Lions struggle as Dragons march on

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The weekend saw Round Six of the Portuguese Liga played, and if there was anything we learnt it was that Sporting really are currently an utter shambles.

After being defeated by eternal rivals Benfica in the previous round, the Lions were hoping to get their title bid back on track with a win against Nacional. Unfortunately, their plans were undermined by the Islanders, who managed to get away with a 1-1 draw with coach Paulo Sérgio being greeted at the end with jeers from the frustrated home supporters following the fulltime whistle.

Director of Football Costinha admitted his side hadn’t had the start to the season envisaged by the club, but if he and chairman Jose Eduardo Bettencourt couldn’t foresee this scenario, they may want to seek consultation from an optician, as the three key causes were clear to see from the beginning.

1) Sporting sold their two most prized assets (Veloso and Moutinho), only to replace them with a few suspect players. 2) The Lisbon outfit also appointed a manager with no discernable experience at the top level. 3) They also mismanaged the Izmailov saga, effectively losing the valuable contribution of the Russian. People may say the team is still gelling, but the Portugeezer believes it will be another long season for them with no silverware or pride to show off.

Not that neighbours Benfica have much to brag about either. The Eagles recorded an morale-boosting victory at Marítimo - their first away success of the season - and have now amassed a total of nine points, just one more than Sporting.

What sets the two sides apart at the moment is that the Eagles seem to be on the upward curve. Their performance levels, while still miles behind last season’s displays of free-flowing football, have steadily improved and they will look to continue building on that.

Braga struggled to get over their Champions League steamrollering by Arsenal, failing to pick themselves off the floor in time to get anything more than a draw against Paços Ferreira in round five. This past Friday however, the Minho Warriors returned to winning ways with a commanding 3-1 victory against Naval. Manager Domingos Paciência will also be pleased with the return of Márcio Mossoró, who scored a goal after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

The Arsenalistas are now leading the Porto-chasing pack alongside Guimarães and Académica du Coimbra, the two surprise packages of the season so far.

The two over-achieving sides met at Coimbra where the home team proved stronger in the end. Jorge Costa’s pupils have been stellar so far, and while they will inevitably hit a sticky patch some time soon, they’ll be delighted with their performances so far this season and the fact the 11 points gained so far give them an excellent opportunity to seal safety sooner rather than later.

Now, each of the three teams in the aforementioned chasing pack has 11 points, which is already a fair whack less than leaders Porto, who still boast and 100% record with 18 points.

They hosted Olhanense and completely dominated the match. Hulk has been unplayable this season and both Varela and João Moutinho will have a place on the Selecção’s starting XI, but above all their confidence seems unshakeable at the moment.

Whether it has been the magic wand of André Villas-Boas, shrewd pieces of business made during the summer or the sluggish start from the rivals, the Dragons have once again risen to the top and will be the team to beat this season

Goal of the round

The wonder goal scored by Acádemica forward Sougou against Guimarães that put his side back in front has to be the best goal of matchday six, and a contender for goal of the season.

The Senegalese star was given room to operate and from around 30-35 yards unleashed a powerful drive into the top corner that left the goalkeeper stunned. A Premier Leeague-esque goal that left Jorge Costa with a broad grin on his face.

Honourable mention goes to Carlos Saleiro who, after being introduced at the break, scored Sporting’s goal; Simon Vukcevic delivered a cross into the box and the ball rebounded to Saleiro who dispatched an acrobatic volley into the back of the net

Talking points

There is a huge match next week as Benfica entertain Braga at Estádio da Luz. Benfica goalkeeper Roberto has been unbeaten for 277 minutes now and the Eagles are starting to fly higher, but Braga will prove a stern test for them.

Benfica cannot afford to slip up again and it will be interesting to see how the match will unfold. Last season, the Eagles grinded out a narrow 1-0 win, so expect a close encounter.

Simon Vukcevic was Sporting’s top dog against Nacional. The talented Montenegrin showed once more he can become one of the stars of the league and certainly someone who should be in Sporting’s XI week in week out. His temperament can be fiery at times, but if Paulo Sérgio wants to make an impact, he has to look to Vukcevic as the key man between midfield and attack.

Porto continue to relentlessly crush their opposition. Six matches, six wins and the next stop is Guimarães away. Never an easy match, but they look odds on to get another three points. Considering that at least one of Braga and Benfica will drop points next weekend, is it too early to say another Porto victory will put them on a very comfortable position to clinch the title?

Quote of the week

“In my opinion, there were two great teams in Europe last year: Barcelona and Benfica” – Jorge Jesus

That’s a pretty bold claim of a team that ended up being battered by Liverpool…

RESULTS Fri Sep 24 Braga 3-1 Naval Sat Sep 25 Académica 3-1 Vitória Guimarães, Marítimo 0-1 Benfica, Porto 2-0 Olhanense Sun Sep 26 Portimonense 1-0 Beira-Mar, Leiria 1-0 Rio Ave, Sporting 1-1 Nacional Mon Sep 27 Vitória Setúbal 1-0 Paços de Ferreira. More to read...
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