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Jornada 6 - New leader ... and rain
An eventful 6th jornada brought a new leader: Sporting Braga are clear top for the first time since 2012, when Leonardo Jardim, now at AS Mónaco, was in charge. It was also a weekend when games were won and lost almost single-handedly by specific players. In Braga’s 3-0 win at Belenenses, it was Ricardo Horta who starred. He assisted for Wilson Eduardo’s first goal, scored the second and won a penalty for the third, which Wilson Eduardo hit home for his second.
At the other end, keeper Muriel, elder brother to Manchester City’s Alisson, had a ‘mare: he charged out of his goal and missed his clearance, the ball falling to Ricardo Horta to score, and later got caught trying to clumsily dribble the same Ricardo Horta before losing the ball and bringing him down. “On the next team-list it’ll be Muriel plus 10”, said Belenenses coach Silas, but he will have been furious at such negligence.
Braga are a point above FC Porto, who made heavy work of it against the splendid Tondela, a tough nut to crack under coach Pepa. It looked to be heading for a 0-0 draw until five minutes from time when the normally excellent keeper Cláudio Ramos, recently called up to the Seleção, made a rare blunder, spilling a shot from outside the box by Brahimi, with Tiquinho Soares following up to net. Soares was on as sub for injured top scorer Aboubakar, who meanwhile has had knee surgery and will be out for months.
FC Porto are one point above Benfica, who kicked off the 6th jornada on Thursday to give them time to prepare their trip to Athens in the Champions League; they would beat AEK 3-2. Chaves, in the far north of Portugal, was the venue, and the choice of night was a bad one: a cloudburst before the game meant the pitch was under water and unplayable. The ref gave it an hour and by that time it had drained very well, with surface water only apparent in patches.
But the delay didn’t seem to have cooled Benfica’s ardour, and they went in front on three minutes with the first of four excellent goals on the night: striker Seferovic – not on a par with Jonas in terms of scoring, but maybe better as a team player – launched Cervi down the left with a brilliant pass, the winger crossed and Rafa swept it in from close range. They kept their lead until the 75th minute when Ghazaryan equalised with a rocket of a free kick from 25 metres. Rafa got his second on 85, after another killer through ball, this time from central defender Rúben Dias. But then the other central defender, Conti, on as sub for Jardel, saw a red card for a two-footed lunge on Eustáquio (coach Rui Vitória would subsequently blame it for the dropped points, but he should have blamed his player rather than the ref.) Cue the goal of the game, a tremendous passing move from Chaves with the Armenian Ghazaryan getting a superb second and a point for his team – fully deserved, despite Rui Vitória’s moaning about the ref, the delayed kick-off and the pitch.
Benfica could be rueing the fact that they recently retired captain Luisão: in central defence they will be without Conti (suspended) for the home clássico against FC Porto next weekend, and probably without Jardel (leg injury).
Benfica are one point above their local rivals Sporting and northern club Rio Ave. Sporting needed a penalty from Bruno Fernandes and Colombian striker Fredy Montero’s first goal since February, both in the first half, to see off Madeiran side Marítimo, who could have joined Rio Ave in 4th/5th if they’d won.
Rio Ave took advantage of a great display from Brazilian striker Carlos Vinícius to take the points from a 2-1 win at home to Boavista. He scored two and got Boavista’s Sparagna sent off after just half an hour; the French centre-back has just returned to the side and may find it tricky to get back in after a nightmare.
Rio Ave have three straight wins, Boavista have three straight defeats and are one of four clubs on four points at the bottom. What the Portuguese call ‘the red lantern’ at the very bottom are the other Madeira side in the Liga, Nacional, who managed to lose 0-3 at home to Santa Clara from the Azores. The fans protested against coach Costinha at the end, but he was adamant, if a little premature, when he said: “We can’t throw in the towel.” Santa Clara are doing very nicely, thank you, in their first season back in the top flight: 7th on eight points.
Above Nacional but still in the drop zone are Algarve disappointments Portimonense, who haven’t been able to take advantage of one of the best players in the Liga, the Japanese forward Nakajima, or the returning Colombian striker Jackson Martínez, although the latter, not yet fully match fit, has so far only featured in cameo performances as sub. They travelled north to Aves to play the previous ‘red lantern’, but a very unlikely hat-trick from midfield workhorse Vítor Gomes gave them the points to sneak out of the bottom two.
