Jorge Jesus led Benfica into the UEFA Champions League group stage by the skin of their teeth as they edged PSV Eindhoven 2-1 on aggregate, despite having had their backs to the wall for over an hour following Lucas Verissimo’s dismissal. As a reward for their progression Benfica have been gifted both Bayern Munich and Barcelona in their group with Dynamo Kiev also joining them.
Their qualification for the Champions League group stage follows a strong start to the season. Having made relatively easy work of Spartak Moscow over two legs, they quickly racked three consecutive wins in the Primeira Liga against Moreirense, Arouca and Gil Vicente and now ensuring Champions League qualification.
Jorge Jesus will be looking to maintain momentum when they face Tondela this weekend. In his spectacular first stint at Benfica between 2009-2015 he guided the side to three league titles. Upon leaving Benfica, Jesus had two rather underwhelming spells firstly with Benfica rivals and his boyhood club Sporting CP and then with Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia.
The veteran then came alive when he was surprisingly named Flamengo’s new head coach. Despite an initial negative reaction to his appointment, the Portuguese guided Flamengo to the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A and the holy grail of the Copa Libertadores in his first season in charge.
In doing so he became only the second European coach to win the Copa Libertadores, whilst he was subsequently awarded the Order of Prince Henry commander medal by the Portuguese President as his achievements aided Portugal’s reputation abroad.
He then followed this up by running Liverpool close in a narrow 1-0 in the FIFA Club World Cup. He added an extra three trophies in his final season with Flamengo and left the country with a real cult status having won an impressive 43 out of 57 games.
Many expected his Flamengo stint to be the last in a stellar managerial career. Yet despite the old saying being never go back, he returned to Benfica in August 2020 on a two-year contract.
Despite an early elimination in last season’s Champions League, they maintained a strong finish in the Primeira Liga despite finishing nine-points off eventual winners Sporting CP – who they beat 4-3 in the penultimate match of the season to provide a boost for this season – whilst losing the Taça de Portugal final 2-0 to Braga, having seen goalkeeper Helton Leite sent off early on.
On their start alone, Jorge Jesus certainly seems to have his side primed for this season’s domestic charge. However, with both Rui Vitoria and Bruno Lage having lifted league titles with Benfica since Jesus left in 2015, the pressure is certainly on the 67-year-old to come out on top this season.
His side will depend heavily on the attacking talents of Pizzi, Everton and Rafa Silva, whilst new summer signing Roman Yaremchuk should provide a boost having scored 20-goals at Gent last season.
Still question marks remain over the future of Uruguayan Darwin Nunez who is currently linked with a big money move to Premier League side Brighton. Nevertheless if Nunez was to leave, much is expected this season of young academy forward Goncalo Ramos with many tipping a breakthrough campaign.
Whilst the creativity of Alex Grimaldo from left wing-back will prove invaluable as the season goes on, they will certainly look to the experience of Nicolas Otamendi and Jan Verthongen to guide them through the season – with both having won league titles previously in their careers. Both might see David Luiz join their elder ranks with reports emerging he also is in talks over a return on a free transfer.
In Jorge Jesus they will be sure to know they have a proven manager to fall back on when the going gets tough. Yet with Jesus also reaching the twilight of his managerial career, he will know that this season might well be his last hurrah and he will surely want to go out on a high. What better conclusion than returning Benfica to the pinnacle of Portuguese football.
Feature image sourced on Wikimedia.