The swashbuckling Supercup preview
Benfica and Porto lock horns on Saturday at Aveiro in the hors dÃ¢ÂÂoeuvres for the 2010/2011 feast: the Portuguese Supercup.
There is more than a trophy at stake as these two teams Ã¢ÂÂ on paper, the clear front-runners for the title this season Ã¢ÂÂ try to attain momentum and deal each other a psychological blow.
History is largely on the side of the Dragons, who have won the competition a record 16 times. But reigning champions Benfica will also want to claim their first title of the season. Both claim to be favourites, but which one will prevail on Saturday? LetÃ¢ÂÂs analyse...
Having lost Angel di Maria and not yet found a suitable replacement (Ã¢ÂÂ¬8.4m signing Nicolas Gaitan is a different type of player and has struggled with a minor injury anyway), Benfica coach Jesus switched the formation into an unorthodox 4-3-3 that replaces wingers with two mobile forwards to feed prolific striker Cardozo.
Regardless of that change, JesusÃ¢ÂÂs trademark gung-ho football has overwhelmed opposition at times during pre-season. To overcome the lack of width exploited by Tottenham in the Eusebio Cup, the Eagles will have to get the best from Fabio Coentrao. The winger-turned-left-back has grown into an invaluable player who is not only capable of defending well Ã¢ÂÂ as shown in the World Cup Ã¢ÂÂ but also capable of going on a mazy run to support the attack.
Although another new signing Airton was one of Benfica's best players in pre-season, he might not start against Porto; the midfield battle will be important if Benfica want to control possession and Javi Garcia, as the more experienced option, should be in the starting XI.
Porto, on the other hand, remain faithful to the 4-3-3 system used last season despite the arrival of Andre Villas-Boas. The Dragons have more depth now, but still havenÃ¢ÂÂt found the right man to link midfield to attack. ThereÃ¢ÂÂs great potential in the Moutinho-Micael-Fernando partnership, but if Micael is unavailable (see injury concerns, below) one has to wonder whether Guarin or Belluschi will be up to the task.
With all their wingers and forwards available, they should look to Hulk as the right-sided forward not only because heÃ¢ÂÂs perhaps the most explosive player in the league, but because attacking down that flank can prevent Coentrao from getting forward himself. And by doing that, Porto may decrease the number of opportunities created by the Eagles.
Ruben Micael is a doubt for the Dragons, which may give a selection headache for Villas-Boas. Without Micael and without Meireles (who should have left by now as he hasnÃ¢ÂÂt played in the last matches), who will link up with the attack?
For the Eagles, Uruguayan Maxi Pereira is unavailable, having only returned to training last week. As usual, Ruben Amorim will be given the nod in the right-back role.
Key players: Fabio Coentrao and Maicon
Benfica left-back Coentrao will be on double duty on Saturday as heÃ¢ÂÂll have to stop Hulk and support the front trio to overcome Benfica's lack of width. After being eyed up by some of EuropeÃ¢ÂÂs biggest clubs, Coentrao stayed and proved his commitment with solid performances during pre-season.
As for Maicon Ã¢ÂÂ the Porto centre-back, not his compatriot the Inter right-back, of course Ã¢ÂÂ heÃ¢ÂÂll have to step up to prove he can replace the former Porto captain Bruno Alves, who has sought the whiter pastures of Zenit St Petersburg. Say what you want, but Alves left a huge void in the DragonsÃ¢ÂÂ backline and a replacement is yet to be found. The former Nacional centre-back is likely to have a stern test against Benfica, but if he performs well the team may respond positively.
BENFICA: Roberto; Ruben Amorim, David Luiz, Luisao, Fabio Coentrao; Javi Garcia, Pablo Aimar, Carlos Martins; Jara, Saviola, Cardozo
PORTO: Helton; Fucille, Rolando, Maicon, Alvaro Pereira; Fernando, Joao Moutinho, Belluschi (Ruben Micael); Hulk, Cristian Rodriguez, Falcao
Prediction Benfica 2-1 Porto
Looking at the last three pre-season matches of each team, one would say that both teams will concede, but at the moment Benfica have the edge, even if by a small margin; they have kept their manager and from their pre-season matches, they continue to score goals for fun.
They may have lost width and Spanish goalkeeper Roberto may give the Eagles supporters some chills, but Porto are still a work in progress. They have more options now, but lost their last two outings against PSG and Bordeaux and still look some way off their best. What do you think?
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