Sporting Braga had few problems beating Santa Clara 2-0 at the Estádio Municipal de Braga on Monday night. Ricardo Horta provided the assist for Wilson Eduardo’s early opener before putting the result beyond doubt with a smart finish in the 58th minute.
Matthew Marshall was in Braga for the match and wonders if the volatile manager might have turned a corner.
Braga too strong
Ricardo Horta shot wide to signal Braga’s intentions before Matheus saved an effort from Carlos Junior after the Santa Clara winger had broken through some feeble defence. The visitors’ resistance didn’t last long however as Wilson Eduardo saw his effort tipped over the bar by Marco.
Eduardo wouldn’t have to wait long for another chance, getting on the end of Ricardo Horta’s cross and powering a header past the helpless keeper. Ricardo Horta saw his shot saved as Braga’s constant switches of play were having a positive impact.
Galeno was trying hard to get involved with multiple shots saved before going on a solo run that resulted in an effort over the bar. Braga started the second half strong and the Braizlian winger delivered a pinpoint cross to Paulinho who headed straight at Marco from point-blank range.
Galeno shot wide from a tight angle but the Arsenalistas would soon put the game out of reach. Ricardo Esgaio started the move with a challenge on the edge of Braga’s box, he burst forward and found Ricardo Horta who fired into the bottom corner.
Galeno continued to squander chances with a header at Marco before Sá Pinto’s substitutions slowed the pace and ensured victory. Wilson Eduardo saw another shot tipped over the bar, Trincão’s delicious pass created a chance for Rui Fonte but there would be no further goals as Braga cruised to the finish line.
Braga back in form?
Braga successfully navigated their way past Brondby and Spartak Moscow to reach the UEFA Europa League group stage where they have secured two wins and a draw to top Group K. Wins at Wolverhampton and Beşiktaş were not major surprises, Braga continually underrated in Europe despite reaching the 2010/11 Europa League final and 2015/16 Europa League quarter-finals.
Braga’s Europa League qualifiers and Sá Pinto’s unfamiliarity with the squad contributed to a poor start in the Primeira Liga where they suffered three defeats and two draws after a 3-1 home win against Moreirense on opening day. The victory against Santa Clara was their fifth consecutive win in all competitions and first clean sheet in six games.
Braga still need to find a way to replace Dyego Sousa’s production and improve defensively, but the signs are positive for a club that have become used to and reliant on regular European campaigns.
Will Ricardo Sá Pinto last?
Ricardo Sá Pinto made his name at Sporting CP and the forward went on to earn 45 caps for Portugal. Known for his confrontational personality, he was suspended from football for a year after assaulting national team coach Artur Jorge following his emission from the squad.
He was appointed director of football at Sporting after he hung up his boots but resigned immediately after a physical confrontation with striker Liédson. Sá Pinto moved into management in 2010 as an assistant at Leiria before spells in charge of Sporting CP, Red Star, OFI Crete, Atromitos Athens, Belenenses, Al-Fateh, Standard Liège and Legia Warszawa. None of them lasted more than a year.
His longest spell in charge was at Standard Liège where he made it to the end of the 2017/18 season. Disagreements with the board, poor performances and getting sacked have been his trademark, but there were signs in Belgium and Poland that he could transmit his fighting qualities and build a squad in his image that are capable of consistent performances.
Perhaps time and age has mellowed the 47-year-old and he is now able to navigate a smoother path through the complex relationships within a football club. There are signs that he can make it work in Braga, but until he lasts more than 12 months the jury remains out.
Santa Clara aiming for mid-table
Santa Clara had two brief spells in the Primeira Liga at the turn of the century, earning promotion back to the top flight in 2018 at the 15th time of asking. Manager Carlos Pinto moved to Académica and was replaced by João Henriques who did a great job to secure a 10th-place finish last season.
The club from the Azores surprisingly picked up more points on the road than at the Estádio de São Miguel last season and largely kept their squad intact. Santa Clara couldn’t hold onto midfielder Kaio and striker Fernando but had only conceded four goals in seven Primeria Liga matches before the 2-0 defeat in Braga.
Scoring goals could continue to be a problem, but there is every chance that Santa Clara’s defensive stability ensures they make history and survive in the top flight for a third successive season.
The watch match highlights click on the screen below: