The history books will tell you that Porto were Portuguese champions in 2017/2018 by a comfortable margin of seven points. However, supporters of all Portugal’s “big three” will remember just how razor sharp the title race was until the penultimate week.
As the excitement (or disappointment) from the season subsides in Portugal, each club will look ahead to what promises to be a busy summer. The traditional top three, along with Braga, proved to be a class above the rest this season. With a gap of 24 points between fourth-placed Braga and fifth-placed Rio Ave, it was truly a league dominated by the top four. At 51 points, despite finishing fifth, Rio Ave were closer to relegation than they were to cracking the top four!
As the transfer window is set to open, PortuGOAL assess how the summer might play out for Portugal’s top clubs.
As with all champions of Portugal, Porto’s prized assets are sure to attract a lot of attention from clubs around Europe. Boasting many talented players, Porto will need to find a balance between cashing in on their stars and keeping their identity as a squad.
Most likely to be sold: Alex Telles and Ricardo Pereira have both gained universal praise this season. They are the types of full-backs that the modern game demands, making a difference at both ends of the pitch, which will certainly entice European clubs to inquire about them. Telles has shown proficiency in defending; but more impressively led the league in assists during this campaign and is always a threat from set pieces. While Pereira has gone from a relatively unknown player, to one who may be starting for Portugal in Russia this summer.
Dynamic winger Yacine Brahimi also may look to apply his trade elsewhere next season, as his vibrant energy in the midfield would be a welcome addition to any club. At age 28, and having helped deliver to Porto the title they craved, he may have earned one last challenge in a more competitive league.
Cannot afford to lose: Although Porto were able to successfully navigate the latter half of the season without him, Danilo remains an important part of their identity. In the 18 games that Danilo started in the league, Porto only conceded nine times, and remained undefeated.
Where to strengthen: If Porto are unable to hang on to Brahimi, then a winger becomes an immediate need (if it is not already). Assuming Marega stays on for next year, he can fill a role on the wing if required, but has proved to be more useful in the centre of attack.
In addition, reinforcements in the defence will need to be made as their relative lack of depth in the back was exposed at times this season. This lack of depth will only be compounded after the probably sales of some of Porto’s defenders.
It was a fantastic run of four years for Benfica. However, as the coveted chance of the penta has vanished, it might spell the end of an era for many Benfica players.
Most likely to be sold: Benfica’s young midfielder Andrija Zivkovic has proved that he may be a good investment by some of Europe’s more ambitious teams. At only 21 years old, Zivkovic became an important player for Benfica, ending the season with four goals and three assists. He may have the combination of age and skill level to invite bids from around Europe.
The race to sign Franco Cervi may also be on this summer, as teams from England have already expressed interest. A vital player in Benfica’s midfield, the Argentinian was able to contribute eight assists in addition to his great possession and passing play.
Cannot afford to lose: It is no secret that Benfica’s squad is aging. And after selling key components of their defence last summer, it is imperative they hang on to young defenders Álex Grimaldo and Rúben Dias.
Grimaldo was one of Benfica’s best performers this season, becoming one of the leaders on the team in most defensive categories. Dias, on the other hand, had a slower start to the season, but became a reliable centre-back as the season progressed. At 22 and 21 years old respectively, expect them to be vital next season to their club’s backline.
Where to strengthen: Benfica will need a squad overhaul this summer, Rui Vitória has admitted so. Even if Dias and Grimaldo stay on, significant investment must be made to their defence. In matches where Jardel and Luisão were paired centrally, it made the average age of Benfica’s centre-backs nearly 35 years old. Benfica must surely get younger and faster in their defence this summer.
The same will be true at the other end of the pitch. Jonas’ goal tally and his overall disregard for the aging process has been truly impressive. However, there will be a season when his production drops significantly, and Benfica should be well prepared with a replacement when it does.
Missing out on the Champions League seems to be only one of the problems Sporting will face when trying to keep hold of its key players. Perhaps it is too difficult, and too insensitive, to speculate on how the recent turmoil within the club will impact the transfer window for Sporting, but it is safe to say that it will not be favourable.
Most likely to be sold: Sporting has a number of players who, without Champions League football next season, have little incentive to stay in Lisbon. The Portuguese trio, William Carvalho, Rui Patrício, and Gelson Martins all look set to finally test themselves abroad this summer. Frequently linked away from Alvalade, the group has remained loyal over recent transfer windows, but this is likely the one that sees their departure.
In addition, Sporting’s talisman Bas Dost may look for a move this summer as he may foresee one last attempt to be a front man at a Champions League level club.
Cannot afford to lose: In his first season in Lisbon, Bruno Fernandes has been an absolute revelation. He will undoubtedly draw a lot of interest from some of Europe’s top clubs this summer. However, in a summer where Sporting will lose much of its identity it has had the past few seasons, keeping hold of an explosive player of his quality will help ease the pain.
Where to strengthen: Sporting is accepting the reality of potentially losing some important players in the first team. They will need to upgrade at many positions but should try and build a midfield around Fernandes if he stays put. They will likely need a holding midfielder and a fresh set of wingers.
Bas Dost and Gelson Martins accounted for 35 goals this season. If neither of them is around next campaign, Sporting will also need to look at serious replacements who can find the back of the net.
Five candidates from Portugal to fill the gaps
Shoya Nakajima, attacking midfielder, Portimonense – Nakajima is a useful attacking midfielder who can play behind a striker or on the wing. He was an essential reason why the only Algarve club in the top flight stayed comfortably out of the relegation zone. With 10 goals and 11 assists this season, he would be a welcome addition to any bigger club needing a goal scorer who can play in a range of positions. Dynamic, creative, and full of pace, it is unlikely he will stay on the south coast for long.
Fabrício, striker, Portimonense – Proving that Portimonense was not a one-man show, Fabrício contributed 16 goals and 5 assists over the course of the season. As both Lisbon clubs may be in need of a new striker, contacting the club from Algarve might prove useful.
Cláudio Ramos, goalkeeper, Tondela – All of the top three may be considering a move for a goalkeeper this summer. With the futures of Iker Casillas and Rui Patrício still to be determined, Ramos could be a competent replacement. It is always difficult to judge goalkeepers outside the top three; however, Ramos’ ability to make stunning saves has made him stand out this season.
Raphinha , attacking midfielder, Vítoria Guimarães – Another player that might fit the requirements of many of the top clubs for a winger, Raphinha finished the season with 15 goals, putting him only behind the forwards in Portugal’s big three. He is expected to sign for Sporting, but there is no official word of the transfer as of yet.
Marcelo, centre-back, Rio Ave – At 28 years old, Marcelo will not be a long-term fix for a club in need of bolstering the heart of their defence. But with three to four top seasons left in him, he could be a valuable investment for clubs in need of a reliable centre-back. Like Raphinha, has been heavily linked to Sporting but nothing official has been announced.
By Justino Flores