Fans of Portugal’s three teams participating in this season’s Champions League experienced very differing emotions this week.

Porto put in a sparkling display to dispatch Monaco in their own back yard, a spirited Sporting stretched Barcelona at Alvalade, while Benfica fell to a calamitous 5-0 thrashing against Basel.

Meanwhile Cristiano Ronaldo did what he has spent a career doing: proving his detractors wrong by scoring goals with sumptuous efficiency.

 

Sérgio Conceição has Porto purring

Four years without a trophy and forbidden from buying players after falling foul of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, the future did not look bright for FC Porto at the end of a disappointing 2016-17 season, especially after being knocked back in their efforts to appoint Marco Silva to replace outgoing coach Nuno Espírito Santo.

Facing mounting criticism from the club’s demanding fans, historic president Pinto da Costa turned to a former Porto favourite in his playing days, Sérgio Conceição. The choice now appears a masterstroke. The Dragons ripped apart last season’s Champions League semi-finalists Monaco in France to get back on track in Group G, this on top of a record of 7/7 wins domestically.

Using largely the same squad as last season, the Dragons are unrecognisable from Nuno’s overly cautious, stodgy side. The new coach has quickly transformed them into a slick, fast-moving, vertical, relentlessly attacking outfit.

His impact on individuals is just as startling, the likes of Yacine Brahimi and Vincent Aboubakar producing their best football in a Porto shirt, while Moussa Marega is hitting performance levels few believed possible. Even Sérgio Oliveira, who has barely played for three seasons and had not played at all this campaign prior to Tuesday, put in a display of consummate quality against Monaco.

With Conceição at the helm, there are reasons for optimism at the Estádio do Dragão after all.

 

Sporting’s summer recruits shine

In Portugal when a team buys new players they are called reforços which literally translates as “reinforcements”. As we all know, all too often they are anything but. For an apposite example, one need only look at Sporting’s business in the summer of 2016, when apart from Bas Dost, the ten other new faces brought to Alvalade were authentic flops.

The Lisbon club learned from its mistakes. All the newcomers this time round have settled immediately and have strengthened the Lions considerably – as attested by a record of 8 wins and 3 draws in 11 matches before tonight’s encounter against Barcelona.

Against one of the favourites to lift the Champions League, Sporting put in a strong, tactically disciplined display, and with a little bit of luck could have come away with a share of the points. Sporting’s home-grown players William Carvalho and Rui Patrício gave another demonstration that they can mix it with the very best, but the Portuguese team’s top three performers were all summer recruits.

Centre-back Mathieu played like a man keen to make a point, the French centre-back feeling he was not treated well when leaving the Catalan giants. Not for the first time this season Mathieu was imperious in defence while effectively lending his weight when venturing further up the field.

Midfielder Battaglia was given the unenviable task of trying to control Messi, and so effective a job he did that his Argentine compatriot was barely seen all night. Bruno Fernandes continued his excellent form, constantly demanding the ball, taking risks and trying his luck when given half a yard of space, a rarity by the well-marshalled Barcelona defence. It was Fernandes who came closest to scoring for Sporting, his fierce close-range effort forcing Stegen into a sharp save.

Sporting truly did bring in reinforcements this summer.

 

Benfica’s disinvestment not so clever

In stark contrast, on the red side of Lisbon the summer transfer activity has severely weakened Benfica coach Rui Vitória’s hand. As is his wont, the manager steadfastly refused to blame a series of poor displays and indifferent results this season on the fact that he lost four key players, Ederson, Nelson Semedo, Victor Lindelöf and Kostas Mitroglou, none of whom have been replaced by players with anything approaching the same quality.

Truth be told, he doesn’t have to – it’s all too evident – after the embarrassing collapse in Switzerland tonight laid bare the fragility of his squad. With zero points on the board after two Champions League matches and a double-header against Manchester United coming up, the tournament is as good as over for the Eagles.

Vitória’s target will be to stay in touch with Porto and Sporting, both stronger outfits than last season, in the Liga NOS until January, when badly needed reforços will surely have to be brought in.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo’s "poor form"

Given his astonishing consistency, it is surprising how frequently Cristiano Ronaldo faces criticism for a perceived dip in form. So relentless is his goal-scoring that going two or three games without a goal is deemed as “evidence” enough for a legion of scribes to start announcing his decline.

His two brilliant finishes against Borussia Dortmund yesterday made it a barely believable record of 411 goals in 400 games for Real Madrid. Not bad for a player who in recent years has apparently been on the wane.

