President, Luis Filipe Vieira confirmed that Lage had approached him with great dignity: “I am putting myself at your disposal because I understand that things are not good for Benfica.”
“From tomorrow (Tuesday), I won’t be Benfica’s coach anymore.”
At this stage, it is uncertain who will be bought in as the new manager but it is understood coaching assistant, Nelson Verissimo will take over for now and possibly until the remainder of the season.
Since the restart of the championship, Benfica have only managed to win one of their five games, dropping six points behind leaders and rivals, FC Porto. The only three points came against Rio Ave, the two draws against Tondela and Portimonense before suffering a shock 4-3 home loss to Santa Clara after leading 3-2.
Lage’s journey at the Lisbon side began in January 2019 as caretaker manager, replacing Rui Vitoria before being appointed as head coach, eight days later subsequently to their 4-2 home win over Rio Ave.
Despite taking charge halfway through the 2018/19 campaign, it turned out to work wonders for the eagles who registered a triumphing 95% of victories in the last 18 matches out of 34, just drawing the once against fellow neighbour, Belenenses. A desperate required change saw Benfica benefit from a fresh start with the implementation of youth players, one of them being Joao Felix, allowing the Reds to fight for the title that was eventually won against the odds.
The eagles concluded the campaign with 87 points and an impressive 103 goals scored (31 conceded), with Swiss international, Haris Seferovic crowned as the season’s goalscorer with 23 goals, leaving former Sporting Bruno Fernandes in second place as he fell three goals short.
Lage opted to give his youth players with the likes of Ruben Dias, Ferro, Florentino Luis and Joao Felix a vote of confidence and they surely did not disenchant. The 44-year-old coach matched a 55-year record set in 1964 just over a month of being in charge, demolishing Madeira based side Nacional 10-0 at home, as Ferro, Felix and Dias all contributed to the thrilling score line.
Felix though, who featured in 26 matches scoring 15 goals, pulled interests from abroad during his first season, eventually joining Atletico Madrid at the end of the season, at just 20 years of age. Not a docile blow for the benfiquista coach to take, as he had to reconstruct a short but competitive squad. The signing of Carlos Vinicius and Raul de Tomas with the mind ahead of next season wasn’t enough to replace the gifted youngster, Felix.
The European campaign was also cut short in the 2019/20 season as their Champions League opening fixture was blemished by a 2-1 defeat at home. Alongside other two losses along the way and therefore not progressing further from the group stage, equalling three consecutive eliminations in as many years. Granting a spot in the round of 16 once and twice in the quarter finals, the Portuguese team holds the worst performance in the Champions League. Although finishing third and assuring a place in the Europa League but again, the team could have achieved a little more but their form at the time was poor, drawing 3-3 against Russian side, Shakhtar Donesk, following their 2-1 away. The European journey came to an end.
In recent league meetings, 10 goals have been conceded in the first five games back, taking it up to 23 goals conceded thus far, that’s 48% in 29 games although it is one less goal than last term in as many matchdays. Nonetheless, a sign of trouble is apparent in the players’ faces every time the ball strikes the back of the net. Pizzi’s facial expression from the bench in their 4-3 home loss deep into injury time captured perfectly what the team is experiencing. Even the most influential players like Rafa, team captain Jardel, Ruben Dias and Pizzi himself haven’t been able to convey positively on the pitch.
With 15 points playable in the last five games left, two away trips to Famalicao and recently relegated Desportivo Aves, while welcoming Boavista, Vitoria Guimaraes and Sporting to conclude the 2019/20 season. Albeit, sitting six points behind rivals FC Porto and at a disadvantage due to losing both home and away games to the Blues, things aren’t looking too hopeful for the Portuguese giants.
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