Week 15 in Liga NOS saw reasons to cheer for the underdogs as Estoril finally ended a poor run with a win over Aves and Moreirense upset Vitória Guimarães on Monday. Elsewhere the top 4 remains unchanged as Porto, Benfica, Braga and Sporting all racked up fairly routine wins.
The latter’s victory was an entertaining encounter at the Estádio José Alvalade, the home side running out 2-0 winners in no small part due to a sparkling performance from Daniel Podence, PortuGOAL’s Figure of the Week.
Sporting’s diminutive forward Podence showed what he was capable of on Sunday night, terrorising the Portimonense backline, who were unable to cope with his exuberant movement and dynamism in the final third. He stands at only 5ft 4ins but therein lies his USP in Jorge Jesus’ side. His “opposites attract” relationship with 6ft 5ins striker Bas Dost gives the Lions real variety in attack and it can make for the stuff of nightmares for the opposition.
Podence is also effective from wide areas but the manager sees him more suited centrally, and Sunday’s encounter showed why.
The match started very openly and Podence almost gave Sporting the lead after just two minutes, latching onto Bruno Fernandes’ long pass and showing outstanding agility to get the ball under control, before he was ultimately denied by Portimonense goalkeeper Ricardo Ferreira.
But when Fernandes and Podence reversed roles seven minutes later Sporting were in front. Podence with a delightful through ball to find Fernandes’ perfectly timed run from deep, the latter then calmly stroking the ball into the corner.
Portimonense were reduced to 10 men early in the second half and this gave Podence even more space. A second goal put the match to bed in the 60th minute, Bas Dost with a precise strike in off the post.
Podence’s role in the move was subtle but effective. An initial dummy from him saw the ball finding Dost, who was in more space, and his subsequent run into the box drew defenders towards him. This again allowed the Dutchman more room, and when the ball was played in he slotted home unopposed.
Podence should have ended the game with more assists, but Dost and Gelson Martins both squandered presentable openings he had created.
Sporting have a pretty clear “best XI” barring one selection headache for Jesus: whether to start Podence or Rodrigo Battaglia. The combative Battaglia can be deployed when the team needs to be a little more compact, and provide a higher level of defensive cover alongside William Carvalho. But the alternative option of Podence brings an extra level of flair for when they face more stubborn opposition. The pair have rotated in the starting lineup for the last 6 matches now, of which they won 5 (losing the other to Barcelona).
After a very successful loan spell with Moreirense last season, Podence is maturing into an excellent option for Sporting. He has an ideal coach in Jorge Jesus to help him develop the tactical side of his game and while he is yet to represent the senior side at international level, it’s not out of the question that the 22-year-old could be in Fernando Santos’ thinking as the 2018 World Cup nears if he can maintain this level of form.
By Jamie Farr