With Chelsea set to face Sporting in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday evening, Portuguese football expert Tom Kundert gives FFT the skinny on the Primeira Liga outfit...
Who are they?
Sporting have a long and proud history stretching back over a century, with 18 Portuguese titles to their name. But the Lisbon club has never recaptured the prominence of its heyday in the 1940s and 50s.
Rivals Benfica and Porto have increasingly dominated the domestic scene since then. Just two championship titles have been celebrated in the green half of Lisbon in the last 32 years (the most recent 12 years ago), which tells its own story.
Fuelled by the election of brazen young president Bruno de Carvalho in 2013, however, the club has shown stirrings of a concerted effort to recapture former glories.
If there is one thing Sporting have got right during the lean years, it is its prolific academy, responsible for producing a plethora of magnificent Portuguese players, and Carvalho based his vision for the club on utilising the latest crop of highly promising home-grown youngsters to leverage an upturn in fortunes.
Throughout last season it was common to see seven academy players in the first team, with spectacular results as the young Lions roared to a second-place finish, booking a return to the Champions League group stage after a five-year absence.
Still unbeaten, Sporting will be looking to do more than just make up the numbers in the world’s greatest club competition, while a string of young talents will be keen to shine in such a prominent shop window.
A strong and enterprising midfield and an exciting array of attacking options make Sporting a threat to any team, even at this level.
William Carvalho’s immense strength in the holding role is complemented admirably by the all-action Adrien Silva. The superbly creative João Mário sprinkles the gold dust in a three-man midfield that many believe will soon be the basis of the Portuguese national team.
Up front things are just as exciting. Nani needs no introduction, and the 27-year-old winger has re-found his blazing form since returning to the Alvalade on loan from Manchester United.
The opposite flank is occupied by another extravagantly talented goalscoring winger, André Carrillo. The Peruvian has always had blistering pace and wonderfully skilful feet, and now in his fourth season at the club, he at last seems to have added consistency to his game.
Big Algerian striker Islam Slimani, bristling with aggression, is a real threat in the air and his brilliant World Cup campaign showed he is one for the big occasion. Carlos Mané is another exhilarating up-and-coming talent. Blessed with pace to burn, exceptional technique and the courage to take on his marker, Mané has proven a potent weapon coming off the bench.
Sporting’s centre-back partnership is raw and susceptible to lapses of concentration, as shown by the comical sequence of errors that led to a last-second equaliser for Maribor in the Champions League opener.
The 21-year-old Frenchman Naby Sarr has been thrown straight into the first team after the club lost both Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur) and Marcos Rojo (Manchester United) against its wishes in the summer transfer window, but Brazilian partner Maurício has managed to look even shakier. It is not difficult to imagine Diego Costa running amok should Chelsea get past the not inconsiderable midfield shield of William Carvalho.
The full-backs love to push forward to take full advantage of their excellent crossing ability, but this can leave Sporting exposed at the back, especially as neither winger is overly keen on tracking back.
Sporting have had a very stable system for over a season now, lining up 4-3-3 in every game, regardless of the opposition. If the match situation requires the team to chase a goal, the speedy Carlos Mané is often brought on in support of the lone striker, transforming the team into an audacious 4-2-4, but such a strategy would appear risky against a side of Chelsea’s quality.
By his own admission, William Carvalho has not been at his best in 2014/15. The holding midfielder was akin to a one-man wall in carrying out his defensive duties during a magnificent debut year last season, and he will have to be at the top of his game if Sporting are to thwart Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Oscar and company.
"As a young player with little experience, when you see players with such big reputations and who are famous the world over, it can be a little scary. But they're people, like me, and it's only a game of football. I'm just going to try and do my best. These are high-intensity, high-pressure matches. This is what we work for; all footballers want moments like this." - Sporting centre-back Naby Sarr, speaking to Footmercato.net.
…its Alcochete academy. Sporting have nurtured some of football’s biggest names over the past two decades, with a special predilection for wingers having spawned the likes of Luís Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani. The production line shows no signs of drying up. William Carvalho, João Mário and Carlos Mané are all tipped for a sparkling future.
When it comes to goalscoring there is prolific and then there is just downright ridiculous. In a career spanning 1937-49, Fernando Peyroteo scored 529 goals in 327 competitive games for Sporting – and no, those figures are not the wrong way round – helping the club lift the national championship five times in the 1940s.