Only two rounds of matches remain in Portugal’s Primeira Liga season as Benfica closed in on a title win with a thrashing of Portimonense. Porto stayed honest in the race with a late victory over Casa Pia, while Braga held an elsewhere victorious Sporting at bay after a goal-laden triumph against an increasingly doomed to the drop Santa Clara.

Chaves and Vitória Guimarães’ recent momentums continued with wins over Paços Ferreira and Rio Ave respectively, whilst Gil Vicente arrested a recent slump by beating Boavista.

The relegation battle took a significant swing as Estoril pulled off an impressive defeat of Arouca to mathematically be out of danger of finishing in the drop zone. Their loan star and PortuGOAL Figure of the Week João Carvalho lit up the encounter with a magnificent goal and fine all round display at Estádio António Coimbra da Mota.

A mercurial talent of Benfica’s famed Seixal academy, João António Antunes Carvalho got his first chance to impress on a big stage in a loan spell with Vitória Setúbal back in 2017, and this bright stint went some way to securing a bumper move to then-English Championship side Nottingham Forest a year later for the not inconsiderable fee of €15,000,000. Despite showing glimpses of potential his time with the club ultimately fizzled out somewhat, an indifferent loan with Almería preceding his permanent departure to Olympiacos in the January transfer window of 2022.

A similar theme emerged in Greece, flashes of promise failing to produce results on a consistent basis individually, and Carvalho subsequently returned home to Portugal for a season-long loan deal signed earlier in this campaign. The move seemed a logical one for all parties, a chance for the midfielder to rediscover his best form on home soil, and also joining up with a team back on the up, buoyed by a fine 2021/22 in which they finished in a highly respectable 9th place in Liga Bwin.

This optimism gave way to the cold, hard reality of the competitive nature of Primeira Liga however as Estoril have endured an extremely testing top flight season this time around. A solid enough opening to the campaign was followed by a post-World Cup nosedive in form and fortunes as the club were dragged into the thick of the fight to avoid relegation.

Despite the struggles, Carvalho individually has remained consistent throughout the troubled season and has been one of the team’s players of the year. His form lately in particular has picked up, the timing being incredibly vital as the relegation battle in which Estoril have become heavily embroiled within reaches crunch time.

Going into Monday evening’s hosting of a high-flying Arouca, Estoril still needed points to confirm their maintenance in Liga Bwin for another season. The home side were looking to bounce back from a loss at Boavista last week, and despite having been a more attack-minded player for much of his career, Carvalho was once more deployed in what has become a more usual deeper central midfield role for his club this season, lining up alongside João Gamboa and Rafik Guitane in the starting lineup.

With a chance of securing mathematical survival Estoril looked highly motivated from the off and Carvalho was pulling the strings. His set piece delivery in particular caused the Arouca defence issues throughout, and it was a Carvalho corner that almost brought about the opening goal in the 11th minute, defender Bernardo Vital’s deflected header from it almost finding the top corner.

Both sides were struggling to find the clinical touch with the score level at the break, but another Carvalho dead ball in the 63rd minute saw Estoril go close again, his corner kick almost flying directly in, clipping the top of the crossbar with Arouca keeper Ignacio De Arruabarrena struggling.

Moments after the deadlock was finally broken and for the home support, Carvalho’s first league goal of the season was worth the wait. From an improbable distance, the Portuguese playmaker unleashed a sensational effort that rocketed past the in-form De Arruabarrena to send the crowd and Carvalho’s team-mates into a frenzy.

It was quite remarkable that this was Carvalho’s maiden Liga Bwin strike of the season given the ability he possesses, but this was a strike as timely as it was beautiful as Estoril suddenly had survival in their sights. Substitute Cassiano went on to seal the deal in stoppage time to cue more pandemonium amongst those in yellow as Ricardo Soares’ side ran out 2-0 winners, confirming their presence in next season’s top flight.

If Carvalho turns his temporary deal into a permanent one then he’ll be looking to build upon displays like this whilst looking to increase his fairly meagre goal and assist numbers, at least in correlation to his terrific presence on the ball and high level of influence he has shown he is more than capable of providing.

Being back home in Portugal seems to suit the 26 year old, who at this age has plenty more yet to offer. Wages and a potential transfer fee could be a major stumbling block for Os Canarinhos if they wish to keep Carvalho, but on this evidence the midfielder should have no shortage of suitors come summer.

By Jamie Farr



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