We’re really getting down to the sharp end of the 2017/18 Liga NOS season now and Week 30 saw a clash of the titans, Porto returning to the top of the table in stunning fashion away at defending champions Benfica thanks to Héctor Herrera’s superb late goal.
The skipper rightly claimed most of the plaudits in the Clássico victory but one player who played just as important a role has been perhaps Porto’s most consistent player throughout the campaign: Ricardo Pereira.
The right-back has barely put a foot wrong in 2017/18, was effective in defence and effervescent in attack in Sunday’s crunch match, staking a real claim to join Fernando Santos’ Portugal squad in Russia this summer. Ricardo is PortuGOAL’s Figure of the Week.
Ricardo had the unenviable task of facing the in-form left-sided Benfica duo of Álex Grimaldo and Franco Cervi but it proved to be a job he was more than up for, rightly earning high praise for an excellent, rounded display.
This was a match that very much felt like a must-win for Porto if they are to end their drought for a league title and one of their most dependable players proved his worth again.
Ricardo was near faultless defensively as well as being a constant outlet in attack. In the 44th minute he even almost got himself a goal, his left-footed effort ultimately deflecting wide off team-mate Moussa Marega.
Moments later he should have had an assist to his name, a great cutback finding Marega but the Malian striker could only fire wide.
Three minutes into the second half the pair combined again, more brilliant play from Ricardo to find Marega with a subtle through ball but Benfica goalkeeper Bruno Varela was able to smother the chance away after the striker’s heavy first touch.
What stood out about Ricardo’s performance was something symptomatic of his strengths as a player: his ability to both attack and defend. This versatility has been vital to Porto at times this season, particularly in recent weeks with the other players capable of playing as a right winger, Marega, Jesús Corona, Otávio and Hernani, all either struggling for fitness or form for much of the campaign.
Ricardo’s statistics from the match don’t lie and reflected his dominance of the flank. He created two good chances as can be seen above, completed 5 of 6 attempted dribbles, but never neglecting his defensive duties either, successfully completing 13 defensive actions and recovering possession 7 times.
Ricardo finds himself having to battle with several very talented right-backs that Portugal have chosen from in the past couple of years. Nélson Semedo, João Cancelo and André Almeida are just some of the players he is up against, while Cédric Soares would seemingly still be at the front of the queue with his Euro 2016 performances in the bank, although he hasn’t enjoyed the strongest season domestically with Southampton, so the role is up for grabs it would seem.
If Ricardo can finish the campaign with the Liga NOS title in his pocket along with a continuation of his consistent displays, then surely at least a place on the plane beckons for Porto’s number 21.
By Jamie Farr