By Tom Kundert

 

e-max.it: your social media marketing partner

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars

Leave your comments

Post comment as a guest

0
Your comments are subject to administrator's moderation.

People in this conversation

  • Guest - jon/usa

    Thankfully I didn't have the time to catch the Benfica game, but from what I saw and the highlights and what I've been reading online, the 5-0 scoreline was embarrassingly an accurate reflection of what took place on the pitch. I understand that Jardel is more experienced than Ruben Dias, but why would you bench Ruben (who has been playing very well of late) with a guy who is nowhere near match fit? And to make matters worse Rui Vitoria decided to play a ridiculously high line when he knew that both of his center-backs (and GK) are extremely slow.

    I understand that you can't criticize Vitoria for Benfica not finding adequate replacements for three of the most important components of last season's defense, but there is no excuse for us to be losing by such a shameful scoreline. Basel are by no means a top side and I have no doubt that with the right tactical approach we could have come away with three points -- even with this back-line. At the end of the day, a naive tactical approach coupled with some inexcusable individual errors gave us no choice.

    We never had any chance of making a deep run this season with such a limited squad, so at this point, I'd actually rather see us finish last than in third. There's still a slim chance that we make it out of this group, but if we play the way we did today against Man United, we could be looking at two more embarrassing scorelines. If we finish last, we will not be distracted by the Europa League. I'm still confident that with the right tactical adjustments and a reasonably healthy squad, we will still have a good chance to compete for the league title which has always been our number one priority.

    I didn't catch the other games, but I've heard both Porto and Sporting played well. A 3-0 away win in Monaco is very impressive despite all of Monaco's summer departures -- they're still a quality side. Sporting supposedly nullified Barcelona's attack, so it stinks to hear that they were defeated by an own goal. Jorge Jesus has received his fair share of critics on this site, but I always felt he was an excellent tactician. His tactical masterclass at the Bernabeau last season and his tactical approach today against Barca prove that he knows what he's doing.

    Short URL:
  • Guest - SupremoGino

    Sporting were very hard done by today. Like you wrote Tom - for every touch on a Barça player they were handed a yellow card. The referee bias for Spanish teams continues and it's sickening. Yesterday Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos handled the ball very clearly in front of the goal line and nothing gives. This bullsh*t needs needs to be called out for what it is... a disgrace. I can't stand it. The first 30 minutes especially of today's match, wasn't sure if I was watching football or a soap opera with these Barça theatrics. Still their fans have the audacity to call out Doumbia for his dive. Yes Pique pulled his foot back at the last moment and Doumbia tried to sell one but I bet it's nothing these Farça clowns haven't seen on their own training ground. The slightest touch on the back heel, Suarez rolls 20 feet screaming like a baby. Let's talk about the match shall we? Messi who? got completely shut down. Anonymous. Mathieu did a phenomenal job. Gelson looked lively every time Sporting pushed forward. A few minor mistakes but they hung with the superior stamina of this billion dollar squad and the goal was a total fluke. Draw would've been a much fairer result. I'm positive they'll give them hell at the camp nou, that is if the referees don't suspend the entire 1st team until then.

    As for Benfica, we could see that coming. It's a sad situation and they would be really stupid to fire Rui Vitoria.. as already said, his managerial record surpasses JJ with a second rate squad. They took him winning the Liga with a substandard squad for granted.. even after losing Gaitan. They cashed in all the pieces and expect him to wave a magic wand. Benfica is coming to a town near me soon, and the seat prices were slashed in half! Nobody is going. I wonder why? If you think you're going to sell me overpriced tickets to watch your depleted squad. Think again.

    Ronaldo - Even though he is still doing just fine. I don't know if these journalists are aware that life catches up to you no matter your status. He is human, he will retire one day. Believe it, it's true. Look what happened to Drogba, Xavi, Henry, Shevchenko. Guess who were the two big faces missing in the Bayern line up today? Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. Where are the hit pieces on them? These critics are miserable. All they focus on doing is projecting Ronaldo's decline. Why not recognize him for what he's already accomplished, and the wonderful career he's had? That 5th Ballon d'Or is still on it's way.

    Short URL:
  • Guest - SupremoGino
    Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Yup not a Sportingista but they played very well and the MVP for Farcalona was again, the ref. Same crap from them. Sporting REALLY needed to score a goal though and turn that game on its head. Unfortunately they couldn't get past the 12 Farcalona players.

    Sporting deserved better.