Vitória de Setúbal clambered out of the four-pointer group with a draw at the other Vitória, de Guimarães, but they left it until the second minute of added time to get it with a goal from Nuno Valente.
Elsewhere, Moreirense beat Feirense with a goal from veteran striker Nenê, 35, his first in the Liga after returning to Portugal from Italy; ten years ago he represented Nacional and scored 24 league goals in a season.
Jornada 5 - Tight at the Top
With five games gone, Benfica remain top after a comfortable 2-0 win at home to second-bottom club Aves. Starting for the first time was young promise João Félix, who scored a valuable equaliser as sub against Sporting in the third jornada. This time he opened the scoring, neatly turning in a through pass from Pizzi. Diminutive Argentinian winger Franco Cervi tied it up around the hour mark. The game was also notable for the return, off the bench, of last season’s top scorer in the Liga, Jonas, recovered from a back injury.
“Those that came to the stadium were happy and proud of what we showed,” said Benfica coach Rui Vitória, forgetting the Aves fans at the Luz. Aves are now rock bottom with just one point from their five games and are the only team without a win; the alarm bells must be ringing at last season’s Taça de Portugal winners.
Joining Benfica on 13 points on Monday were Sporting … Braga. They’ve been up there or thereabouts in recent seasons, but it’s becoming clear that this time they might just be making a serious push for the big prize. The 1-0 win over Sporting, in an even, hard-fought game, was once again the kind of result that titles are made of. Brazilian striker Dyego Sousa, now the Liga’s top scorer with five goals, got the winner with a perfect touch from an Eduardo cross; in the post-match interview, he thanked God, several times, and his team mates. Coach Abel Ferreira echoed the sentiment: “We have a new motor and we’re running it in.” They really are looking like a solid outfit, and they have the advantage of no European distractions.
Sporting gave as good as they got on the night, but despite chances from Bruno Fernandes and sub Jovane Cabral, they didn’t have that little bit extra; they’re missing injured Dutch striker Bas Dost terribly. Captain Nani was subbed off for Jovane with 20 minuutes left and didn’t go nicely, which may fill some column inches in the coming days. It was Sporting’s first defeat (only Benfica and Braga are unbeaten), but they’re far from out of it.
In fact it’s pretty tight at the top in these early stages, just three points separating the first six. FC Porto provisionally took top spot on Saturday after a 2-0 win at Vitória de Setúbal, with some refereeing controversy but an excellent second goal. In the first half, FCP centre-back Felipe hacked at Hildeberto, about to enter the box. The ref gave neither a foul nor a card, which could well have been a red one, with ne’er a peep from the VAR. In the second half, Vitória’s Valdu Té had the ball in the net, ‘equalising’ Aboubakar’s opener, but replays showed that he’d handled; this time the VAR stepped in. Porto’s second goal came with a cracking Sérgio Oliveira free kick from a full 35 yards out.
Benfica issued a statement after the game: “Tonight we witnessed a farce, sponsored from above,” was one of the kinder sections. FC Porto responded via the club’s Communications Director Francisco J. Marques: “If this came from serious people it might mean something, but this is from Benfica, who are being accused of corruption and are being investigated for paying opponents to lose …” And so the healthy atmosphere of the Portuguese Liga continues.
Porto are 3rd on 12 points, and on 10, together with Sporting, are Rio Ave and Marítimo. Rio Ave, beginning to tick under José Gomes, went to the Azores to beat Santa Clara 3-1. Carlos Vinícius was hero and nearly villain within ten minutes, giving Rio Ave the lead on 70 minutes and putting through his own goal on 79. Meanwhile, though, Gelno had made it 0-2, and a late, late João Schmidt penalty tied it up. Also in the Atlantic, Madeiran side Marítimo ground out a 0-0 draw with Belenenses, whose third draw this was. Marítimo had had the chance to go provisionally top, had they won.
The other Madeiran side, Nacional, got an identical draw at Feirense, who have the best defence in the Liga with just two goals conceded. Nacional were left third from bottom.
Joining Aves in the relegation zone (two teams go down) are Moreirense, on the wrong side of a 2-0 result at Tondela, who leap five places to 11th. They can thank António Teixeira, who got two excellent goals either side of half-time.
