The Gods Must Be Crazy: A wacky week in Portugal

Round 10 Results: Fri Nov 5 Vitória Setúbal 3-3 Rio Ave Sat 6 Nov Portimonense 2-2 Académica, Paços Ferreira 0-1 Nacional Sun 7 Nov FC Porto 5-0 Benfica, Braga 2-3 Beira-Mar, Naval 1-1 Olhanense, Marítimo 1-1 Leiria Mon 8 Nov Sporting 2-3 Vitória Guimarães

There's so much to talk about this goal-ridden round that a single post is hardly enough to describe the earthquake that shook the foundations of Portuguese football.

Understandably, all eyes were on the Porto v Benfica match that could have serious repercussions in the title race – and the Clássico lived up to its billing. With a mesmerising performance that probably alerted half Europe, Porto hammered the Eagles 5-0 and cleared any lingering doubt about which team is currently the best in the country. Such is the gulf between the Dragons and the chasing pack, that it seems we have two leagues within Liga Zon Sagres.

In hindsight, nobody would have predicted this at the beginning of the season. After all, Benfica kept their manager and invested - 'wasted' may be a more accurate verb - buckets of money to improve the team while Porto hired an unknown guy named André Villas-Boas in an apparent knee-jerk reaction. How come things have changed so much in such a short span of time?

Bad choices, bad omenNow, about the match. If there was a moment Jorge Jesus’s ability was questioned, it was this past Sunday as the Benfica manager made two tactical changes that are quite hard to accept.

Firstly, he opted to selected Salvio instead of Saviola in the starting XI. The Atletico Madrid loanee has barely lit up the League while ‘El Conejo’ has been an ever-present figure for the Eagles since he arrived from Real Madrid last year. Why change, and why now?

More stunning though was the decision to play David Luiz as makeshift left-back instead of the impressive and already proven Fábio Coentrão. By doing that, he brought back Sidnei – who only played 259 minutes in the league last season and is far from match fitness - to the heart of the defence and moved Coentrão to a more advanced role.

The result? Sidnei looked sluggish, Coentrão was ineffective and David Luiz was consistently tormented by Hulk. It was reckless to make such drastic changes in a vital match and the decision backfired badly as every single goal from the right side - Benfica’s left.

Even if Coentrão was back at his best position in the second half, the damage was already done and Hulk was on fire. The Brazilian forward scored two goals and made one assist, carrying on his rich vein of form that is bound to attract the big guns sooner rather than later.

As predicted in the previous post, Benfica struggled to feed front duo Alan Kardec and Salvio and only managed three shots on target – pathetic for a team that not long ago wanted to be a serious player in the Champions League.

“You know, just do your thing…”There were other surprising results this round as Braga were shocked by Beira-Mar at home and Sporting showed once again why the Portugeezer continues to dismiss them as genuine contenders.

The Lions entertained Vitória Guimarães at home and they seemed set for a comfortable 2-0 win until the 70th minute when Maniche was sent off for kicking an opponent. Supersub Tiago Targino came from the bench to lift the away team and scored two goals in two minutes before Bruno Teles completed an incredible comeback in the 90th minute.

Talking pointsPorto are at the top of the world. They are unbeatable, enjoying their football and it will be really interesting to see which team will be able to defeat them. They can afford to tinker: they hold a 10-point lead in the league and are already through to the Round of 32 in the Europa League.

André Villas-Boas and Hulk, in particular, are now the target of foreign media eager to know more about this unstoppable duo. The way his team outclassed Benfica, Villas-Boas looks more and more a very capable manager, even if drawing any comparison to Mourinho at this stage is premature. Hulk once again overwhelmed his opposition with his raw power and trickery. The Brazilian has toned down his lapses and selfishness this season and has become a more consistent player. Great for Porto!

Even a revered figure like Sir Alex Ferguson would be a target if he was destroyed by, say, Arsenal the way Benfica were by Porto. Jesus’s cockiness certainly came back to haunt him; suddenly, reports emerge that the atmosphere in the locker room was far from ideal and that people within the board are not exactly in awe with Jesus anymore. Considering the psychological toll of this heavy loss, can Jesus last till Christmas?

Is there a silver lining for Paulo Sérgio? Yes, it can be argued that the outcome would have been different if Maniche thought before he acted the way he did, but Sporting only have themselves to blame. They have a second-tier mentality and lack spark.

The Sporting speech remains the same: President Bettencourt says the manager is untouchable (though we all remember the catchy ‘Paulo Bento forever’ expression and what happened afterwards...) and that they will keep on fighting. Sometimes though, one has to wonder if they have any ambitions: do they want to win silverware right now or are they planning long-term? Do they still want to nurture young talent from the Academy or are they looking to get more experienced players? Regardless of that, 14 points in 10 match is just not good enough…

Can Guimarães become this season’s Braga? Manuel Machado has assembled a solid group of players and they have been playing good football. Interestingly, they beat both Benfica and Sporting and held Porto to a draw. They are now in second place with 18 points and will play against the Minho Warriors next round in what is expected to be a fierce derby.

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