Leiria climb to fourth as Porto end year undefeated

RESULTS Fri Dec 17 Braga 5-0 Academica Sat Dec 18 Beira-Mar 3-2 Vitoria Guimaraes, Benfica 5-2 Rio Ave Sun Dec 19 Pacos Ferreira 0-3 FC Porto, Olhanense 0-0 Nacional, Naval 0-3 Uniao de Leiria, Maritimo 1-1 Portimonense Mon Dec 20 Vitoria Setubal 0-3 Sporting

Whether it was the result of a surprise farewell party for our old friend 2010 or just a good day at the office for the league’s forwards, the truth is that Round 14 of the Portuguese League produced goals galore to end the year in Premier League-esque fashion. Twenty eight goals were scored (an average of 3.5 per match) even if not much has changed in terms of league table.

Three wise men

Three men in particular – apart from those three you thought of straight away (Morecambe, Wise and Noddy Holder? - ed) – deserve a mention this week.
First of all, there’s Leiria boss Pedro Caixinha, who steered his team to another victory. Leiria visited basement boys Naval and came away with a convincing 3-0 victory that saw them climb to fourth place with 24 points, one behind Sporting and two ahead of fifth-placed Guimaraes.

For someone in his debut season as first-team coach and for a team with modest ambitions, that is quite an achievement. Naturally, it will be hard for them to maintain that momentum, but once they secure top-flight status – which should be relatively straight-forward bar any major disaster - they can start to dream of a crack at the Europa League - but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Beira-Mar are another team to have earned the plaudits this term through solid performances. They are a very organized, focused side and can be a real pain-in-the-backside for even the most established of opponents.  Just ask Braga and Sporting. Their latest victims were Guimaraes, who were humbled 3-2.

Their success is mostly down to a relatively unknown manager called Leonardo Jardim, who masterminded last season’s promotion last season and continues to strike all the right chords on a shoestring budget. With 19 points, they look a genuine Liga Zon Sagres team and can realistically aim for a mid-table position.

Last but not least, a player who we may still hear a lot about. When Salvio arrived at Benfica, it seemed club supremo Luis Filipe VIeiria and football director Rui Costa were pressing the panic button. After all, the Argentinean came late in August in a loan arrangement with Atletico Madrid when questions about the team started arising.

His position raised more questions as he seemed to be similar to Gaitan, a supporting striker who can play on the wings or as a trequartista. At the beginning, he didn’t have many chances to show his potential – he was mostly used as an impact player – but the match against Rio Ave showed the Eagles may have in him a very good player.

Salvio scored two goals, made a terrific assist to his fellow countryman Saviola and hit the woodwork once with a delicious dainty chip over the keeper. His pace and dribbling gave Benfica a meaner edge their supporters haven’t seen since Di Maria left the club.

For 30 minutes, they played like last season - but they still need to improve. The defence still leaks goals like Mr. Assange’s website leaks classified documents, so they’ll need to work on that between the turkey and the eggnog.

Of course, if Salvio proves to be a hit another question will arise: will Benfica be able to sign him or will he simply return to Los Colchoneros? With all due respect to Atletico, Benfica are not a stepping stone for them so Vieira and Costa must act quickly if they want a deal that suits both sides.

Talking points

In a move that sent shockwaves throughout Portuguese football, Jorge Costa announced his resignation from Academica. Furthermore, not only did he announce his departure from the Students, he also said he would end his managerial career for ‘personal reasons‘.

It seems awkward to say goodbye to the former Porto centre-back - someone who has been around the Portuguese top-flight block for quite a while - but only time will tell if this is will be definitive.

Another bombshell dropped on Tuesday was Jose Couceiro’s unveiling as the new Sporting general-director.

Couceiro’s career is quite unique as he has been appointed in a range of varying roles including president of the players’ union, member of the board at Alverca and manager at FC Porto and Lithuania. There are three reasons not to be enthusiastic about this move if you’re a Sporting supporter...

- Porto supporters still remember his spell at the helm of the Dragons as one of the of worst in recent history.

- There appear to be questions marks over whether the roles of Paulo Sérgio, Costinha and Couceiro are clearly defined or whether their jobs overlap. At what time will one of them get tired of the triumvirate structure?

- He had a forgettable spell at the club previously and his track record as manager is questionable at best.

On paper, this is a bad move. Whether it will work – and the Portugeezer is willing to bet it won’t – is a whole different matter…

The refreshing taste of Liga Orangina

Here’s a news flash for you all: forget about La Liga, the Premiership, Die Bundesliga or even Serie A. The most competitive league in Europe is Liga Orangina, the Portuguese second division and that is a undisputable fact!

Where else can you see the table-toppers (Feirense) and the side second-bottom (Moreirense) separated by only six points?

With that thought in mind, have a Merry Christmas and see you all next week!