Also out of the drop zone are Algarve club Portimonense after their thrilling 3-2 victory, their first, over Vitória de Guimarães. Hero on the night was Japanese star Nakajima with two very good goals and an assist in a game that was touch and go right up until the final whistle. Heroes too were those Vitória fans who made the 1,200-km round trip for a game that finished at 22.30 on a Sunday night; smart scheduling by the Liga. The game was further notable for the debut as sub for Portimonense of Colombian Jackson Martínez, formerly of FC Porto but most recently plying his trade in China. He’s not fully match fit, that’s clear, but he still showed moments of magic that were reminiscent of his time at Porto.
The jornada kicked off on Friday with Boavista losing 1-2 at home to Chaves. The Panthers played their best football of the season so far – there was a real sense of cohesion for a change – but they went down to a dubious penalty (Neris on William) and a flukey own goal, the ball coming back off the post from a Ghazaryan shot and hitting keeper Helton Leite before rolling in.
Jornada 4 - The VAR’s at it again
The 4th jornada kicked off on Friday with games involving both clubs from the Minho region in the north of Portugal, both finishing in the same result.
Top club Braga went to Chaves and ground out a 1-0 win with a goal from Pablo just before the break. Some talk has been of Braga finally challenging for the title this time, after many seasons of bubbling under. Friday’s result was the kind of game you have to win if you have such dreams. Braga held on to top spot on goal difference ... until Sunday night.
Minho rivals Vitória de Guimarães hosted Tondela and took all three points with a single goal by Wakaso in the first half. The Ghanaian midfielder was involved in an odd incident towards the end: he was in a challenge for the ball with Tondela’s Arango and was shown the red card. Halfway down the tunnel he was called back onto the pitch; the ref had got word from the VAR. Slow-motion replays showed that Wakaso had in fact got the ball and that it was Arango who had studded Wakaso’s shin after the ball had gone. The Colombian got the red and Wakaso stayed on. The VAR was in evidence in two other games, not so positively.
Benfica travelled to Madeira to meet Nacional and went top on goal difference after securing all three points from a 4-0 win, fully deserved; although Nacional showed some very nice approach play, they lacked any bite up front, and when they did have a go, they were stopped by one of Benfica’s revelations, the keeper Vlachodimos. The first two goals were neatly reciprocated: Salvio put Seferovic through on the right for the first, Seferovic crossed to the back post for Salvio to head home for the second. Midway through the second half, Benfica winger Cervi lunged at the breaking Camacho, catching him on the Achilles tendon from behind, with his studs up. He got an immediate yellow, but the ref paused play while he consulted the VAR. Then he waved play on, without even taking a look at the monitor; these kinds of incidents are what the VAR is for, and it’s frankly a disgrace that Cervi didn’t walk. He did a minute later, Rui Vitória replacing him with Rafa Siva, possibly embarrassed that he was still on the field. If they’d been down to ten men, with 25+ minutes to go, it might have been a more difficult task at the end for Benfica. As it was, Grimaldo and Rafa sealed the game tight.
Rio Ave got their second win against a Portimonense that are struggling to find the good form of last season. The Algarve side were reduced to ten men on the hour (Possignolo), and nine on 86 (Manafá). Coach António Folha made subs towards the end to close up shop for the point, but Rio Ave got their winner six minutes into added time through Gelson Dala. For the first red, Possignolo brought the impressive Galeno down on the edge of the box. Cue a five-minute consultation with the VAR to see whether the foul was inside the box; it wasn’t. But the slow-motion replays showed that Rúben Fernandes was bearing down to cover Possignolo, so the latter wasn’t the last man; red wrongly given, and with time to correct the decision. Portimonense languish at the bottom with just one point from their four games.
Sporting also left it very late to see off surprisingly-high-flying Feirense at Alvalade on Saturday. They had 25 shots on goal to Feirense’s six, so the result can’t be deemed anything other than fair, although the visitors must have thought they’d nicked a point as the minutes ticked away. But then there was a bit of argy-bargy in midfield between Feirense full back Vítor Bruno and Nani, with cards for both, and that seemed to disrupt Feirense’s concentration enough for young Cape-Verdean sub Jovane Cabral to sneak home the winner two minutes from time. Feirense have conceded just two goals in four games, and this was the first from open play. Sporting equalled Braga at the top on ten points, and would be joined there by Benfica on Sunday.
