Portuguese League: State of the Nation

After four games, the Portuguese League is starting to take shape.

Not many would have predicted that SC Braga would be the only team to register a 100 percent record, but the ‘Arsenalistas’ seem to be on a roll.

Braga stunned Sporting in Lisbon and also beat CS Maritimo on the traditionally difficult trip to Madeira.

Coach Domingos Paciência is far from a favourite of The Portugeezer but he’s obviously getting things done.

Next week, they welcome champions FC Porto in what is expected to be a very interesting match.

Perhaps surprisingly, Benfica are gelling as a team.

After two below-average matches - a 1-1 draw at home to Marítimo and a narrow win at Guimarães – they suddenly switched into “steamroller mode,” trashing Setúbal 8-1 at home and before hammering Belenenses away 4-0.

A word of appreciation here for new signings Javi Garcia and Javier Saviola. Pretty much everyone knows they’d never feature in the new Real Madrid side and yet they are proving to be two very astute purchases.

Garcia is always in the right place to tackle opponents and rarely gives possession away. The Spaniard has also scored two goals from free kicks and he’s enjoying himself.

Saviola was never handled properly by Barcelona or Real Madrid. Rijkaard puzzlingly deemed him surplus to requirements, a switch to the capital didn’t work either and it was to general surprise that Benfica splashed €5 million on him – that’s good money for a player who has only played a handful of times in the last three years.

Nevertheless, Benfica coach Jesus managed to instill some confidence into ‘El Conejo’ and he’s improving with each game.

His all-around style complements the more static Cardozo and the team can only appreciate the duo’s contribution.

Porto continue to be their usual selves. With new players slotting into the club’s mentality, the fans have forgotten Lucho González and Lisandro Lopéz.

Radamel Falcao has already bagged for goals and free-transfer Silvestre Varela may be the steal of the season.

Like Benfica’s Eagles, Porto’s Dragons have 10 points and they look confident. The next game at Braga will be a good test to see how good this Porto side can be.

Sporting are still trying to find their rhythm. They started poorly with just a point from the first two games, but overcame those bad results with two consecutive wins.

Paulo Bento still can’t consider himself safe from the axe, but his next match is at home and Liédson is now looking sharp in front of goal.

Promoted teams União de Leiria and Olhanense seem to be coping well with top-flight life  – both have yet to be defeated. Not bad for two sides that looked odds-on to go straight back to Liga Vitalis.

Six points from four matches is an encouraging sign and I am sure both managers are pleased with that haul.

Biggest surprise: Rio AveHaving started in strong fashion, Rio Ave currently sit in fourth. Manager Carlos Brito knows the club well, having managed the side before and he usually does a solid job there – indeed, he seems to be the only person capable of steering the club forward.

But that sort of thing happens across football – teams seem to thrive under one manager, and dive under all others. Look at Portsmouth and Harry Redknapp.

And there are other parallels between Rio Ave and Pompey, such as a relatively low-capacity stadium (12,500) and geographical situation in the harbour city of Vila do Conde.

Biggest disappointment: NacionalDespite The Portugeezer’s fulsome praise for their European heroics, Zenit St Petersburg’s conquerors have yet to reproduce such spirited performances in the league.

The fixtures haven’t favoured them – they had to play Sporting and Porto in the first two weekends, but no matter how you twist it, claiming two points in four matches is bad. 

On Thursday night they battled back from two down before narrowly losing to last season’s UEFA Cup finalists Werder Bremen, and this weekend they’ll host Marítimo – and they couldn’t get a better morale-booster than a convincing win against their Madeiran neighbours.

NEW! FFT.com's Portuguese fixtures, results & tables section 

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