Lisbon neighbours off to a bad start

The 2010/11 season may have just started but its opening weekend already offered a few surprises. There were four away successes, but the highlights of the round were defeats for both Benfica and Sporting.

Braga were the first team to play and they looked as solid as last season. Granted, it was against new boys Portimonense, but they have done well in the transfer market and they seem to have kept their dominant attitude to matches.

Thumbs up to Matheus for breaking the deadlock and being a threat throughout the match and to signing Leandro Salino for scoring a goal on his debut.

Porto had to fight harder than they had thought to seal a late 0-1 victory at Naval. The Dragons produced a relatively average first half, but improved after the break with the introduction of Columbian midfielder Freddy Guarín.

Unlike the match against Benfica where Varela was on fire, this time it was Hulk who upped his game a notch, creating some opportunities and scoring the 84th minute penalty that won the game.

Sporting and Benfica were dealt an early blow in their title quest as they were both deservingly beaten.

Playing at Mata Real is never easy and the home side, Paços de Ferreira, proved once again why. Relying on their never-say-die attitude and young talent David Simão and Caeteno, the team known as ‘the Beavers’ showed no fear of going forward and were eventually rewarded in the second half with a goal from Venezuelan striker Rondon.

Sporting had enough opportunities to at least claim a draw, but their forwards must have worn the wrong boots and the closest they came was hitting the bar through Helder Postiga.

The biggest upset of the weekend however was Académica 1-2 win at Estádio da Luz. The Eagles were determined to start their title defence in style, but were dismantled by an organized and resilient side who had studied their lesson at home.

If Benfica were a major threat from dead balls last year, this year they seem to fear them and it is probably due to lack of trust in goalkeeper Roberto.

It was therefore no surprise when Académica scored from a free-kick in the first half. New boy Franco Jara – who once again came off the bench – scored an equalizer, but despite playing against 10 men, Benfica would concede a second goal in the last minute and raise early question marks as to whether they’ll be able to reproduce last year’s levels of performance.

Goal of the round

It’s always better to start in style, right? Here’s the situation: Benfica, current title holders, are playing at home in front of 49,000 supporters and at 1-1 they’re pushing for a victory in the dying minutes. Substitute Laionel then decides to hit a wonder strike to silence an entire stadium and give the Students a famous victory. Cloud number nine for Academica and the 24-year old Brazilian striker!

Talking points

Sporting need to sort out their problems upfront; if the Lions possessed someone with half Liedson’s goalscoring prowess, they would have claimed another result. The Brazilian-turned-Portuguese striker is not getting any younger, and both Yannick Djalo and Postiga couldn’t hit the ground if they fell off a ladder.

That issue can be minimized with someone like Simon Vukcevic. There are not many players like the Montenegrin in the Portuguese League and while he may have a short temperament he also seems to be an ugly duckling type of figure at the club. His talent alone would justify his presence on the starting XI and the reason to include Jaime Valdes ahead of him is unknown to the Portugeezer

Benfica manager Jorge Jesus bemoaned bad luck for the home loss, but shouldn’t he just admit he made some mistakes? The Portugeezer admires his man crush on Cesar Peixoto, but including him on the starting XI won’t take him far. Peixoto is a utility man, a squad player to be mostly used as a sub.

The ‘new’ 4-3-3 formation is not the problem: the problem is not having the right players for such formation; Peixoto is not a winger, Saviola cannot open up defences if pushed to the wings and Amorim cannot link-up with the frontline like Ramires used to do!

There is a surplus of players in certain positions and a deficit in others, which certainly doesn’t bode well for the Eagles. With two weeks before the transfer window closes, can the Eagles find the missing piece(s) in their jigsaw?

RESULTS Fri Aug 13 Braga 3-1 Portimonense; Sat Aug 14 Marítimo 0-1 Vitória Setúbal, Naval 0-1 Porto, Paços Ferreira 1-0 Sporting; Sun Aug 15 Rio Ave 0-1 Nacional, Beira-Mar 0-0 Leiria, Benfica 1-2 Académica; Mon Aug 16 Olhanense 0-0 Vitória Guimarães.