The fourth 1-0 result of the jornada favoured Marítimo at Aves, captain Zainadine getting the goal in added time of the first half. Aves, cup-winners last season, partner Portimonense in the drop zone, both on a solitary point.
Belenenses could only draw 0-0 with Vitória de Setúbal, and the two could only draw 1,449 to the National Stadium, Belenenses’ temporary home while an internal dispute makes their spiritual home Estádio do Restelo unavailable.
There was no shortage of goals in the Azores, though, as Santa Clara saw off Boavista 4-2, their first win in the top flight since the last time they were in it, 15 years ago. The game hung in the balance until it was clinched nine minutes into added time by Iraqui midfielder Osama Rashid with his second. Santa Clara have five points, the same as Belenenses.
The jornada ended on Sunday night, exceptionally, ahead of international action in the coming week. FC Porto had to work hard against Moreirense although the win (3-0) was never really in doubt and puts Porto a point behind the top three. Moreirense should be OK – their two defeats have come from games against Porto and Sporting. In Sunday’s game, the VAR was in action again on ten minutes, the ref giving a penalty for a supposed foul by Loum on Aboubakar. Alex Telles had the ball on the spot ready to take the kick when the ref went to the monitor to double-check ... and gave a corner to Porto. Moussa Marega, the Malian forward in dispute with the club until recently, scored the third at the curtain, but the biggest round of applause of the night came ten minutes from time when Brahimi was replaced by midfielder Danilo, out for months through injury. Fernando Santos and fans of the Seleção will also welcome his return.
Jornada 3 - Big Three drop points
It was clássico week in the Liga – coming very early this season, which drew protests from increasingly grumpy Benfica coach Rui Vitória (something about SLB representing Portugal in Europe and their performance being affected in European games by having such an important Liga match so early, almost as if the fixture list should be tailored to accommodate them).
Anyway, Saturday’s derby between Benfica and Sporting in front of 60,000 at the Luz was a typical clássico: tense, tight, untidy and ultimately bad-tempered. The flow of the game can be summarised by the fact that Sporting keeper Salin was Man of the Match; he pulled off a series of excellent saves to deny the much more coherent Benfica. And so it was that when Sporting went ahead, there was a sense of injustice hanging in the air. The goal came from a penalty for a foul by Rúben Dias on Fredy Montero, shaping to shoot in front of goal. Dias was angry, saying he got the ball; yes, but in the same movement he followed through and scissored Montero to the ground. He may also have been shocked that any referee could possibly contemplate giving a penalty against Benfica at the Luz.
Sporting captain Nani planted the spot kick, his third goal of the season. The Liga’s top scorer, Benfica playmaker Pizzi, was tiring and was replaced 15 minutes from time by 18-year-old João Félix. Merit must go to Rui Vitória for blooding and keeping faith with the club’s youngsters – Gedson Fernandes, 19, has been a success story so far this season – and his substitution hit pay-dirt on 86 minutes when João Félix headed home the equaliser, his first senior goal for the club.
The points lost by both sides teed FC Porto up to go clear top. Indeed, the 45,000 Porto fans at the Dragão may have taken this as a given when they were 2-0 up at half time. But they would have been forgetting what happened last week, when FCP were in a similar position at Belenenses but allowed them to draw level before Alex Telles gave Porto the points with a 96th-minute penalty. This time they allowed Vitória de Guimarães, miraculously reinvigorated in the second half, and helped by a momentous display from keeper Douglas, to draw level and then to get a winner through sub Davidson three minutes from time.
FC Porto’s second goal was the object of some controversy: Alex Telles took a free-kick from the left and a clearly offside André Pereira headed in. We on our sofas waited patiently for the VAR to recommend that the goal be disallowed, but no! Play went ahead. It transpired later that communications between the VAR and the on-field ref were down for the last 30 minutes of the first half, but that doesn’t explain why the linesman didn’t see such a clear offside (by at least a metre). Luckily for the health of the discourse, the incident wasn’t ultimately crucial to the result, but it was still very sloppy work from the Liga.
