Frankfurt suffered their first loss of their Europa League campaign in Portugal as Benfica’s teen sensation Joao Felix tallied a hat-trick. The game wasn’t without controversy, however.
Evan N’Dicka was sent off for Frankfurt in the 20th minute for a straight red card. Felix converted the ensuing penalty, but had VAR been used on the night, there is the chance N’Dicka would have stayed on the pitch.
His sending off was the cause of Frankfurt’s inability to keep Benfica out of goal. But the Eagles did manage two away scores. They nearly had a third, but it was ruled out due to a debatable offside call.
Frankfurt’s scoring ability means they are not out of the tie, but a subsequent 3-1 Bundesliga loss Augsburg in which Gelson Fernandes was sent off, shows they may have run out of steam.
Prior to their loss in Portugal, Adi Hutter’s side had gone unbeaten in 15 matches. Now, they must score two goals without reply to make the semifinals of the Europa League.
While Frankfurt lost at the weekend, Benfica picked up another win to remain at the top of the Portuguese Liga table. In-form teenager Felix scored once more as Benfica defeated Setubal 4-2.
It can’t be argued that Benfica’s success in the first leg was due to N’Dicka’s sending off. Hutter continued to play aggressive, attacking football in search of away goals, which he got.
Frankfurt suffered in the second half due to fatigue and Benfica took advantage of that tiredness.
If any team in the Europa League can overcome a two-goal deficit it is Frankfurt. They will be boosted by Ante Rebic’s return after picking up a knock in the first leg. However, they will be without striker Sebastien Haller.
Rebic, Haller and Luka Jovic have tallied 54 goals in all competitions this season. Frankfurt does have Goncalo Paciencia on the bench. The Portuguese player scored Frankfurt’s second goal in the first leg.
Both clubs played domestically on Sunday and neither will have a real advantage in terms of rest for Thursday night’s match.
The issue Frankfurt have is not scoring goals, because they have proven throughout the season they can; but the problem is Benfica’s attack. Even with 11 men on the pitch, Frankfurt will struggle to keep Benfica out of goal.
A Benfica away goal will change the complexion of the fixture. As it stands, Frankfurt need two goals to win the match and the tie. But a Benfica score means Frankfurt need further goals.
One thing is for sure, this game will be fun to watch as goals fly in. Expect over 2.5 goals scored as the two sides duke it out for progression.
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