Francisco Javier “Javi” García Fernández is in his 2nd season in Portugal having learnt his trade at Real Madrid. The 24-year-old cousin of former Atletico Madrid and Liverpool winger Luis helped the Portuguese outfit to last seasons title. A regular for Benfica in the central holding midfield role.
Both sides came into this Quarter Final Europa League 1st Leg, after losing top of the table clashes in there domestic leagues. Benfica lost at home to now Champions Porto, whilst PSV lost away to current leaders FC Twente. The battle of the current runners-up of both Portugal and Holland, would be more gripping as both teams would need an immediate response to appease the fans.
How they set up ?
Jorge Jesus made three changes to the side which lost at Porto, Maxi Pereira and Oscar Cardozo returned from injury and Jardel replaced fellow Brazilian Sidnei in central defence. This change was perhaps due to an error by Sidnei in their previous game however former Atletico Madrid youth product goalkeeper Roberto kept his place despite being at fault for the two goals at the weekend. Benfica lined up in their usual 4-4-2 diamond.
PSV kept the same starting eleven which had lost away to Twente at the weekend but also won the previous game before that against Utrecht. They also played a familiar formation in a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3.
Occupying the deeper role in the diamond midfield meant that García would be tasked with nullifying the threat of attacking midfielder Otman Bakkal. Bakkal was the victim of January window Liverpool purchase Luis Suárez when the Uruguayan decided to see how he tasted back in November.
García got his first touch of the ball straight from kick off when the ball was laid back to him, a simple side ways pass was suffice. In the 3rd minute he battled with 2 defenders and the opposition goalkeeper to win a header from a long throw which was wrongly given as a goal kick having took a deflection. His positional sense throughout the half was good but as Benfica looked to attack quickly and had the better of the exchanges he wasn’t required so much on the ball. When he was needed he broke up the play well either from tackles or interceptions and passed the ball accurately. He sat deep and occasionally dropped into a centre back role almost Sergio Busquets like. This was a feature of Benfica’s play as both their full backs caused problems when attacking, García was important to provide the cover against the counter attack. When Javi did venture forward he provided a side footed cross which was poorly dealt with by the PSV defence and Javier Saviola should have buried. Former Valencia man Pablo Aimar opened the scoring and Eduardo Salvio made it two.
The next period was much the same as the first when Atletico’s on loan winger Salvio scored again. PSV defended poorly throughout but that perhaps does Benfica a mis-justice who played some good football. Benfica’s high pressure up the pitch meant they often won the ball back early as in the first half, but the extra dominance now meant that Javi wasn’t needed as much to break up the play. In the 68th minute he almost got on the end of driven free kick from Cardozo, missing a connection by inches. Cool and calm in possession and a constant threat from set pieces. PSV’s goal came when Luisao came out of defence to make an interception allowing Lens to make the move in behind the defence with a first time ball, Javi was quick to see the danger and was unlucky not to prevent a cross/shot which Roberto didn’t deal with allowing substitute Labyad to slide home against the run of play. After that PSV looked a little more threatening and the game was more stretched this was symbolised with a covering last-ditch tackle from García. In the 83rd minute García tried his luck from distance forcing Isaksson to push it round the post when it bounced just before him. With 5 minutes remaining he deliberately cross blocked Bakkal as he looked to spring a counter attack receiving a yellow card for his troubles, immediately he berated substitute Franco Jara who had given the ball away cheaply, causing him to take one for the team as it were. Former Real Madrid and Barcelona striker Javier Saviola made it 4-1 at the death.
With so much attacking flair and movement from the forward Benfica players it would be easy for the fans to forget that Javi García was playing. But as the holding midfield role is often the unsung hero position he won’t have minded. With such fluent players interchanging positions in attack and in full backs that get forward at every opportunity, García’s game and positional sense is crucial. He rarely put a foot wrong in everything he did until the 79th minute but he wasn’t the only one wearing a red shirt who could have been described that way.