And very sloppy work from the FC Porto defence. They are the first team into double figures for goals scored (ten) but have also conceded five in three games – unheard of for them. Centre-back Iván Marcano, transferred to AS Roma, is obviously missed, and while Salin and Douglas shone for Sporting and Vitória de Guimarães respectively, Iker Casillas, though not exactly at fault for any of the goals, might have made a better fist at stopping Davidson’s winner. “No excuses,” said FCP coach Sérgio Conceição. That’s refreshingly frank, but now he needs get down to work on the training ground.
Speaking of defences, after the Big Three had dropped points, minnows Feirense went into the third jornada with the chance to go clear top if they won at home to Boavista, and as the only team with clean sheets, but that was not to last. In a rambunctious first half, the players seemed to spend more time on the ground than actually running about. On one of those occasions, Boavista got a penalty after busy forward Rochinha made the line and was taken out by Feirense full back Vítor Bruno, who represented Boavista last season; hard-working Argentinian striker Falcone stroked home the spot kick for his first goal in the chequered shirt.
In the first half, Boavista coach Jorge Simão was sent off for words, and early in the second, captain Idris walked for a foul and words; the game produced 40 fouls, seven yellow cards and one red. That’s entertainment.
Boavista’s Helton Leite was another goalkeeper this weekend who performed wonders to keep out the opposition – one of his saves, pushing a Vítor Bruno free-kick round the post with his fingertips, was out of this world – but there was nothing he could do on the hour to stop Edinho’s rocket (notwithstanding the foul on Rochinha that preceded it) that proved enough to give Feirense a point and a share of the top spot with Benfica and Sporting.
Two final notes on the game: Boavista unveiled a curious tactic for stopping daisy-cutters at a free-kick, full back Carraça stretching on the ground behind the wall; and Feirense full back Briseño crossing himself when a goal-kick was given his way, and pumping the air with his fist when he won a throw-in. Bit of a head-banger.
Joining Benfica, Sporting and Feirense on seven points are Braga, used to these heights in recent seasons. It looked like they might come a cropper on Sunday, though, as a first half of dominance over Desportivo das Aves translated into lots of chances (notably two clear open-goal headers for Palhinha and Wilson Eduardo, and a post hit by the former) but no goals at all. Early in the second half they had a penalty shout when Esgaio twisted and crossed, the ball hitting Defendi’s hand. Last week two key penalties had been given in a similar situation after VAR consultation in the Belenenses 2-3 FC Porto game. This time, nothing … and five minutes later, Defendi went up the other end and headed Aves in front. It was like poking a hornets’ nest with a stick. From that moment Braga threw everything forward, in their trademark organised fashion, and got three in 18 minutes to claim the points. Aves have just one point from their three games but on paper are worth more than that.
They join Portimonense in the relegation places (early days, of course). Leaping above them are Madeiran side Nacional, who won 2-1 at Vitória de Setúbal for their first points of the season. One of six teams on three points, Chaves, lost 2-1 at Marítimo on Friday. They were leading from a brilliant William goal on 17 minutes, right until added time in the second half when they lost concentration and let the other Madeiran side in through Barrera and Áfrico on 90+1 and 90+4.
The other two games ended level. Algarve side Portimonense got their first point of the season with a draw at home to Azores side Santa Clara. Portimonense’s Manafá was hero and villain in the space of three minutes, putting his side ahead on 64 minutes and putting through his own goal to equalise for Santa Clara on 67. On Sunday, Tondela and Rio Ave shared the points (1-1), with Tondela’s key striker Tomané sent off in added time.
Closing the 3rd jornada was Moreirense v Belenenses. the home coach, Ivo Vieira, had predicted an open game. The away coach, Silas, had talked about the importance of “product over result”. They were both right. It was an exciting, end-to-end game with many chances but that looked to be finishing deadlocked until the 76th minute when Keita put Belenenses ahead. Last week, they lost to FC Porto with a 96th minute penalty. This time they lost two points with a scrappy goal by João Aurélio in the 95th minute; they need to mark the well-known saying: “It ain’t over till ...”.
Jornada 2 - VAR decisive
After just two games, the ‘cream’ has already risen to the top, the Big Three accompanied by a surprising guest.
