The return of football across the world has provided a setting for some of the best form shown by Portugal’s foreign-based contingent so far this season, and the performances of Portuguese across the sport continues to astonish as we edge towards the crucial final stages in many competitions.

Finding the back of the net remains a habit for Luso players, with the likes of Domingos Duarte, Cristiano Ronaldo, Bernardo Silva and Diogo Jota leading the way as we saw goals in Spain, England, Greece, Russia, Poland, Japan, Bulgaria and Turkey this weekend, while high-profile Portuguese bosses José Mourinho, Jorge Jesus, Nuno Espírito Santo and Paulo Fonseca all enjoyed positive weekends.

 

Bernardo ends goal drought in City masterclass

Domingos Duarte got the ball rolling with an assist and late winner for Granada in Spain on Friday evening, setting the pace for another highly productive few days. By Saturday, Portugal’s big hitters were set to take centre stage, with Bernardo Silva first to get in on the act with a long-awaited goal for Manchester City.

Bernardo had not scored since football returned, meaning the former Benfica man was without a goal since February’s FA Cup win against Fulham. During the build-up to this weekend, City boss Pep Guardiola emphasised his desire to help the Portuguese recapture his best form, telling journalists: “If there’s one player I would give help and support, it’s him.”

City travelled to Brighton on Saturday and ran out 5-0 winners, with Bernardo playing the full ninety minutes. Bernardo’s moment came ten minutes into the second half when he scored from close-range having caused a goalmouth scramble with his initial shot - the strike putting City 4-0 up as the outgoing champions passed the 90-goal mark in the Premier League.

 

Ronaldo saves Juve and nears 30-goal landmark; Leão still on the fringes

Juventus moved a step closer to retaining their Serie A title by increasing their lead at the top over Lazio to eight points, thanks to two Cristiano Ronaldo equalisers from the penalty spot against Atalanta in Turin.

The match at the Allianz Stadium on Saturday evening ended 2-2, with Ronaldo twice getting his team back on level terms and taking his tally in the league this season to 28 scored from 28 appearances. Remarkably, the Portugal captain is not the leading marksman in Serie A, as he trails Lazio’s Ciro Immobile by a single goal heading into the final six matches.

The contest between the two strikers is the Italian league’s most prolific battle since the 1950s, with no two players having reached the 28-goal mark by round 32 of the season since Antonio Valentin Angelillo (Internazionale) and Jose Altafini (Milan) over 60 years ago.

Patience needed for Leão 

Another Portuguese striker making waves in Italian football of late is AC Milan’s Rafael Leão. The 20-year-old recently scored in three out of four substitute appearances, including the vital goal to put Milan ahead against Juventus last week. With three goals scored in 107 minutes, hope was high that Leão would earn a start for the Rossoneri as they travelled to Napoli on Sunday evening.

However, coach Stefano Pioli opted against changing his side after good recent results and former Sporting youngster Leão was forced to again settle for a place on the bench. Leão did play the final half hour as Milan salvaged a 2-2 draw to remain two points behind their opponents in the race for a top 6 finish.

 

Portuguese light up Wolves win

The early kick-off in England’s top flight on Sunday saw Nuno Espírito Santo’s Wolverhampton Wanderers host Everton at Molineux looking to get back to winning ways after a recent slump. Nuno’s men had lost back-to-back games in the league and the former Porto boss selected four Portuguese for the clash with the Toffees, who were without André Gomes.

The most intriguing of Nuno’s decisions was to award a start to Daniel Podence, having barely used the January arrival in recent matches. Podence, a €20m signing from Olympiacos, repaid the decision as he joined Rui Patrício, Rúben Neves and Pedro Neto in the line-up for what proved an impressive showing by the home side.

Podence was bright from the start and played a key role in Wolves’ opening goal of a 3-0 victory by earning a penalty on the stroke of half time. The ex-Sporting man showed shades of Bruno Fernandes in Manchester United’s recent match against Aston Villa as quick thinking and a neat pirouette just inside the area drew a foul from Lucas Digne, and former Benfica man Raul Jimenez converted the resulting spot-kick.

