Derby County stepped up their preparations for the 2016/17 season and were given an insight into football played at the highest level in a 4-0 defeat to classy Portuguese Champions S.L. Benfica.
Nélson Semedo opened the scoring for last season’s UEFA Champions League Quarter-Finalists in a dominant showing, before the Rams rallied to head into the half time interval.
Nigel Pearson’s side, however, were dealt a heavy lesson in the second 45 minutes as Rui Fonte, André Almeida and Eduardo Salvio added three further goals in the second half as the Eagles lifted the Algarve Football Cup at the Estadio Algarve.
This, though, provided time for trial for Pearson. Testing themselves against one of the best side’s in European football as well, the players, crucially, gained their first match minutes under their belts – with each player getting 45 minutes of natch action with the exception of Andreas Weimann, who played 87 minutes.
For Pearson, taking on his first game as the Rams' boss, he was able to cast his eye over his players in match action for the first time as well as test out a number of different formations and began the meeting against Benfica in a 3-5-2 shape.
Whilst there were no goals in the early stages, it was clear that Benfica meant business as they came flying out of the traps, penning Derby deep into the half as they relentlessly put pressure on Scott Carson’s goal.
Without the ball for large periods, Derby chased and harried to little avail as a confident Benfica side, crowned champions of Portugal for a third successive year, oozed quality and class in possession, with desperate and last-gasp defending from the visitors denying them a goal during this period.
On 16 minutes, however, the deadlock was broken in fine fashion as prolonged passage of passing culminated in Semedo lashing a right foot shot from the edge of the area beyond the outstretched fingertips of Carson.
The same man went close to doubling the lead 10 minutes later but saw a curling effort whistle past Derby’s far upright. Something needed to change and Pearson, the Derby boss, opted for an alteration to his starting formation and switched back to four in defence.
Derby began to impose themselves more on the contest in attacking sense and threatened an equaliser as Will Hughes’ deft ball into the middle was agonisingly turned wide by the lurking Darren Bent at the far post.
At the other end, Jardel, the Brazilian, fired straight into the arms of Carson, whilst the busy Derby ‘keeper was on hand to deny Gonçalo Guedes’ firm free kick a minute before the interval.
Showing 10 changes for the second 45 minutes, Derby began the early stages strongly and should have had an equaliser through Tom Ince.
The wideman scampered clear of the Benfica backline, but could only chip into the awaiting arms of Paulo Lopes when well placed on the edge of the area.
Weimann went close soon after too, shooting wide after a good passage of play from the Rams, but normal service resumed as the Eagles grasped the remainder of the second half by the scruff of the neck.
Rui Fonte, the half time substitute, added his name to the scoreline with an unmarked header inside the box, whilst Almeida made it 3-0, giving Lee Grant no chance with a sublime curling effort into the top corner of the goal - both finishes coming in a particularly strong and ruthless nine minute spell.
After a period that was limited in chances, Benfica put the icing on top of the cake – the cake being a level of football that this Derby side are hardly accustomed to – as Salvio added a late fourth to complete the scoring and bring the curtain down on the Algarve Football Cup.
Nevertheless, this proved to be a great workout for Pearson’s side as their preparations for the new season took another step.
Benfica: Lopes, Lisandro, Fejsa, Horta, Carrillo, Guedes, Chuky, Jardel, Almeida, Luka, Semedo
Substitutes: Grimaldo, Luisao, Samaris, Mitroglou, Cesar, Kalaica, Zivkovic, Salvio, Pizzi, Junior, Fonte, Celis, Talisca, Carcela, Teixeira, Reinildo, Zlobin, Santos
Derby County First Half XI: Carson, Buxton, Rawson, Forsyth, Weimann, Elsnik, Johnson, Hughes, Lowe, Bent, Blackman
Derby County Second Half XI: Grant, Santos, Cover, Pearce, Olsson, Weimann (Cresswell, 87’), Bryson, Butterfield, Russell, Ince, MartinTweets by @ dcfcofficial