FC Porto lead on goal difference, but they left it till the 96th minute to beat Belenenses, playing at the National Stadium (‘Jamor’) for the first time this season (following a dispute between the corporate arm of the club and the club itself). The game was notable for two almost identical interventions from the VAR. FC Porto were 2-0 up when Belenenses pulled one back through a Fredy spot kick on 55 minutes, the diminutive Angolan forward approaching the ball with baby steps to try to outwit Casillas; he did. The penalty was given for a handball at close range, Diogo Leite’s outstretched hand stopping a goalwards shot by Dálcio. Keita made it level on 83 minutes; cue a Porto desperate not to drop points so early on in the season. They threw everything at Belenenses, and on 92 minutes, Herrera’s shot, like Dálcio’s, was going goalwards, but the ball skimmed off Henriques’ arm and wide. The ref, Carlos Xistra, was given the heads up by the VAR, he went to have a look on the touchline, and four minutes later, Alex Telles put the spot kick past Muriel for all three points.
Sporting had a similarly hard time of it to beat Vitória de Setúbal at Alvalade, possibly disrupted psychologically by goings-on at the stadium the day before, when former president Bruno de Carvalho turned up claiming he was still president; the police were called and he was asked to leave. Sporting needed two goals from returning hero Nani to see off Vitória, for whom local favourite Zequinha has also returned and scored.
Sporting are on identical goal difference (5-2) as Benfica, who had an easier time of it at the Bessa. Coach Rui Vitória said that they could have scored 6 or 7, and while that’s an exaggeration, they were indeed superior to Boavista, whose coach Jorge Simão admitted as much. But he will not have been pleased with his defence, who gifted Benfica their goals; Carraça and Idris let in Ferreyra for his first of the season, and in the second half Neris got caught on the ball and Pizzi fired home his fourth of the season. After a good opening display at Portimonense, Boavista were very poor.
The unexpected guests at the top table are Feirense, who visited Vitória de Guimarães and beat them, Fábio Sturgeon providing the only goal against the club he represented last season. Feirense are the only team not to have conceded a goal so far. Vitória have no points.
Feirense take what Sporting Braga might consider to be their rightful place (at least it was last season). They were 3-0 up at half time against Santa Clara in the Azores and came out for the second half smiling and slapping backs, confident, apparently, that the points were in the bag; lots of chickens being counted there. Santa Clara got three in a 19-minute spell to take a point, their first. It was a bad week for Braga, knocked out of the Europa League on Thursday by Ukrainian side Zorya.
Seven teams have three points, one of them, Rio Ave getting their first points by beating Marítimo, another of the seven.
Sharing 0 points with Vitória de Guimarães at the bottom are Portimonense, who lost 2-0 for the second time, at Chaves, and Nacional, who lost 1-2 at home to Moreirense. It was Chaves and Moreirense’s first points.
Down there also are Aves and Tondela, who shared the points in the opening game of the jornada (2-2).
Jornada 1 - And they’re off!
The Portuguese Liga has kicked off, all nine games providing a winner.
The most striking result was perhaps reigning Champions FC Porto’s 5-0 demolition of Chaves, looking a bit shell-shocked under new coach Daniel Ramos, formerly of Marítimo; FCP would have been the last team they wanted to meet on the first jornada.
Algerian winger Yacine Brahimi was in irrepressible form, going on a series of slalom runs through Chaves’ right flank, especially in the first half; if he could reproduce that confidence and incisiveness in Europe … but then it’s doubtful that FCP will be meeting many defences as wobbly as Chaves’ this season. The winger was involved in an incident with Chaves’ Niltinho (above) which has brought an official complaint from Benfica, demanding a red card/suspension after the fact.
Brahimi got one goal, the Cameroonian striker Vincent Aboubakar two. He took advantage of an injury to Tiquinho Soares in last weekend’s Supertaça game against Aves (3-1), to stake a firm claim for the no. 9 position. And Porto were without Malian steamroller Moussa Marega, the club’s top scorer last season with 21 goals, who is in dispute with the club (he’s been wanting to leave, but although it seems he’ll be staying now, he’s training apart from the rest of the squad for the time being).
