Archive for the ‘Sporting Braga’ Category

Andre Silva

The editors of PortugalFutbol.net and FutebolFactory.com are proud to announce our annual list of 10 players to watch this season. After much deliberation, we whittled down the pool of talented players to ten, but couldn’t help but add some honorable mentions. These are players who we believe have a realistic shot at making it to the senior Portuguese National Team by the end of the season.

Miguel Silva, Vitória Guimarães, Goalkeeper

The 21-year-old goalkeeper was outstanding at times last season. The highlight was a probably scoreless draw against Sporting CP in February. He has good size for a goalkeeper but is also blessed with good aerial ability. Pedro Martins replaced Sérgio Conceição this summer at Vitória Guimarães, which could mean Silva is relegated to the bench. But, there is little doubt the young keeper will one day be first choice.

Nélson Semedo, Benfica, Right-Back

Last season, he earned a spot in Rui Vitória’s squad for the Super Cup against Sporting CP after an excellent pre-season. He scored his first senior goal a week later against Estoril. In October, Fernando Santos handed him a start in a Euro 2016 qualifier against Serbia. But his meteoric rise came to an end after he suffered a major knee injury with the national team. He would miss several months and played sparingly after returning when Benfica was in a title race. If he stays healthy, Semedo should be a key part of Benfica’s squad this season.

Rúben Semedo, Sporting, Centre-Back

After a successful half-season on loan at Vitória Setúbal last season, Semedo was recalled to Sporting in January, where he played a huge role in the team’s excellent defensive record. In the 14 matches Semedo featured in, Sporting only conceded eight goals. This season, it remains unclear how prominent of a role Rúben Semedo will play in Sporting’s backline. But if last season was anything to go on, this Sporting team will find success through rotation, meaning that Semedo will get a chance to show his worth.

Rúben Neves, FC Porto, Central Midfielder

Already Porto’s youngest scorer in the league, the youngest Portuguese player to play in the Champions League, and the youngest player ever to captain a team in the Champions League, Neves has a bright future ahead of him. His quality is evident, and if he is used similarly to the past two seasons, Neves will mainly play a rotation role, ready to fill in should Danilo get injured. But as Neves continues to develop, Porto coach Nuno Espírito Santo may be forced to give him a more prominent role on the team.

João Carlos Teixeira, FC Porto, Attacking Midfielder

He could prove to be an excellent steal for Porto. Teixeira left Sporting CP for Liverpool at the tender age of 20 but never settled at the club, despite a positive loan spell at Brighton and Hove Albion in 2014-15. After Jurgen Klopp replaced Brendan Rodgers, Teixeira was used in cup matches. Still, he did not factor in the German’s plans for this season. He will have to compete for playing time this year at Cidade Invicta, but Teixeira has talent in abundance and is at the age where many players take a major step forward.

André Horta, Benfica, Attacking Midfielder

After a handful of appearances for Vitória Setúbal in the 2014/2015 season, Horta was given a starting spot last season, and did not disappoint. Renato Sanches’s departure to Bayern Munich opened up a spot in Benfica’s midfield. Rui Vitória, always looking to youth, has turned to Horta as the next heir to the throne. If his pre-season performances are any reflection, Horta looks to have secured a spot in the team’s midfield. And should he continue his form throughout the season, Fernando Santos just may have another quality midfielder to add to his growing list.

Iuri Medeiros, Sporting CP, Winger

The Azorean attacker was terrific last season at Moreirense, on loan from Sporting CP. And before that, with Arouca. João Mário’s move to Serie A looking increasingly imminent, which will leave a major gap in the team’s attack. Medeiros feels comfortable in midfield and on the wings, but was primarily used on the right side at Moreirense, and looks a good candidate for Mário’s spot. His best attributes are his close-control, dribbling, vision and goal-scoring ability. The 22-year-old has already scored goals against FC Porto and Benfica.

Ricardo Horta, SC Braga, Winger

The 21-year-old spent two lacklustre seasons at Málaga, in which he was in and out of the squad. But he has remained a key part of Portugal’s youth squads. He has been loaned to Braga for this season, as a suitable replacement for Rafa Silva who is likely to leave this month. He should get a chance to play at A Pedreira this season. José Peseiro’s focus on attacking football should favour a player like Horta. And it should be a real pleasure to watch him play against his brother André, who joined Benfica in the summer.

