the 2-1.

And of course, because Miggy is gonna Miggy, the Paraguayan had to score the second banger of the Magpies right before the mid-time whistle was blown by the ref. Oh, and also of course, because I’m a doofus, Miggy scored the most wonderful goal you’ve and will see this summer with the softest of left-foot shots (a first-touch one, on top of everything) to curve the ball’s path enough to avoid Benfica’s keeper on its way to kiss the net. Sublime finish. Sublime play. Sublime first 45 minutes of the game.

I couldn’t watch the game live but I can tell you the Twitter notifications alone got me hooked to the little screen. I didn’t have a clue about what was coming though, which was a bunch of nuttin’.

There were the usual substitutions—eleven all at once, plus a bonus one in the 80th minute.

There was a handball that could have turned into a penalty but that wasn’t an actual handball, so there is nothing to get mad about that at the end of the day, folks.

There was a cross that found no one on Newcastle’s launching front. There was a tackle by Joelinton that somehow saw the Brazilian escaping getting to the referee’s book, inexplicably. There was another tackle by the same man, 71 minutes in, that could have finished Florentino’s career right in the spot, then, and there. Yet Joelinton still had the audacity to doubt the referee’s opinion. Insane.

As insane was Newcastle’s bench, absolutely discombobulated after the play and its outcome, and as insane as it’d have been to see this game finish on a balanced 2-2 result that only stayed put until Benfica made it 3-2 with a couple of minutes to go.

At least they scored by replicating the greatness of Almirón’s first goal to the millimeter, as the two plays were eerily similar if not just the same a la Playstation videogame-scripted-animation way.

The next game is on Friday with Joelinton suspended. Yes, it’s a friendly off another friendly. You get an idea of the violence brought to the world by JoJo’s tackle.

Howay the lads!

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