The Usual Suspects part two: Sporting

Team Name: Sporting CPNickname: The Lions Introduction

OK folks, time for Sporting CP, last season’s runners-up.

Though the summer has seen little activity off the field, the team has already had to overcome a plucky FC Twente side to qualify for the play-off round of the UEFA Champions League.

Sporting remind me of Harvey Dent in the Batman movie The Dark Knight as they have shown two distinct faces, two sides of the same coin.

I watched the second-leg against Twente and they looked dreadful.

The team lacked ideas and organisation and only a miracle in the last minute of extra-time prevented them from being knocked out at such an early stage.

The Champions League draw paired the Lions with Fiorentina. I was expecting them to struggle, but Sporting played much better and were unlucky not to have won.

A 2-2 draw at home may not be the best result against Italian sides, but if the team replicates the spirit displayed last week, they may just find their way into Europe’s premier competition.

The squad

The club has only made two signings in the shape of Matías Fernández from Villarreal and Felipe Caicedo from Manchester City, the latter on loan.

Veteran forward Derlei has left the club, as too has Leandro Romagnoli who returned to San Lorenzo.

One would think that the lure of the Champions League and the fresh chance to mount a title assault would make Sporting strengthen its weakest area – the defence – but surprisingly the club has opted to not make any changes there, and they will regret that decision.

The back four can look as good as Newcastle last season at times, and they will find it tough to play away against smaller teams that might catch them on the break.

For a World Cup winner, Anderson Polga is very error-prone and yet he is the most experienced center-back at the club.

Carriço is still learning his craft and, due to the lack of a solid left-back, Caneira is likely to be deployed there, especially against more experienced sides.

Pedro Silva and Abel are able to deal with domestic opponents, but will be exposed in continental competitions. I may sound a bit harsh, but there’s a reason why the team got hammered by Bayern Munich last season.

If on one hand I am very critical of Sporting’s backline, on the other I admit they have a lot of good options in midfield.

The 4-4-2 diamond formation is probably the one best suited for their midfielders (Moutinho, Veloso, Rochemback, Adrien Silva, Izmailov, Matías Fernández and Vukcevic), a mix of players who can control possession, dribble through the opposition, feed the front-line and shoot from distance.

That’s where their key to a good season lies.

Up front, Sporting will continue to rely on the talismanic Liédson, one of the best forwards Portugal has seen in recent years. He guarantees at least 15 goals and is bound to win them a handful of matches.

Another decision they may also rue is the one to ditch Derlei. His legs aren’t what they used to be, but 'the Ninja' would lend his experience and inject his never-say-die attitude to the team.

Caicedo looked a bit rusty against Twente, but he’ll probably get a chance to show what he’s capable of at Fiorentina.

There is also Hélder Postiga and Yannick Djaló, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope on them. Those two couldn’t hit a cow’s backside with a banjo to save their lives.

Probable starting XI: Rui Patrício; Abel, Polga, Daniel Carriço, Caneira; Veloso, Moutinho, Matiás Fernández, Vukcevic; Liedson, Caicedo

The coach Paulo Bento is a polarising figure at the club. He arrived in the 2005/06 season, but has only managed to win two Portuguese Cups and one Supercup to date.

His disputes with Serbian goalkeeper Stojkovic, Vukcevic and Veloso didn’t strengthen his position either and many believe he may eventually be sacked this season.

Bento will look forward to prove his critics wrong, knowing that he was able to overcome similar predictions before.

One to watch: Miguel Veloso

I was going to tip Simon Vukcevic to shine this season. His flair and ability to open up defences are unique within the squad and he impresses me most of the time.

However, the way he got sent-off in the 2-2 draw against Fiorentina tells me Bento may not have the patience to give him many chances after their feud last year.

After scoring the team’s first goal, the Montenegrin felt the need to take off his shirt to celebrate, apparently forgetting he had already been given a yellow card, and was promptly shown another.

I know the rule is dumb, but Vukcevic’s actions were even dumber and could have serious repercussions in the outcome of the play-off.

Anyway, I have to hand Miguel Veloso the responsibility of making the difference, because he has the talent to make Sporting look much more of a threat.

Nevertheless, he is yet to fulfil his potential and I think this will be a make-or-break season for him.

It is true he possesses very good positioning and range of passing, but it is also a fact that he is slow and sometimes seems to lack the passion to excel.

Last season was a difficult one for him, but he scored a great goal against Fiorentina and he’s starting to show again why he was considered one of the hottest properties in Europe.

Sporting will need more of the same if they want to be regarded as serious title contenders.

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