Gonçalo Guedes, Benfica, Winger

Benfica coach Rui Vitória was busy signing players this summer and Guedes’s place could be under threat. New arrivals such as Franco Cervi, Andrija Živković, and André Carrillo, coupled with Salvio’s return to fitness, mean Guedes will have to convince Rui Vitória he belongs in the starting XI. But with recent news of Jonas’s injury and subsequent surgery, perhaps Guedes could find a spot in Benfica’s team outside of his usual position. Already capped twice at senior level, a solid season could see Guedes factor into Fernando Santos’s plans.

André Silva, FC Porto, Striker

Portugal’s woes in the striking department have been evident since the retirement of Seleção legend Pauleta in 2006, but the road ahead looks bright with André Silva. In last season’s Taça de Portugal final, Silva’s scored twice, the second of which an excellent last-minute overhead kick. With former first-choice striker Vincent Aboubakar faltering and many of Porto’s striking reinforcements from last season primed to leave, all signs point toward this season being Silva’s for the taking.

Honorable Mentions

Daniel Podence, Sporting, Winger
Ivo Rodrigues, Paços Ferreira, Winger
Paulo Henrique, Paços Ferreira, Left-Back
Andrezinho, Paços Ferreira, Attacking Midfielder
Gil Dias, Rio Ave, Winger
Xande Silva, Vitória Guimarães, Forward
Fabinho, Feirense, Attacking Midfielder
Ricardo Ferreira, Braga, Center Back

This article was a collaboration between Rui Miguel Martins of FutebolFactory.com and Sam Biggers of PortugalFutbol.net.

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2015-16 Team of the Season

Goalkeepers

It was an excellent year for goalkeepers. The nod in goal should go to Sporting and Portugal number one Rui Patricio who had his best season as a professional. Ederson (Benfica) and Gottardi (Arouca) certainly deserve some recognition in this category as well. A special acknowledgement should also go to youngsters Miguel Silva (Vitória Guimarães) and André Moreira (União da Madeira).

Defenders

At the centre-back position, Jardel and Victor Lindelöf helped propel Benfica to the title. It is an unlikely story. Jardel has never been the quickest or most technically-gifted, but has still managed to put together a solid career. Lindelöf began the season with the B squad. Injuries to Luisão and Lisandro Lopez allowed the Swede to establish himself. Together, they were the backbone of the championship-winning side. It is an obvious choice in the end.

At the full-back positions, Porto pair Miguel Layún and Maxi Pereira are the most deserving. Layún finished joint-leader in assists with 15. An amazing total especially for a full-back. He also pitched in five goals. While, Maxi did not miss a beat after making the sensational move to the Dragões. Ruben Semedo was also excellent for Vitoria de Setubal and parent-club Sporting. Marvin Zeegelaar was terrific for Rio Ave in the first-half of the season. And Benfica’s Nelson Semedo was excellent prior to his injury.

Midfielders

There are many good choices in midfield. Danilo Pereira seems like an obvious choice in the role of anchor. The Portuguese international was Porto’s most consistent performer this season. Portugal will have two excellent options in the ‘number 6’ position in France. William Carvalho missed the first several weeks due to a leg injury but eventually found his rhythm.

It would be a crime to overlook Renato Sanches. He only made his debut in late October but there is no denying that Benfica really began to hit their stride with the 18-year-old in his line-up. Despite suffering through injuries, Nicolas Gaitan still managed to lead the league in assists (alongside Layún). João Mário gets the slightest edge over Braga’s Rafa Silva. The Sporting midfielder took a major step forward in his career this season. His Sporting teammate Adrien was consistently good this season. Iuri Medeiros (Moreirense) and Diogo Jota (Paços de Ferreira) established themselves as players to watch.

Forwards

The obvious choices are Jonas and Islam Slimani. Jonas was dominant again this season leading the league in goals again with 32. He also added 14 assists. While Slimani managed to come second in goal with 27. Despite a relatively slow start, Kostas Mitroglou notched 20 goals for Benfica. Outside the “Big Three” Estoril’s Brazilian striker Leo Bonatini is one to watch scoring 17 goals this season. He should move on to a bigger club in the summer.

