Liga Bwin returned this weekend after the international break’s conclusion. League leaders Benfica’s 100% record came to an end as Vitória Guimarães held them to a 0-0 draw. Defending champions Porto gained ground in the process, overcoming another high flier in Braga.
Vizela, Famalicão and Rio Ave all arrested some poor form with vital victories to help the trio edge away from the relegation places.
One side who were perhaps expected to occupy said regions of the table are Casa Pia but they have confounded predictions under the guidance of manager Filipe Martins to sensationally occupy 4th place, doing so after defeating bottom club Marítimo. The league newcomers’ coach is in focus for this edition of the PortuGOAL Figure of the Week.
Filipe Martins took charge of Casa Pia back in September 2020, one season after the team had been promoted from the third tier of Portuguese football. Martins was an ideal candidate for a team in this position, being an experienced coach in Segunda Liga with Mafra and Feirense previously, even coaching briefly in the top tier with the latter.
Martins did a fine job in his maiden season at the helm, guiding Casa Pia to a highly respectable top half finish. Hopes, rather than expectations were that he could repeat something similar in 2021/22, but instead the team stormed to a second place finish to achieve Primeira Liga football for the first time in 83 years.
Likewise, expectations for the current historic campaign will have been tempered but Martins and his staff have blown away many forecasts with a simply sensational start to the Liga Bwin season. Just one defeat suffered so far, and that being a narrow one to division pace-setters Benfica, has seen Casa Pia at the opposite end of the table as to what expectations were for a rookie team at this level.
Martins has managed this with a much-changed squad, but sticking to a 3-4-3 priniciple that brought the side so much joy the year prior. Defensive stalwarts from that team last season, such as skipper Vasco Fernandes, Nermin Zolotić, Leonardo Lelo and Lucas Soares have been joined by the vastly experienced Fernando Varela, while the attacking areas too have received boosts in varying degrees: Porto’s talented youngster Romário Baró has been joined by the contrastingly proven and unproven, in Primeira Liga terms, Rafael Martins and Takahiro Kunimoto.
The job the manager has done in blending all of these elements so far has been admirable, with this area often being one of the biggest dilemmas for coaches and teams entering this division: to stick with the charges that brought about promotion, or rip up the formula and bring in individuals that have been there and done that at Portuguese football’s highest level.
Another key to Martins’ success so far is while he has consistently stuck to the same formula, even while results have been overwhelmingly positive he has not been afraid to make slight tweaks to the personnel. Indeed, Baró and fellow new signing, Brazilian striker Clayton, have been introduced to the XI in the past couple of games with results on the pitch not suffering in the least.
For Monday evening’s trip to Madeira to face the league’s basement club Marítimo, Casa Pia had to be considered strong favourites for the encounter given the two teams’ massively contrasting opening salvos to 2022/23. Martins named an unchanged lineup to that which defeated Famalicão in the match prior to the international break, knowing that victory again would remarkably see the side move in fourth position in Liga Bwin.
The wounded animal started better on home soil though and Marítimo took an early through Bruno Xadas. Casa Pia goalkeeper Ricardo Batista has been terrific this season, but it was a moment to forget for the Angolan as he let Xadas’ effort squirm underneath him and into the back of the net.
There is a self belief about Martins’ side however and it did not take Casa Pia long to hit back and level the match. Probing work from left wing back Lelo saw him exchange passes with Kunimoto before finding Clayton, who found the empty net.
Batista was certainly culpable early in the match but the Casa Pia goalkeeper provided some redemption just before the half time whistle as Marítimo were awarded a penalty, with the away team reduced to ten men in the process as Zolotic was dismissed for his part in the concession. Xadas stepped up looking for his second of the game but Batista launched himself to his left to pull off a stunning save, pushing the ball onto the post the keep the scores level at the break.
Into the second half Casa Pia were gifted a chance to take the lead despite their numerical infeiroirty by another penalty decision, this time a very controversial call that similarly saw Marítimo down a man with a second yellow card awarded to defender Vítor Costa.
Lelo ignored the home crowd boos to confidently send Matouš Trmal the wrong way and see Casa Pia lead with around twenty minutes of the match remaining.
Casa Pia survived some late Marítimo pressure, including Joel Tagueu hitting the woodwork in stoppage time, to record a battling victory that saw them move above Boavista and Portimonense and into Liga Bwin’s top four, just two points behind defending league champions Porto.
It scarcely goes without saying what an achievement this is for Martins and Casa Pia, albeit with so much football left to played during the campaign, not to mention a unique mid-season interruption to come in the form of the World Cup in Qatar.
Despite his lack of experience at this level, 44 year old Martins looks a natural in Primeira Liga company and has certainly bought a lot of goodwill already in what is a notoriously trigger happy division in terms of managerial sackings. The pressure will really be on his shoulders now as his brief for the season may well have altered from simply survival in the league to doing so somewhat more comfortably than hoped. If there is such pressures existing, Martins and co. don’t seem to be feeling it.
By Jamie Farr