Can Benfica seal another title?

OK folks, the Portugeezer is back from his off-season duties and ready to start looking forward to 2010/11. And while teams are still trying to identify the last pieces of their jigsaw, the first pre-season matches have already given us a hint of what we can expect.

Regardless of whether Benfica can claim another championship, Braga go one better than last year or Sporting or Porto make a triumphant return to the top, there is one thing we do know for certain: the league’s official name is now Liga ZON Sagres. Kudos to the marketing geniuses who pulled out this brilliant name from God knows where...

Anyway, let’s start this pre-season discussion buffet (the plates are to your right) with Benfica, current title holders and perennial contenders.

The Eagles enjoyed a tremendous 2009/2010 season, playing some of the finest football their supporters have seen in the last 20 years. However, the title win means two things: 1) they’re now the team to beat, and 2) they’ll have to handle more pressure to match both their domestic and European ambitions.

In the six matches they’ve played so far Benfica continue to show an above average goalscoring prowess, but are leaking more goals than last year.

Granted, “it’s just pre-season”, but questions are already emerging about Spanish goalkeeper Roberto Jiménez. One would expect a real asset for €8.5M, but worse than not being one is the fact he may become a liability. See for yourself his pre-season ‘greeting card’...

Strengths

So far, and baring in mind we're still some way off the start of the 2010/2011 season, the Eagles have managed to keep their most prized assets with the exception of Ángel Di Maria. They’ve acquired Nicolás Gaitán and Franco Jara, who look capable of becoming useful squad members. Moreover, players such as Ruben Amorim, Javi Garcia, Airton and Coentrão, arguably Portugal’s best player in the World Cup, are now more mature and experienced, and can offer more to the team.

Weaknesses

Even with their immense attacking ability, Benfica lack width. Gaitán is not a pure winger and lacks the raw pace and dribbling ability of Di Maria, now at Real Madrid.  Surprisingly, they have loaned out Urretavizcaya, who could have been the one to take up the mantle of Di Maria. Apart from the wings, the aforementioned Roberto must be giving manager Jorge Jesus a migraine: the decision to splash that amount of money on Atletico’s third choice ‘keeper is something that may come back to haunt him.

Who should they buy?

Simão. The former Benfica captain is capable of playing on either wing and is not an invaluable piece at Atletico. With the Spanish club rumoured to be interested in Santi Cazorla, Simão may become available for a cut-price fee which would interest everyone involved. Not a Di Maria type of player, but would add experience, versatility and danger from set-pieces.

Who can they afford to lose?

Cardozo. While Benfica would like to retain the core of last season’s squad, they are neither immune to the financial crisis nor stubborn to the point of not selling a player if a ridiculous offer comes in. Losing David Luiz, Fábio Coentrão or Ramires right now would be a huge blow – except for the coffers obviously – but can the same be said about Óscar Cardozo? The Paraguayan striker was at his sharpshooting best last season with a total of 38 goals, but his limited pace and technique has made some people question whether another striker couldn’t have done more. With Jara in the squad and Kardec more settled, shouldn’t the €25 million offer from Shakhtar have been accepted (if it was ever submitted)?

The verdict

It has been a while – 1983/1984 to be precise – since Benfica last won back-to-back championships. Can they produce the same kind of free-flowing football that dazzled their opponents last season? Yes, but they have to keep the core of last season’s squad to be seen as front-runners...

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