Breaking through the glass ceiling
Guess who's the only team to achieve a perfect haul of 18 points from the first six games in Liga Sagres.
No, not them. No, not them either. Or them.
That fact that SC Braga top the league is even more surprising when one takes into account the fact that the Arsenalistas already played two of the Big Three Ã¢ÂÂ Sporting away and Porto at home.
They're certainly high on confidence and while it might still be too early to label them as Ã¢ÂÂtitle contendersÃ¢ÂÂ, it's impossible to overlook their encouraging performance.
Interestingly, Braga didnÃ¢ÂÂt enjoy the best start to the 2009/10 campaign, being knocked out of the new Europa League by Swedish outfit Elfsborg.
They had high expectations after reaching the last 16 of the competition last season and with their current squad they should have done better.
However, they were quick to recover from such an early bump by putting in several good performances in the league. So let's analyse their squad.
Starting XI: Eduardo; JoÃÂ£o Pereira, MoisÃÂ©s, Alberto Rodriguez, Evaldo; MossorÃÂ³, Hugo Viana, Vandinho; Alan, Meyong, Paulo CÃÂ©sar.
After a breakthrough season on loan at VitÃÂ³ria de SetÃÂºbal in 2007/2008, Eduardo returned to Braga to claim a starting place in the team and his consistent performances were rewarded by Carlos Queiroz: the 27-year-old is now Portugal's No.1.
BragaÃ¢ÂÂs defence is better than SportingÃ¢ÂÂs. JoÃÂ£o Pereira may still have his concentration lapses every now and then, but he has improved since leaving Benfica a couple of years ago and looks much more assured in the right-back position.
It was a big surprise that nobody tried to sign Alberto RodrÃÂguez in the summer. Ever since his arrival, the Peruvian international has been a rock-solid presence in the backline, lending his experience and maturity to the side. If he reproduces his past performances, then heÃ¢ÂÂs a top candidate to leave next season.
Lately, however, RodrÃÂguez has been injured and against FC Porto, AndrÃÂ© Leone partnered MoisÃÂ©s in the centre. The duo kept the DragonsÃ¢ÂÂ attack at bay and RodrÃÂguez's return may give coach Domingos PaciÃÂªncia a selection headache.
Evaldo is another reliable performer for Braga. The Brazilian left-back is fast, strong and can cross. Having missed only one game last season, heÃ¢ÂÂs an integral part of the back-line.
PaciÃÂªncia has been using a three-man midfield consisted of club captain Vandinho, Hugo Viana and MossorÃÂ³. While none of them is a real holding midfielder, their combined workrate ensures thereÃ¢ÂÂs no lack of steel in the middle of the park.
Vandinho has been at the club since the 2004/05 season and is an all-round box-to-boxer; capable of tackling, dribbling and passing. He has been an ever-present for the Arsenalistas and worth scouts taking a look at, even at 31.
Hugo VianaÃ¢ÂÂs career was going nowhere in Spain and the decision to return to Portugal was a good one. Viana is still a good player with a delightful range of passing and silky technique, but people expected too much from him.
Upon moving to Newcastle United in 2002 he was hailed as the Ã¢ÂÂbest young player in the world.Ã¢ÂÂ He will prove himself at Braga and maybe catch the eye of the national coach if he manages to play week in week out.
MossorÃÂ³ resembles the Atom Ant in his size and movement. The pint-sized offensive midfielder never stops, constantly opening up spaces and linking up with the forwards. Against FC Porto he was among the stand-out performers.
The mercurial Albert Meyong is BragaÃ¢ÂÂs main weapon up front. The prolific Cameroonian has a respectable record in the league, having been top scorer in 2005/06 and having played for SetÃÂºbal and Belenenses.
But while Meyong will no doubt net some goals, Braga lost on-loan star Wason RenterÃÂa and opted to loan out Austrian international Roland Linz.
They brought in FC Porto outcast Adriano Louzada, but it still remains to be seen whether the Brazilian forward can regain his form, after not playing a single game in the 2008/09 season.
TheyÃ¢ÂÂll have to rely on Paulo CÃÂ©sar, who Ã¢ÂÂ going by his goalscoring ratio Ã¢ÂÂ is perhaps the weakest link in BragaÃ¢ÂÂs attack.
Alan Ã¢ÂÂ yes, Alan Ã¢ÂÂ has been receiving more attention lately after scoring the winning goals against FC Porto and Olhanense.
The Brazilian winger is one of those players that may be too good for the small teams but not good enough for the top teams Ã¢ÂÂ the Darren Huckerby of the Portuguese League.
His speed is enough to trouble most of Liga SagresÃ¢ÂÂ defences and heÃ¢ÂÂs been playing with confidence. Watch his goal against Sporting CP, an early contender for goal of the season.
Can they do it? Can Braga last the distance and join the elite group of teams that have won the league? It would be nice, but to do so they have to beware three main threats.
First, teams will pay attention to them and employ more negative tactics. You can't be a surprise package forever.
Second, Meyong and Vandinho are irreplaceable. It will be hard to replace them if they get injured or suffer burn-out.
And finally, as expectations rise, so will pressure Ã¢ÂÂ and some players wonÃ¢ÂÂt be able to cope with that.
Nevertheless, they will benefit from the fact they donÃ¢ÂÂt have to worry about continental competition. That will keep their key performers fresh and increase their chances in the league.
It would be great for Portuguese football and for the club if they could break through the glass ceiling.
With such a magnificent stadium and a talented squad, letÃ¢ÂÂs hope they keep up with their good job.
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