Avoiding second season syndrome

Second season syndrome is a common malaise in football.

Usually, after enjoying an above average season, teams or players are not able to handle the increased expectations and end up disappointing in the following campaign.

One-time England international Michael Ricketts is a prime example of someone who suffered from that disease, but there are other examples such as former Porto striker Pena or the 2007/08 União de Leiria side.

The past season saw Braga achieve their best-ever league position and naturally teams will be more wary of the havoc the 2009/10 runners-up can cause.

In a domestic league as asymmetrical as the Portuguese, the first step to avoid falling back to mid-tier obscurity is to keep both the manager and the core of last year’s squad and kudos to club supremo António Salvador for doing just that.

Still, the first real test for Braga was against Celtic for the third Qualifying Round of the Champions League and, to the surprise of many, they battered the Scots with a 3-0 success. Can this be an early sign of things to come? If it is, the 2010/11 edition of the Portuguese League is going to be anything but boring!

Strengths

They were able to keep Domingos Paciência and the majority of their squad, while making some shrewd pieces of business in the transfer market.

Selling World Cup-inflated Eduardo to Genoa for €4M and getting Quim for free would have been genius if it wasn’t for the fact the former Benfica goalkeeper would rupture his Achilles tendon in training (they later signed Artur Moraes from AS Roma).

Also, and while not set in stone, talismanic midfielder Luis Aguiar is due to return to the club while Leandro Salino was brought in from Nacional to increase competition for places in the starting XI.

It is up front though that Braga have gained more depth with the additions of Lima, Keita and Hélder Barbosa, which can only be good as the team looks to keep their momentum on all fronts.

Weaknesses

Looking what has happened so far, their defence is still a question mark. Besides Eduardo and Evaldo, centre-back André Leone and right-back Filipe Oliveira also left after being unable to reach terms with the board for new contracts.

Nigerian left-back Elderson had a dream start against Celtic scoring a goal but it is still too early to say if the first-choice backline – key to last year’s performances – will be as effective this season.

Who should they buy?

Bruno Patacas and Rafik Halliche. Considering their budget constraints – at least when compared to the ‘Big Three’ – and the risk of paying an handsome amount of money for an unknown player from a different league, the Portugeezer would look internally for options that would add steel to the back four.

Nacional captain Patacas is a more than capable performer who has a lot of experience in the league, while Algerian defender Halliche had a good season at the Islanders while proving his pedigree for the national team. Nacional would probably be reluctant to do business, but Benfica would listen to a suitable offer for a centre-back that will not feature on their plans.

Who can they afford to lose?

Meyong. The Cameroonian player may have signed a new contract last month, but he didn’t play against Celtic and it’s not guaranteed he’ll be the team’s first-choice striker. Over the years he has attracted the interest of several teams in Europe and if a good offer came in, Domingos and Salvador might just consider offloading him.

As for tonight’s crunch encounter, the Arsenalistas will be playing at Celtic Park, a tough environment for any team, but the Portugeezer can’t see past a Braga victory in all honesty. Without a Henrik Larsson, Shunsuke Nakamura or even Aiden McGeady type of player available, Celtic are little more than an experienced side with average, industrious players.

Want a prediction? Celtic 2-1 Braga and bring on the play-off round...

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