With Wolves ahead, the second half saw the Portuguese contingent really turn on the style, beginning with Pedro Neto’s inch-perfect free-kick which set up Leander Dendoncker to double the lead within a minute of the re-start. Neto was substituted minutes later with what appeared a minor issue, replaced by compatriot Diogo Jota, after which Podence came close to getting his first league goal.

Jota would go on to score the final goal and without question the most eye-catching moment of the day, as Neves and substitute Jota combined on 74 minutes. Ex-Porto man Neves showed typical determination to gain possession deep in his own half – perhaps fortunate not to commit a foul – before dispatching a stunning long-range pass over the Everton backline for Jota to finish expertly. 

“Podence has the talent” - Nuno

Speaking after the match, Wolves manager Nuno praised Podence’s impact: “It’s a building process, every player that comes needs time and today he helped the team immensely and I’m very happy for him.

“He has the talent, the quality, he’s been preparing himself for this moment and he did well. Some things he has to be more inside the dynamic of the team, recognise it better, and it’s something with time I think we can improve.

“We were very organised, very consistent. Everton have quality on the ball, dangerous players, and we managed to give them almost nothing, so this is a big step on our process. Offensively we improved, not as much as we should, first-half there was something missing, but this is the process. We were able to perform and play better than previous games.”

 

 “We fought from first minute to last” – Mourinho

Staying in England, José Mourinho secured his biggest victory so far in charge of Tottenham Hotspur with a hard-fought 2-1 win over arch rivals Arsenal in the North London derby on Sunday afternoon.

Although much of the Spurs performance was far from easy on the eye, with the hosts having 37% possession and scoring two relatively scrappy goals, the Portuguese boss was clearly delighted with the commitment shown by his players when speaking to media after the match. “I’m very happy,” he told Spurs TV.

“Of course, I was not born a Tottenham fan, but I was also not born an Inter fan, Real Madrid, Chelsea or United. I was born Vitória Setúbal, but I consider myself a big professional, and to be a big professional, you must love your club, you must love your fans.

“You must understand what they want, what they love and as I said to the players before the game, to win these matches, the players need to wear the fans’ skin. They must be ready to fight the same way the Tottenham fans would fight. They must be a fan playing football.

“The boys fought from minute one to the last minute. I can only be complimentary of them.”

 

Abel’s PAOK ends Olympiacos run in Greece

Newly-crowned Greek champions Olympiacos saw their undefeated league record ended by a last-gasp goal with just two games left to play. Pedro Martins’ side were beaten 1-0 by outgoing champions PAOK, coached by Abel Ferreira, on round 34 of the Super League season in Piraeus, with the goal from Enea Mihaj coming in the 90th minute.

The match was played just days after PAOK had a 7-point penalty for ownership irregularities overturned by the Greek governing body. The decision to punish PAOK back in May effectively ended their title hopes, doubling their deficit to leaders Olympiacos and damaging their hopes of a Champions League place.

However, this weekend’s win, coupled with the ruling, means PAOK are back into 2nd place in the Super League and on course to join Olympiacos in the Champions League next year. “The team played a match here with great personality and deserved the victory,” Abel said after the game. “Everyone understands the difficulties during the season. Things put our backs to the wall, but everyone came here determined, with the bit between their teeth.

“What happened [with the decision] we cannot get back. All the negative energy that permeated the club, it can’t be reversed. It affected the whole season.”

 

Guedes off the mark in Japan

The goalscoring exploits of Portuguese are not merely consigned to Europe and this weekend Alexandre Guedes scored his first goal in the Japanese J-League 1.

The former Vitória de Guimarães striker, who came through the ranks at Sporting, was making his third appearances and his second start for Vegalta Sendai this weekend. Guedes joined the club on-loan during the January transfer window and was selected in the team for Sunday’s trip to Yokohama.

Guedes began repaying the efforts to bring him to East Asia with a second-half equaliser in a 1-1 draw, controlling a long pass and finding the far corner with a neat low shot. Vegalta Sendai finished in mid-table in the league last season and now have four points from their opening three games.