Bench

Ederson, Ruben Semedo, William, Adrien, Diogo Jota, Iuri Medeiros and Mitroglou.

Sporting-Benfica

Lisbon derbys always draw up a lot of excitement in the Portuguese capital. Jorge Jesus’ sensational move from Benfica to Sporting in the summer just added fuel to the already tense rivalry between the two sides. When the final whistle was heard at the Estádio da Luz on Sunday, Jesus had earned the last laugh with a 3-0 victory against his former club.

Despite a positive start for the home side, Sporting managed to grab an early lead when Colombian striker Teo Gutiérrez was able to get on the end of a long pass by Adrien. In the 21st minute, Islam Slimani scored with a thunderous header from a Jefferson cross. And later in the 1st half, Bryan Ruiz pounced on a rebound to put Sporting up 3-0.

Jorge Jesus’ return to the Estádio da Luz could not have gone more to plan. The loss will no doubt sting Benfiquistas supporters as much as it enthralls Sportinguistas.

It was Benfica’s first loss at home in a league match since a 3-2 defeat to FC Porto on 2 March, 2012, ending a run of 55 matches unbeaten. The result also had a far-reaching impact when it comes to the title race. Sporting now sit alone at the top of the table with 20 points after eight matchdays. Benfica remain eight points back, but have played one fewer match than their rivals.

Last year’s champions have now lost the first three matches of the season against the other two members of the ‘Big Three.’ But Benfica will get an opportunity to avenge this loss when they face Sporting again in Portuguese Cup action on 21 November.

What the managers said

Sporting manager Jorge Jesus:

“I did not expect to win 3-0. Did I believe Sporting would win. Yes. But not 3-0.”

“I am very happy to earn three points at the Estádio da Luz, especially considering the environment surrounding this match. I have a lot of respect for our opponents and Benfica. But, I want to give Sporting a lot of credit for the way they played. It is not easy to win 3-0 here.”

“There is a lot of pride in this victory. I spent six years at Benfica and played Sporting 14 times. Sporting only won once. Since I arrived here, we have played Benfica twice and won twice.”

“It was a brilliant victory at a place where I had some brilliant games and brilliant years…I am used to having great moments here [at the Luz]. Sporting played a great match.”

Benfica manager Rui Vitoria:

“It was a very unusual match. We created pressure in the Sporting zone to start, but after a fortunate bounce, they scored. That got into our player’s heads. Afterwards, we raised our game again, but Sporting scored a second and a third. It was a very unjust match because we thought that we were playing well. Sporting really took their opportunities.”

“I have gone through much worse professionally and personally. We do not want to go through moments like this but it is part of the growing process. We need to remember that we are Benfica and at this club we fight until the very end.”

“It is important to know that when we lose we need to be able to analyze. I have gone through a lot but this is one of the worst results I have been a part of.”

FC Porto held by Braga

FC Porto missed their chance to catch Sporting in the late match on Sunday. Julen Lopetegui’s side were unable to solve Braga and had to settle for a scoreless draw. They now sit in 2nd spot, two points behind Sporting. After the match, Lopetegui downplayed the significance.

“We are going into the 9th matchday. There is still a lot of time left. We are on a positive path and if we continue, we will be champions in the end.”

“We put a lot of players forward [against Braga]. We finished the match with three defenders and only one midfielder. We were in control throughout the match. But if we do not score, football will punish you.”

It was another positive result for Paulo Fonseca’s Braga club. Os Arsenalistas beat French giants Olympique Marseille in the Europa League on Thursday to bring their group stage record to three wins from three. The draw at the Estádio do Dragão means they sit in 4th position in the Primeira Liga.

In other action, Rio Ave gave up a late lead to Estoril and drew 2-2. Both clubs finished the match with ten men. Pedro Martins’ side remain in third place. Belenenses’ moved up to 10th in the table after a 1-0 victory against União da Madeira in the Monday night match. Second half substitute Tiago Caeiro scored in the 90th minute to give his team the victory.

Dani Osvaldo FC Porto

Sporting and FC Porto received most of the headlines this weekend after resounding victories in match-day seven of the Primeira Liga season. Both clubs share top spot in the table with 17 points each.

