A dramatic weekend of action in Liga NOS saw a seismic shift in the league title race as Benfica’s previous seven point lead at the top was reduced to just one as Braga upset the champions at Estádio da Luz.
Porto took advantage of the loss to close the gap in beating Vitória Guimarães in a hard-fought encounter. The match was regrettably overshadowed by deplorable abuse in the direction of Moussa Marega, who had earlier turned the tide in his team’s favour on the pitch with yet another invaluable contribution for the Dragões.
For this edition of the PortuGOAL Figure of the Week we focus on Marega the player, and the sort of brilliance he showed that he is capable of on Sunday evening.
Marega has proved himself a fine servant of Porto in recent years and arguably is a player that has embodied the spirit of manager Sérgio Conceição’s philosophy more than any other. Always willing to run himself into the ground in service of the team, he has suited all of the coach’s styles whether it be leading the line or out wide in a 4-3-3 or in tandem with another forward in a 4-4-2, alongside the likes of Tiquinho Soares and Zé Luís.
The 28 year old had signed for Porto back in 2016 off the back of some good form with Marítimo but struggled to break into the side under then manager José Peseiro. Ironically it would take what was a mostly positive loan spell with Vitória Guimarães the following campaign that would convince his parent club to give him another chance.
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After initially seeming like Marega and Porto might not be the best match, the Mali international went about winning over his critics in the 2017/18 season that would ultimately result in a Liga NOS title win, ending Benfica’s winning streak of four consecutive championships. Marega scored an impressive 23 goals in helping the team to triumph, and achieved the same amount in the campaign that followed also as he continued to impress.
These successful numbers led many to believe a move to a bigger league was inevitable, and while this has yet to arise it would be no surprise to see him make the leap this summer, he’s certainly not short of admirers.
Porto took an early lead in an entertaining start to the match, Vitória keeper Douglas Jesus scoring an unfortunate own goal after the in-form Sérgio Oliveira’s shot went in off him via the crossbar.
Vitória were in the game themselves though and came agonisingly close to an equaliser when Marcus Edwards was clean through, only for Porto centre back Iván Marcano to make a goal line clearance.
Marega nearly doubled the lead just before the break, unable to hit the target after a good counter-attack led by Otávio. Porto began the second half sluggishly and paid the price when Bruno Duarte headed in Ola John’s excellent cross in the 49th minute.
Marega would ultimately settle the contest on the hour mark with an exquisitely taken goal. His first touch from Chancel Mbemba’s deep pass was superb, and allowed him to clip a cheeky finish over the onrushing Douglas to restore Porto’s lead.
The unfortunate episode followed soon after which led to Marega's withdrawal from the match. Jesús Corona and Bruno Duarte each missed decent chances late on but Porto held out for a vital victory.
Sunday evening’s result will unfortunately be forever a footnote in the context of the events that transpired, as will Marega’s strong personal performance. Hopefully the Malian will continue to make headlines for more positive reasons in the coming weeks and months.
By Jamie Farr