As leagues throughout Europe slow down ahead of Christmas, Portugal’s foreign contingent continue to make the stories across the continent. Bruma steals the headline this week with a crucial winner for Leipzig in Germany, while Rafael Leão made it goals in consecutive games in Ligue 1 and Flávio Paixão helped surprise leaders Lechia Gdansk to another win in Poland.
On the managerial front, Toni Conceição’s CFR Cluj head into the winter break in Romania with a huge victory away at title rivals Steaua Bucharest. However, there was less to smile about for England-based bosses Marco Silva and Nuno Espírito Santo, while Miguel Cardoso’s Celta Vigo were beaten by Barcelona.
Portuguese winger Bruma was introduced by frustrated Leipzig boss Ralf Rangnick for the final ten minutes at the Red Bull Arena, having watched his side throw away a 2-0 lead to be pegged back to level by Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga on Saturday. The decision proved inspired, with Bruma sweeping a left-footed shot past Bremen goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka on 87 minutes after good work from Marcel Halstenberg.
“The willingness of my team to win today was huge, especially after all the turning points in the game,” said Leipzig coach Rangnick. “We went all-in after bringing Bruma on, because we wanted to get three points today at all costs. The decision paid off!"
The goal was a big one for the former Sporting attacker, who has featured more for Leipzig in recent weeks but was still searching for his first Bundesliga goal of the campaign. The win saw Bruma’s side maintain their position in 4th place in the German top flight, two points behind third-placed Borussia Monchengladbach.
Silva vows unity as Nuno praises Wolves after Liverpool defeat
Over to England and Sunday afternoon saw Marco Silva’s Everton host in-form Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park. In one of the most entertaining games of the season so far, Silva’s team suffered a heavy 6-2 defeat at the hands of a rampant Tottenham side, despite the hosts taking an early lead through Theo Walcott.
The result means Everton are now five matches without a victory, with the winless run beginning with a late defeat to city rivals Liverpool. Everton also lost to Manchester City during the run, meaning they have played the top three in the Premier League during recent weeks, but Toffees boss Silva has promised that his side will stay together during this difficult period.
"We have to keep together and it will be good for us to have another match so quick,” said the former Sporting boss, who started André Gomes but withdrew the former Benfica man early in the second half. “And we have to give a different answer next time against Burnley.
“We wanted to do something different in the last game of the year at home. We wanted to give different feelings to our fans with a good performance and, more importantly, a good result.
“We didn’t achieve it at all. We started the game well, we were winning 1-0 after 20 minutes and nobody expected what happened after that.”
The opening game of the weekend in England took place on Friday evening, as Wolves’ recent winning streak came to an end with a 2-0 home defeat to league leaders Liverpool. Nuno Espírito Santo was without Diogo Jota for the match, but Rui Patrício, João Moutinho, Rúben Neves, Ivan Cavaleiro and Rúben Vinagre all featured at some point as Wolves put up a plucky performance.
“Honestly, in terms of hard work, playing our game and being brave, I was very proud,” said Nuno after the match. “We have to look at the way we concede, but whether we win or don’t win we always have things to improve. It’s obvious that we faced a very good team and credit to them, but we played our game regardless of the opponent. This is our idea.”
Meanwhile, midfielder Neves agreed that Wolves gave their all against many observers' Premier League title favourites. “It was a tough game, but we knew that is was going to be like that. I think we gave everything, but it’s football, Liverpool is a very good team and are doing an unbelievable in the league. I think we are in a good way but we must stay focused on the next game.”
Rafael Leão on target, but Edgar Ié error costs Lille
In France, Lille’s Portuguese youngster Rafael Leão followed up his goal in last weekend’s victory at Nimes with the opener against Toulouse, but the home side surprisingly went on to lose the game after giving away two penalties to the struggling visitors.
Leão, who joined Lille in the summer from Sporting, opened the scoring on 17 minutes after his run was found by Thiago Maia and he finished calmly with his right foot. It was the third league goal of the campaign for the 19-year-old striker, who has started just five games in Ligue 1.
However, Leão’s work would be undone by compatriot Edgar Ié, who fouled Corentin Jean in the penalty area early in the second half and Max Gradel levelled from the spot. Toulouse would earn another penalty fifteen minutes later and Gradel again stepped up to condemn Lille to a surprise defeat, albeit they remain in second place in the table.
Elsewhere in France, 4th hosted 3rd as Montpellier and Lyon played out a 1-1 draw. Pedro Mendes took his place in defence for the home side and Anthony Lopes was in the Lyon goal. Rolando’s road to full recovery from injury continued with his fourth Ligue 1 start of the season in Marseille’s 1-1 draw at Angers, while Pedro Rebocho played in Guingamp’s 2-0 win at beleaguered Monaco.
Toni’s Cluj win big in Romania
Portuguese coach Antonio Conceição took a major step towards winning the Romanian Liga 1 title this weekend with a 2-0 victory at rival contenders Steaua Bucharest. A first-half goal from Ciprian Deac and an injury-time Alexandru Ionita penalty gave Cluj the points in a match which saw three red cards during the latter stages.
The result gives Cluj a 6-point advantage over Steaua at the top of the table. With Cluj having won the title by a single point from the capital side last season, the six points difference is a significant advantage heading into the winter break, which lasts until February.
For Cluj manager Toni – currently in his third stint in charge – this season represents a chance to win the first league title of his managerial career. The 57-year-old won two Romanian cups and a Romanian Supercup during his previous time in charge of the club.
Cardoso taking the positives after Barca defeat
Miguel Cardoso’s Celta Vigo were beaten 2-0 by Barcelona at Camp Nou on Saturday evening after two first-half goals from Ousmane Dembele and Lionel Messi punished the visitors. Nélson Semedo was in the Barca starting line-up as the champions remain three points clear at the top of La Liga.
Former Rio Ave coach Cardoso suggested his team were too ambitious in their early play but took inspiration from Celta’s second-half performance. “At the beginning we looked for their goal very quickly and that cost us to concede an early goal,” he said. “The talk at half time was very positive because we went back to the initial plan and the second half was completely different. Today, without counting the first 20 minutes, we have shown the team we want to be in the future.”
Paixão’s Lechia Gdanzk march on
Lechia Gdanzk head into the Polish winter break with a three-point lead at the top of the Ekstraklasa after hammering Gornik Zabre 4-0 on Saturday. Veteran Portuguese striker Flávio Paixão ensured he goes into the break as the league’s joint top marksman after getting the final goal of the afternoon, meaning he has 12 goals from 20 starts in Poland’s top flight.
Ricardo Sá Pinto’s Legia Warsaw had ensured they keep pace with the leaders thanks to a 3-2 away win at Zalgebie Sosnoweic last Thursday. Elsewhere in the Ekstraklasa, Pedro Tiba was the hero for Lech Ponzan with the winner 15 minutes from time as they ran out 1-0 victors at Wisla Krakow.
Finally on the goals front, APOEL legend Nuno Morais is on course to surpass his record goal tally for a season with the Cypriot club. Morais is in his 11th season with the club, and the 34-year-old defender has eight league goals in Cyprus’ top flight, one short of his the nine he scored last season for the current champions. Morais' most recent striker came in Saturday's 2-0 win over Ermis.
PERFORMER OF THE WEEK: Antonio Conceição (CFR Cluj)
Bruma’s winning goal put him in contention, but the veteran Portuguese boss who was capped once by the Seleção as a player in 1988, took a major step towards becoming another foreign-based champion with a fantastic 2-0 win at title rivals Steaua Bucharest. Well done Toni!
by Sean Gillen