After a famous victory against former manager Jose Mourinho and Chelsea during the week, the Dragões trounced Belenenses 4-0 at home on Sunday. After a scoreless first-half, summer signing Jesús Corona put Porto ahead just after the break. Brahimi, Osvaldo and Marcano rounded out the scoring.

Manager Julen Lopetegui credited his club’s mental strength for the victory.

“We deserved to be winning at half-time, but couldn’t score, despite our superiority, as we missed too many shots. We had several situations to score, played well, facing a team with good players, and we were waiting on the perfect timing. The team had mentality, was capable of working and winning,” he said.

The win may have come at a price. Team captain and defensive-stalwart Maicon may be on the sidelines for a few weeks after leaving the match in the first-half with a thigh injury.

Sporting followed up a disappointing 1-1 draw against Beşiktaş in the Europa League, with a convincing 5-1 win against Vitória Guimarães at Alvalade. Islam Slimani scored a hat-trick, with Teo Gutiérrez and Adrien Silva scoring the other two. It may have been Sporting’s most complete performance of the season.

William Carvalho made his first appearance at Alvalade after returning from a leg injury and looked to be in top form.

“Yes, this performance was a good response. We have worked hard, despite the problems,” he said.

“The objective is to play well and win. Now we have to work hard and think about the next match.”

Last year’s champions Benfica had their match against União de Madeira postponed because of thick fog. A new date has not been announced.

Outside the ‘Big Three,’ Rio Ave is the biggest surprise so far. Pedro Martins’ club sit alone in third position. Braga could only manage a scoreless draw against Arouca but still sit comfortably in fourth position. Benfica rounds off the top five, with one game at hand.

Moreirense and Academica currently sit in the relegation zone with three points each. Academica won their first match of the season beating Marítimo 1-0. Moreirense played Tondela to a 1-1 draw and remain the only club without a league victory this season.

The Liga NOS will now go on a two-week hiatus for the international break and the Portuguese Cup. On 25 October, Benfica and Sporting will clash at the Estádio da Luz. FC Porto will also play Braga.

André Carrillo and Sporting heading for a split?

It looks like André Carrillo is on his way out of Sporting. The Peruvian had not dressed for the club for several matches because of on-going contract negotiations.

Last week, the drama turned into a full-fledged saga when the club announced that they had formally suspended the player. They also released a 32-point press release detailing alleged acts of impropriety by Carrillo and his representatives.

The club accused Carrillo and his people of deliberately sabotaging negotiations. Sporting also accused the player and his representatives of trying to force his way out of the club, among other allegations.

Carrillo was signed by the club in 2011 from Alianza Lima. He was one of the very few good signings by Luís Godinho Lopes. Current club president Bruno de Carvalho spoke about Carrillo on the TVI program Prolongamento on Monday.

“Carrillo told me that he no longer wanted to play for Sporting because he was no longer committed to us,” he said.

“We tried to re-sign Carrillo for a year and a half. In football, there are problems that just cannot be resolved.”

Carrillo’s contract expires this summer which means the club will have to sell him during the January transfer window.

Cristiano Ronaldo hits a milestone and surpasses Raul

It seems like every week Cristiano Ronaldo is breaking a new record. This past week, the Portugal captain scored his 500th career goal and also surpassed Real Madrid legend Raul to become the club’s all-time leading scorer.

Ronaldo was put in alone by Isco in the first-half of Real Madrid’s Champions League match against Malmö FF. And he made no mistake. Late in the second half, he flicked Lucas Vázquez’s pass into the goal, as Real won 2-0.

It has been a long, remarkable journey for the boy from Madeira. He scored his first senior goal for Sporting on 7 October, 2002 against Moreirense. Back then, he was just another in a line of supremely-talented wingers coming out of the club’s Alcochete academy.

So much has happened since then. His transfer to Manchester United, Euro 2004, Germany 2006, Moscow 2008, Real Madrid, Euro 2012, Lisbon 2014 and that special night in Stockholm. Not to mention the three Ballon d’Or.

It is hard to believe that he will ever slow down. Although, his game has changed since he turned 30 last year. Ronaldo seems to have lost the ability to score from free-kicks. And he no longer scores from distance as he once did.