 

Portuguese lift Polish title

Portuguese duo Luís Rocha and André Martins are celebrating after Legia Warsaw were crowned Ekstraklasa champions in Poland after a 2-0 home win over Cracovia Krakow. The win meant Legia moved eight points clear at the top of the table with just two matches remaining, leaving Lech Poznan and outgoing champions Piast Gliwice unable to catch them.

Former Sporting midfielder Martins has been a far more key participant in the campaign, starting 28 league games for Legia. Rocha, who came through the ranks at Vitória de Guimarães, has been less involved during his second season with the club and was starting for the 7th time in the league.

Legia’s 14th Polish championship triumph added to Rocha’s Taça de Portugal and Super Cup medals won back in his homeland with Vitória, while Martins won the same pair of trophies with Sporting as well as the Greek Super League with Olympiacos in 2017.

 

Portuguese bosses: Fonseca gets Roma back in form; Jesus closes on another trophy

A good week for Paulo Fonseca in Italy as the Portuguese boss has recovered Roma from a worrying slump in form and put together back-to-back victories in Serie A. Saturday’s 3-0 win over Brescia followed a midweek victory over Parma and represents a welcome return to winning ways after a recent spell of four straight defeats.

Goals from Federico Fazio, Nikola Kalinic and Nicolo Zaniolo wrapped up a comfortable three points for the Giallorossi and Fonseca emphasised his belief that the system with three central defenders benefitted his side, having played much of the campaign with a back four.

“It was important to win here today. We put in a good performance, it was important to maintain fifth place. We are more aggressive with three at the back and it gives us the opportunity to press higher. There are many areas where we can improve, but victories are good to boost confidence. We created a great deal and should be more clinical in front of goal.”

 

Jesus on the brink of further success

In Brazil, Jorge Jesus is currently trying to prevent constant speculation over his future from affecting Flamengo’s attempts to secure more silverware. The veteran boss is being linked with a return to his homeland with Benfica, but Jesus was on the touchline on Sunday as his side met fierce rivals Fluminense in the opening leg of the Campeonato Carioca Rio de Janeiro state final.

The sides met at the Maracanã with Fluminense the home side and Jesus’ men ran out 2-1 winners to give themselves a huge edge ahead of the return leg on Tuesday. Flamengo have won the local competition 35 times in their history, while Jesus is looking to secure a 5th major trophy since arriving in Brazil last year.

 

Goals: Nelson Oliveira, Hélder Barbosa, Manuel Fernandes

In amongst the waves of Portuguese goals of late, Nélson Oliveira is having his career best season in Greece with AEK Athens. The former Benfica man found the net again this weekend as his team won 3-1 at Panathinaikos, making it four goals in his last three games for Oliveira.

The striker has scored 14 goals in the Greek Super League this season, representing the highest tally of his career and by far his biggest return in a professional top flight. Previously, Oliveira’s best total was 11 scored in the English Championship with Norwich, while his strongest year in front of goal in a top division saw him notch 8 for Rennes in 2013-14.

Another Seleção international among the goals this weekend was Manuel Fernandes, who got the second as Krasnodar beat Ural 3-0 in Russia on Sunday. Also in the Russian Premier League, João Mário’s late assist for Jefferson Farfan earned Fernandes’ former club Lokomotiv Moscow – who also had Eder in the side – a 1-1 draw against Ufa.

In Turkey, Hatayspor won the 1 Lig and secured promotion to the top flight after beating Adanaspor 2-1 on Sunday. Well-travelled Portuguese forward Hélder Barbosa scored one of the goals for Hatayspor to clinch first place in the division, where veteran striker Marco Paixão is top goalscorer for Altay with an impressive 21 goals.

Finally, there was a double for the irrepressible Tiago Rodrigues for Bulgarians CSKA Sofia in their 5-0 win over Beroe, while on-loan Benfica forward Zé Gomes scored his first league goal in Polish football for Lechia Gdansk in a 3-2 defeat at Lech Poznan.

By Sean Gillen

@SeanGillen9

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Rúben lives with football 24 hours and he is giving us something special.”

Pep Guardiola
(Manchester City coach lauds the impact of the Portuguese centre-back on his team) 

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