The Usual Suspects part one: Porto
Team Name: FC Porto
Nickname: The Dragons
As promised, here I start a series of posts providing a more in-depth analysis of the title contenders in Portugal, the so-called Ã¢ÂÂBig ThreeÃ¢ÂÂ.
Can an outsider challenge the elite trio? The simple answer is no. The gulf is so big it would be like crossing a titanic chasm.
But anyway, letÃ¢ÂÂs begin with FC Porto.
FC Porto may have drawn at PaÃÂ§os de Ferreira at the weekend, but they wonÃ¢ÂÂt be short on confidence.
Porto were crowned domestic champions last term for the fourth consecutive year. The team also claimed the Portuguese Cup and reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, eventually losing to Manchester United after two closely-fought encounters.
However, the impressive performances didnÃ¢ÂÂt go unnoticed, with Lucho GonzÃÂ¡lez, Lisandro LÃÂ³pez and Aly Cissokho all leaving the club in the summer.
Like many times before, the Dragons didnÃ¢ÂÂt panic-buy and among their 11 signings for the 2009/2010 season are ÃÂlvaro Pereira from CFR Cluj, Fernando Belluschi from Olympiakos and the much-coveted Colombian star Radamel FalcÃÂ£o from River Plate.
They also bagged several fringe players that add strength in depth to a squad that aims to do well in every competition.
The dominance enjoyed in recent years and the experience accumulated in the European competitions make Porto the favourites to clinch the Portuguese League, even if the team needs time to gel as a whole.
At the back, there is no doubt the club will be delighted to have kept hold of Bruno Alves, who has established himself as one of the most solid centre-backs in Europe.
Rolando displayed last year he can be a capable defender, and is likely to be first choice to partner Alves in the middle.
On the other hand, the wide-positions do appear shaky, and I remain unconvinced by Sapunaru and Fucile. I will reserve judgement on ÃÂlvaro Pereira until after he partakes in a handful of competitive games.
Lucho GonzalÃÂ©z was the brain in PortoÃ¢ÂÂs midfield. His silky touches and ability to dictate tempo were invaluable to feed the front line and control possession.
His departure has left a big void and much will be expected from Belluschi.
While he didnÃ¢ÂÂt set the world alight in Greece, Belluschi showed glimpses of his talent during pre-season and the Dragons will hope he maintains his momentum.
The remaining two men in the midfield trio will be RaÃÂºl Meireles and Fernando.
At just 22, the already-imposing Fernando can only improve, while Meireles will provide his ever-reliable service to the team.
I believe theyÃ¢ÂÂll find it hard Ã¢ÂÂ if not impossible Ã¢ÂÂ to replace Lisandro LÃÂ³pez, a forward whose work-rate, technique and finishing did not often come in a single package.
Falcao appears to be a different type of striker and I suspect LisandroÃ¢ÂÂs output will be spread over the offensive trio, rather than being inherited by his direct replacement.
Probable starting XI: HÃÂ©lton; Fucile, Bruno Alves, Rolando, ÃÂlvaro; Fernando, RaÃÂºl Meireles, Belluschi; CristiÃÂ¡n RodrÃÂguez, Hulk, Falcao
Jesualdo Ferreira arrived at FC Porto at the beginning of the 2006/2007 season and has managed to steer the club to three consecutive domestic league crowns.
After overcoming a few hiccups along the way, he now has the backing of the board and the supporters.
With the winning mentality already installed at the EstÃÂ¡dio do DragÃÂ£o, he has the tools to do the job.
One to watch: Hulk
The responsibility of scoring goals can be a huge burden for a striker. Fortunately for Porto, HulkÃ¢ÂÂs shoulders are quite large to withstand that pressure.
The powerful forward enjoyed a rapid rise to stardom after being signed from Tokyo Verdy.
Nobody expected much from this virtually unknown Brazilian with a funny nickname, but today defenders are no longer laughing.
Hulk has tremendous power and speed as well as a strong left foot, attributes that have already made Porto slap a Ã¢ÂÂ¬40 million price tag on him.
If he improves his decision-making, Hulk can be huge, literally, both in Europe and nationally for Brazil in years to come.
Only time will tell if he can make the grade, but this year expect the incredible Hulk to be tightly marked and tough tackled.
Like the superhero though, thatÃ¢ÂÂll only make him angrier.
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