But, his decline appears to be a long way off. Although, he appears to be evolving into a one-touch goalscorer, his production is not dropping. And given his well-known commitment to fitness and his desire, Ronaldo should be able to play at a very high level for several more seasons.

Seleção to face Denmark on Thursday in Braga

Portugal will play Denmark in Braga on Thursday. The Seleção sit first in Group I with 15 points. A draw will be enough to qualify for Euro 2016 next summer. They will travel to Serbia after the match.

“It is true that we are close to qualifying, but we still have a lot to do. It will be two difficult matches [against Denmark and Serbia],” Portugal manager Fernando Santos said.

“Denmark is a club of great quality, both collectively and individually. For Denmark, this is a final because it is their last match of the group. We need to approach this match as a final as well.”

Benfica right-back Nelson Semedo received his first senior call-up. João Moutinho, Tiago and Fábio Coentrão were selected after sitting out previous matches because of injuries. Luis Neto and Rafa Silva also return to the squad.

William Carvalho, Raphael Guerreiro, Andre Gomes, Pepe, Paulo Oliveira and Vieirinha were left out because of injuries or fitness issues. Goalkeeper Anthony Lopes was originally selected but was forced to withdraw after coming down with gastroenteritis. Dinamo Zagreb’s Eduardo was named in his place.

Portugal’s U21 squad will continue their Euro 2017 qualifying campaign this week against Hungary, before facing Greece on Tuesday. Rui Jorge’s squad beat Albania 6-1 in their first qualifying match last month. However, they will have to make do without André Silva who is out with an ankle injury.

Mexican Winger Jesus Corona Joins FC Porto

Mexican Winger Jesus Corona Joins FC Porto

Portuguese clubs were busy up to the final hours of this summer’s transfer window. The August 31st deadline marked the end of one of the most eventful transfer periods in recent memory.

FC Porto was the most active in the final days, signing Mexican pair Jesús Corona and Miguel Layún. The club signed Corona from Twente for €10,5 million and will possess 70% of his ownership rights. While, full-back Layún arrives on loan from Watford. He should bolster the club’s flanks after the departure of both Danilo and Alex Sandro.

Porto also loaned out Ricardo Pereira, Adrián López, Hernâni and Juan Quintero. Former Portuguese international Rolando moved to French giants Marseille on a permanent deal, finally ending a long standoff with the club.

Benfica made two low profile signings on Monday. Marvin Loría arrived on-loan from Deportivo Saprissa in Costa Rica. The deal includes an option to buy. They also signed defender Emir Azemovic from Partizan Belgrade. Both players are expected to remain with the B squad this season. The club also loaned Daniel Candeias to Ligue 2 club Metz.

But it was the deals they made on Tuesday that drew much attention. The transfer deadline was one day later in England than most of Europe and Benfica took advantage, sending two underachieving players on-loan to the Championship. Dutch Winger Ola John joined Reading FC and Nelson Oliveira moved to Nottingham Forest. For Oliveira, it is his sixth loan since 2009.

Sporting sold Chilean striker Diego Rubio to Spanish second division club Real Valladolid. Defender Ramy Rabia was also sold to Egyptian club Al-Ahly for €750,000. Wilson Eduardo, who has spent the last few seasons on loan, was allowed to join Braga. No terms have been released.

Braga and Belenenses bolster their line-ups

Outside of the ‘Big Three’, Braga made several good signings. Os Guerreiros do Minho signed highly rated Brazilian midfielder Filipe Augusto on-loan from Rio Ave. They also signed Spanish midfielder Aarón Ñíguez on a free transfer after he opted out of his contract with Elche.

And they made possibly the most surprising move of any Portuguese club in the final week, sending Pedro Tiba on loan to Real Valladolid. Tiba blamed Braga manager Paulo Fonseca for his loss of playing time.

“Why did I stop being a starter? Ask the manager! I came here [Valladolid] because I knew that I would not be as happy as I was last season. I was called up to three league matches and did not leave the bench. Am I ready to play? Of course I am,” he said.

The club also loaned Colombian forward Erik Moreno to Real Valladolid, along with Tiba. Tiago Gomes moved to Metz on a season-long loan as well. Brazilian defender Aderlan Santos was sold to Valencia. Braga announced that they made a handsome profit of €16,3 million from the transfer window, proving once again that the club is a model of fiscal management.

