Sporting 1-0 Famalicão
Sporting made it three wins from three with a 1-0 victory against Famalicão in a hard-fought match of few chances at Alvalade tonight.
Centre-forward Paulinho continued his rich vein of form, heading in from close range in the 52nd minute to put Sporting joint top of the table with Vitória.
Sporting coach Rúben Amorim made one change in relation to last week’s victory against Casa Pia, with Danish midfielder Morten Hjulmand handed his full debut, Pedro Gonçalves pushing up into attack with Marcus Edwards taking a place on the bench.
As for Famalicão, the ambitious João Pedro Sousa was again without star player Ivan Jaime who is on the cusp of a move to FC Porto.
The coach made two changes. Benfica’s loan striker Henrique Araújo made way for Alex Dobre, while Gustavo Sá got a start in place of the suspended Pablo Felipe, with the visitors looking to repeat the success of their season opener, a surprise victory at Braga.
Sporting completely dominated the first half in territorial terms, with Famalicão packing their defensive lines, seeing very little ball possession and hardly ever venturing out of their own half.
The northerners were extremely disciplined though, with the hosts finding it difficult to create chances.
In the 19th minute Viktor Gyökeres decided to take matters into his own hands, creating space for himself in the box and whipping in an angled shot that deflected to Paulinho, who forced Luiz Júnior into a sharp reflex save.
On 27 minutes Sporting missed a golden opportunity to break the deadlock. Gyökeres raced clear on the right flank with Paulinho perfectly positioned to finish off the counter, but the Swedish striker’s cross was too far in front of his strike partner and the chance was gone.
It was a similar story for the rest of the half, with Sporting working several promising positions but failing to get their final ball right. The crowd were growing impatient with the constant interruptions for treatment to Famalicão players, with the referee targeted for the home fans’ ire as he blew for half time with the game still goalless.
Woodwork denies Pote
The second half started with a bang as Pedro Gonçalves sent a free-kick over the wall and crashing against the bar.
It was only a temporary reprieve for the visitors however. The ever-willing Gyökeres was released on the right flank, the Swede showing good strength to drive goalwards before being upended to earn a free kick just outside the box near the goal-line.
Nuno Santos dinked over a cross, captain Sebastian Coates headed it back across goal and Paulinho nodded in from point-blank range. An explosion of noise at Alvalade as the vast majority of the big crowd celebrated.
Another free kick caused more danger in the 65th minute, Gyökeres slamming a fierce low shot on goal that Júnior did well to keep out with his legs, with Morita heading the rebound over the bar.
Sporting’s failure to kill off Famalicão with a second goal led to a nervy end to the match as João Pedro freshened up his team with a series of substitutions.
Famalicão were now enjoying lengthy periods of possession for the first time, but a mixture of no cutting edge and some staunch Sporting defending meant the visitors could not trouble Adán.
Indeed, it was Sporting who came closest to scoring again, a fine dribble and pass by Geny Catamo setting up a glaring chance for Pote, but the usually lethal forward did not get enough on his shot and Júnior saved.
It mattered not, as Sporting were content to wind down the clock by playing into the corners and preserve their 100% record.
Sporting – like Benfica and Porto thus far – are a work in progress with the new signings still getting used to the club, the country and one another.
There in no doubting that the Lions have bought quality, with Gyökeres and Hjulmand showing enough already to make it obvious they will be among the best footballers playing in Portugal this season.
Sporting have 3/3 wins but each victory has been by a single-goal margin. That is not necessarily a bad thing though, the Lions showing the emotional stability to see out tight games – something that was plainly missing last season.
It is too early to say if we have a super Sporting on our hands, but Amorim appears to have the tools.
The Sporting coach had referred to Famalicão as “Portugal’s Brighton” in the pre-match press conference, referencing to the club’s ability to sign quality players and put faith in them.
And Famalicão lived up to the words of praise, making life extremely difficult for the hosts, with their players confident on the ball and not in the least overawed by the occasion.
That said, João Pedro will be hoping for more creativity in attack as the season goes on. The impending loss of Ivan Jaime will be a big blow in that department.
By Tom Kundert, at the Estádio José Alvalade
[1-0] Paulinho, 52’