Another highlight for FCP was Uruguayan right back Maxi Pereira, 34 going on 20; he’s first choice again after the departure of Ricardo Pereira to Leicester, and it seems to have given him a new lease of life. Meanwhile, Chadian forward Marius Mouandilmadji, actually 20 years old, came on as a late sub for his Liga début and scored FCP’s fifth in the 88th minute.
Another youngster who is setting things alight is Benfica’s Gedson Fernandes, from São Tomé e Príncipe, a 4x4 midfielder who’s quick, strong, skilful and confident way beyond his 19 years. Credit to coach Rui Vitória for having the courage to start him against Vitória de Guimarães in the Liga opener on Friday, but the way he’s playing, there actually doesn’t seem to be so much risk involved. He helped Benfica take a 3-0 lead into the break, all the goals well taken by Pizzi.
It looked like a breeze … until the whistle for the second half kick-off. Vitória came back well and Benfica almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory (3-2). The second half would have done club president Luís Filipe Vieira no good at all; he was hospitalised after feeling unwell the day before the game.
Benfica’s new signings for the front line, the Chilean Nicolás Castillo and the Argentinian Facundo Ferreyra, have been called into action due to uncertainty over the future of last season’s top scorer in the Liga, Jonas (34 goals). At the moment, Castillo looks to be more ready for the fray.
Down the road at Sporting, it’s been one hell of a summer. After the attack on the training ground by disgruntled fans near the end of the season, the president Bruno de Carvalho was ousted, several players unilaterally terminated their contracts, and the sky looked black over Alvalade. But they started with the right result (1-3), albeit after falling behind at Moreirense. Two of the players that seemed likely to leave but stayed got the goals: Bruno Fernandes and two from Dutchman Bas Dost, who was the Liga’s second-top scorer last time with 27.
Nipping at the Big Three’s ankles will once again be Sporting Braga, coach Abel going into his second full season, ensuring continuity, although some key players have left, including midfield stalwart Nikola Vukcevic to Spanish side Levante. In a free-scoring game at The Quarry (4-2), three players got two: for Braga, Dyego Sousa, looking strong, and Ricardo Horta, looking mischievous; for Nacional, Honduran Bryan Róchez, looking useful. On this showing, Nacional should have a comfy season, with some work on their defence.
Elsewhere, perennial Europa League chasers Rio Ave came a cropper at Feirense (2-0) on a pitch that looked like they’d been growing turnips there in the summer break; perhaps a deliberate ploy to make it difficult for better teams to play football there? Veteran Portugal international Edinho, who comes in from Vitória de Setúbal, got the second to tie the game up.
His old team, with local favourite Zequinha, now 31, returning, beat Desportivo das Aves (2-0), who lost their second match in a week, after the Supertaça defeat to FC Porto. Vitória are now in the hands of super-competent Lito Vidigal, the only non-Portuguese coach in the Liga (Angolan).
Madeiran side Marítimo won the battle of the islands, beating Santa Clara from the Azores with a penalty in the 97th minute. The referee appointed to the game couldn’t get to Madeira because of cancelled flights, so a second category local ref had to be used. But C2 refs are not accredited to deal with the Video Assistant Referee, so none was used. The penalty, for a debatable handball, might have needed a consultation with the VAR, but …
Boavista closed the jornada with their first away win in 2018, 2-0 at Algarve side Portimonense, who under new coach António Folha looked a shadow of last season’s team. Boavista coach Jorge Simão has associated the name Boavistão (‘The Mighty Boavista’) to this season’s side; the expression dates back to the 70s and the time when they began to be a force to be reckoned with under legendary coach José Maria Pedroto. To be honest, they haven’t looked so mighty in previous games, including when they were knocked out of the Taça da Liga by Nacional. But Monday’s performance was the best from them for some time. Next up: Benfica at the Bessa!
Finally, Belenenses put their internal strife behind them to grab a win by a single goal (a cracker from Fredy) at Tondela. Belenenses Club and Belenenses Company are in dispute, forcing the team out of their ancestral home (Restelo) and along the coast a couple of miles to the National Stadium. But this first game was played at tiny Tondela in front of 2,010, the lowest attendance of the jornada. Benfica had 55,219 for Vitória de Guimarães. Tondela’s operating budget for the season is 2.5 million euros. Benfica’s is 70 million.
It’s a sloping pitch before we even start.