Lisbon-area club Belenenses qualified for the group stages of the Europa League last week. They significantly boosted their chances of advancing into the knockout stages by making two very cost-effective deals. They signed Cape-Verdan winger Kuca on loan from Karabükspor. He was excellent last season for Estoril. They also signed Luís Leal on a season-long loan from APOEL.

AS Monaco add Marcos Lopes and Fábio Coentrão

Leonardo Jardim continues to put his stamp on AS Monaco, signing Marcos Lopes and Fábio Coentrão. Coentrão arrives on loan from Real Madrid. The Portuguese international will be looking to revive his career after two injury-plagued seasons at the Bernabeu.

Marcos ‘Rony’ Lopes signed a five-year deal with Monaco. His departure from Manchester City caught many by surprise, even his own manager it seems. Just hours before the deal was announced Manuel Pellegrini told media that the 19-year-old would be loaned out this season.

Lopes famously scored just minutes after coming on in his senior debut with the club in a January 2013 League Cup match against Watford. It seemed that he was destined to be the first academy graduate to establish himself in the senior squad since the club was bought by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008. But it was not meant to be.

The deal seems to reflect a new reality in football. Rich clubs like Manchester City are under immense pressure to win championships every season and therefore, they do not have the time or patience to develop young footballers. Teams like City, Manchester United, Chelsea, and others are preferring instead to buy the finished product.

Still, it looks like it could be an excellent move for Marcos Lopes. He spent last season on loan at Lille and knows the French league well.

“Monaco is an excellent club for a player to develop. It is going to be a good challenge for me,” he said.

Monaco will be a club to watch for fans of the Portuguese game. Coentrão and Lopes join Bernardo Silva, Ivan Cavaleiro, Ricardo Carvalho, João Moutinho and Hélder Costa, to bring the total to seven Portuguese players.

In Spain, the club to watch is Valencia, which boasts three talented young Portuguese players in Ruben Vezo, Andre Gomes and João Cancelo. Not to mention Portuguese manager Nuno Espírito Santo. There are also strong Portuguese contingents at Real Madrid and Sevilla.

In two lesser known cases, English Championship side Sheffield Wednesday has a strong Portuguese presence as well. As does Ligue 2 club Metz, which recently added Daniel Candeias and Tiago Gomes.

Elsewhere, Portugal U21 defender Tiago Ilori was loaned by Liverpool to Premier League club Aston Villa. It will be his third loan spell since leaving Sporting in 2013. Undoubtedly talented but he has been terribly unlucky with injuries.

Seleção in action

Portugal will face Euro 2016 hosts France in a friendly on Friday in Lisbon before traveling to Albania for a qualifier next Monday. Fernando Santos will be without Moutinho, William Carvalho, Coentrão and Andre Gomes because of injuries.

According to reports, Santos has been practicing with a midfield trio of Danilo, Adrien and João Mário. The Portuguese manager is expected to drop the ‘false 9’ in favour of Éder as the striker, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani. French-born Adrien spoke about the match against France.

“France is a great squad but so is Portugal. I believe it will be a very close match. We need to control possession and take advantage of France’s weaknesses,” Adrien.

Portugal are in first-place in group I with three matches left. The Seleção lost to Albania 1-0 in their first Euro 2016 qualifying match last September. It would prove to be Paulo Bento’s last match in charge of Portugal. No doubt revenge will be on the mind of some of the players.

Rui Jorge’s new-look U21 squad will also face Albania in its first Euro 2017 qualifier on 8 September. It is the squad’s first match since the loss to Sweden on penalties in the final at the last European Championships earlier this summer. Gonçalo Paciência was forced to withdraw because of an ankle injury. Belenenses winger Fábio Sturgeon has taken his place on the squad.

Braga Team Photo

Overview: Sporting Braga will look very different this season. On the touchline, Paulo Fonseca replaces Sérgio Conceição who led the club to a 21 point improvement and a place in the Portuguese Cup final last campaign. Conceição’s brash style put him at odds with club president António Salvador.

