Is the tide turning on Porto after cup defeat to Benfica?
Back in August when Benfica and Porto locked horns for the Portuguese Super Cup, most pundits tipped the Eagles to win the match.
After all, they had been crowned champions and pre-season had given Jorge Jesus false hope the team would play the same high-octane football showed the previous season. That didnÃ¢ÂÂt happen and Porto comfortably beat their old nemesis.
When they met again in the Portuguese League, things got even worse for Benfica, as Porto subjected them to a 5-0 thrashing and removed any lingering doubts their streak was a mere Ã¢ÂÂflash in the panÃ¢ÂÂ.
Therefore, when both teams met for the third time in the first leg of the Portuguese Cup semi-finals, Porto went into the match as clear favourites.
Both sides made a few changes to their starting line-ups. Porto were without their injured star striker Falcao, so Villas-Boas opted to play Hulk upfront and named James RodrÃÂguez in his starting XI.
At the back, and after the horrific leg break sustained by EmÃÂdio Rafael in the previous match against Gil Vicente, Porto were forced into changes, and resorted Sereno as makeshift left-back, a somewhat surprising change considering that Fucile has played in that position several times.
Meanwhile, Jesus made one very significant change by giving midfielder CÃÂ©sar Peixoto a starting role against his former club, while Sidnei partnered LuisÃÂ£o at the back, with David Luiz having jumped ship for Chelsea.
There are a fair few reasons to complain about PeixotoÃ¢ÂÂs inclusion. First of all, heÃ¢ÂÂs neither a defender nor a winger. He can't defend if his life depends on it and his knee problems have stripped him of the pace and flair of his early years. And secondly, if BenficaÃ¢ÂÂs plan was to keep things tight at the back, Airton would prove a stronger, more industrious option.
Action and (lack of) reaction
Unlike those earlier meetings, Benfica pounced on a PortoÃ¢ÂÂs mistake and grabbed an early lead through FÃÂ¡bio CoentrÃÂ£o in the fifth minute.
The Dragons reacted and almost got an equalizer when James RodrÃÂguez failed to connect with VarelaÃ¢ÂÂs cross, but Benfica would eventually double their lead through a Javi GarciaÃ¢ÂÂs mid-range shot in the 26th minute.
After the second goal, Porto looked unsteady, probably because they had only been that situation one time this season.
At the break, Porto were trailing Benfica by two goals but, knowing how they usually react to adversity in home matches, the Portugeezer was expecting a second-half onslaught.
Porto only possess two out-and-out strikers: Falcao and Walter. Having prior knowledge of FalcaoÃ¢ÂÂs condition, most coaches would forget the fact Walter has been living up to his moniker Ã¢ÂÂThe AnvilÃ¢ÂÂ Ã¢ÂÂ oh yes, heÃ¢ÂÂs that heavy Ã¢ÂÂ because Porto simply donÃ¢ÂÂt have anyone else!
With Hulk left alone upfront, Porto lose two players: an actual striker who can work in the box and a winger who can open up defences and create dozens of opportunities.
So, AndrÃÂ© Villas-Boas was left with a slightly tougher decision and decided to take James Rodriguez off to introduce the more experienced CristÃÂan, hoping the Uruguayan could bring an extra spark in the second half.
But thatÃ¢ÂÂs not where he failed: he made a questionable decision of introducing GuarÃÂn for Belluschi after CoentrÃÂ£o received his marching orders and failed to break down BenficaÃ¢ÂÂs fortress.
Had Sereno been replaced with another winger Ã¢ÂÂ Mariano GonzÃÂ¡lez, perhaps Ã¢ÂÂ maybe the Dragons would have split BenficaÃ¢ÂÂs water-tight defence.
So, even against a 10-men opposition, Porto failed to create a single chance and could have seen Cardozo scoring what would have been an embarrassing third goal.
What does the loss mean?
PortoÃ¢ÂÂs previous match was against Gil Vicente for the League Cup. With few chances to go through Ã¢ÂÂ having lost at home to Nacional Ã¢ÂÂ and with the match against Benfica on his mind, AndrÃÂ© Villas-Boas understandably opted to tinker the team.
Still, after the 2-2 draw against the Liga Orangina side, some people pointed out PortoÃ¢ÂÂs Ã¢ÂÂevidentÃ¢ÂÂ slump in form.
The loss against Benfica, however, is slightly different. They were outsmarted and considering theyÃ¢ÂÂre not used to losing this season, it will be interesting to see how Porto react now that the season is reaching that interesting February checkpoint, when European competitions resume and title races are shaped.
Also, it is a bit curious that PortoÃ¢ÂÂs only two losses to date may just result in two lost cups. Granted, they still have a chance at beating Benfica, but they certainly donÃ¢ÂÂt have the upper hand.
This weekend they claimed a dull 1-0 success against Rio Ave at home, but next week will provide a slightly sterner test in the form of a trip to Braga.
Will they dash BenficaÃ¢ÂÂs faint hopes for a title or will things eventually get more interesting? Stay tunedÃ¢ÂÂ¦