    Agreed again Supremo. Outside of beating an awful Pacos, Benfica has been bad. I honestly don't know how to fix it but they are playing like a team of guys who have won the championship 3 times. Uninterested, lazy and worst of all, SELFISH! How many times do the players take low percentage shots and miss badly with a team mate wide open. I think Rui V has major issues at Benfica with the current team.

    For the sake of the league I hope they get the ship straight but right now the gap is huge in squads between Porto/SPorting and Benfica. Heck even Braga are playing very well. They won again last night.

    from Burlington, ON, Canada
    Short URL:
  • Guest - Andre/UK

    I couldn't see the game cos of work, and thank god I didn't! When I saw the result I just stared at the computer in disbelief! 5 goals? Against a team from the Swiss league, really? Was that the worst result for Benfica in Europe in living memory? Probably! As stated in the preview to the match Basel were hardly in good form themselves and are not top of the Swiss table. So absolutely no excuses for this shocking result. This was a match we had to win, at the very least not lose, to lose like that is inexcusable to put it mildly!

    Well I guess I was being overly optimistic in my last post on this site. This result categorically shows that there are indeed major problems with the team, and well we are out of the champions league already, when was the last time you could say that just 2 games into a group phase? While I know that the Portuguese liga and European competitions are two different things altogether, and hence I'm not at all giving up yet on winning the Liga again, at the same time Portuguese clubs are mostly rated (outside of Portugal) by their performance in Europe because let's face it, not too many non-Portuguese people watch our liga, so it's imperative that our top clubs give a better impression of our liga in Europe.

    Well it would be easy to point all the fingers at Rui Vitoria for this shocker of a result, and he does have a lot to prove over the next few weeks that he's able to turn around this terrible form we've been in. But as Supremogino correctly states, Vitoria has actually done well to have won everything in sight domestically with increasingly weaker squads. All the blame in my view is on the president and his team! As I mentioned recently LFV has already been too long at the club and its time for him to move on, I think what's happening this season so far is clear evidence. He's very lucky that JJ before and now Vitoria were able to win major titles and create successful seasons in the midst of his sell, sell, sell and sell some more policy! Its not even as if he doesn't resist and doesn't play hard ball enough with offers for our best players. Its more than that, he actually places them in a "shop window", so to speak and says "come and get them" to the wealthy clubs of Europe. And this is just pathetic!

    How can it be explained how are rivals, Porto and Sporting, both smaller clubs with less total revenue and overall valuation, are able to hold on to their best players much longer than we are? Take this last summer for example, Porto and Sporting both lost just one key player each, while Benfica lost 4 key players. Sporting held out until the last penny for William Carvalho and in the end didn't let him go, while Benfica arguably lost all 4 players for less than they should have. There is clearly foul play regarding Benfica's finances. I read the other day that we have made over 600 million euros from players sales since 2010 (more than I thought). When you count all the other revenue (CL, fly Emirates, adidas, TV income, stadium almost full for most matches, socios, etc) how on earth are we still so badly in debt? Someone's getting paid off or is pocketing this money, most Benfica fans would agree on this now. In any case, its high time for new leadership at this club, that's the bottom line for me at least.

    Anyway we have to move on and get over this slump in form, Europe is over so we have to concentrate on the Liga. We can still win the Liga if things change fairly quickly, but we are definitely going to need at least 2 quality (and I mean quality) reforcos in January.

    Short URL:
  • I called it correct! Excellent game by Porto. Conceição got it right and the hard work from the front to the back held it together. I doubted Marega but I was wrong. Him, Brahimi and Aboubakar took the game to Monaco. The weaknesses at Full-back and the wings plus Fabinho and Moutinho being too far apart left holes that Porto exploited. Moutinho isn’t the player he was but disrupting their game and not allowing them to settle into a rhythm meant they couldn’t get a grip on the game and when Porto broke forward they were dangerous. After the second went in I was expecting a third.
    The fans were in fine voice as usual.

    PORTO!
    PORTO!

    Got it wrong with Mathieu/Sporting to credit to them.
    Benfica? WTF!

    Short URL:
  • Sorry I meant credit TO Sporting/Mathieu. The refs wont help so you have to give a perfect performance to beat Barca.

    Short URL:

      

 

Tabela Liga Zon Sagres ao vivo oferecida por Futebol.com

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"Singing the national anthem at the end was so beautiful - it was brutal. This communion is brutal. We will try to give more joy to the Portuguese people because they deserve it."

Fernando Santos
(Portugal coach in post-match press conference after win Switzerland)

Partners

Placares ao vivo oferecidos por Futebol.com