Fonseca will get a second chance to prove he could handle a bigger stage after his previous tenure at FC Porto ended with him being dismissed in less than a year. Braga has been a good breeding ground for young managers in the past. Leonardo Jardim, Domingos Paciência and Conceição have all done well there.

The club lost several important players from last season including Pardo, Danilo, Sasso, Ruben Micael, Éder and Zé Luís. In response, Braga loaded up on unproven youngsters with good potential such as Matheus Pereira, Joan Román and Fábio Martins.

Os Arsenalistas are hoping to hold on to goalkeeper Matheus, as well as highly-rated midfielders Rafa Silva and Pedro Tiba. The departure of Éder and Zé Luís has left the club without a proven striker as well. Although neither were entirely convincing last season, they still managed to score 18 goals between them. Fonseca will need to replace that production.

Key Additions: Crislan (Penapolense), Rui Fonte (Benfica), Matheus Pereira (Corinthians), Ricardo Ferreira (Paços de Ferreira), Joan Román (Barcelona), Alef (Marseille), Rodrigo Battaglia (Moreirense), Fábio Martins (Sp. Braga B), Rodrigo Pinho (Madureira), Tiago Sá (Sp. Braga B)

Key Subtractions: Pardo (Olympiacos), Danilo (Valencia), Zé Luís (Spartak Moscow), Dolly Menga (Tondela), Sasso (Sheffield Wednesday), Éder (Swansea), Salvador Agra (Nacional), Vítor Golas, Ruben Micael (Shijiazhuang Yongchang)

Manager Profile: 42-year-old Paulo Fonseca is going into his first season with Braga. He had previous success in two stints with Paços de Ferreira, leading them to a best-ever third-place finish in 2012-13. He won the Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira in 2013 during his time with FC Porto.

Players To Watch: Portuguese U21 midfielder Rafa Silva has been linked with several big clubs. If he stays, he should play a central role in Paulo Fonseca’s system this season. With Ruben Micael leaving for China, Rafa could move back to his natural position as playmaker or ‘number 10’ in midfield after playing as a winger for most of the past two seasons.

Expectations: Winning the league title is probably beyond any fan’s realistic projections. However, a top-three finish is very possible especially if things do not go well for one of the ‘Big Three.’ The club will be taking part in the group stage of the Europa League this season and should advance to the knockout stages, at least.

Photo: SL Benfica/Isabel Cutileiro

Photo: SL Benfica/Isabel Cutileiro

The new Primeira Liga season will commence on August 15th. And like always, there is no shortage of intriguing storylines to follow.

The Portuguese top flight has been expanded to 18 clubs from 16. Boavista has been allowed to return to the top division after a court decision deemed a previous relegation to be illegal.

And despite the modest resources of Portuguese clubs, the Primeira Liga always seems to produce excellent players every season. The ‘Big Three’ of Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and FC Porto, appear evenly matched, making the title race too close to call.

Here is a list of the top storylines to watch this season in Portugal.

Julen Lopetegui At FC Porto

Julen Lopetegui is best known for his success with Spain’s youth squads, and for a period managing Real Madrid’s reserve squad. Except for a short tenure in charge of Rayo Vallecano in 2003, the Spaniard has no prior coaching experience at senior level. But club president Pinto da Costa has had a long history of putting his trust in young, promising managers and has seen it pay off. Paulo Fonseca being the obvious exception last season.

Lopetegui has wasted no time building a squad in his own image. He has brought in Cristian Tello, Adrián López, Óliver Torres, and Casemiro. Porto has not gone more than one season without winning a league title since 2001-02. And with Benfica winning last season, and Sporting Lisbon getting stronger, FC Porto’s place as Portugal’s dominant force is being brought into question. The pressure is on.

Big Changes At Benfica

Portuguese clubs are used to losing their best players the summer after they win the league title. Success tends to elevate the value of players. And Portuguese clubs need to consistently sell players in order to be able to sign new players and stay competitive. But this played out to the extreme this summer, when defending champions Benfica sold an unusual amount of key players, including Ezequiel Garay, Jan Oblak and long-time target-man Oscar Cardozo.

The important question that many people are asking about Benfica going into the new season, is whether they could come together as a team quick enough to repeat as champions. The club’s scouting system is so strong that it always manages to find quality replacements. And for the first time in several years, Benfica have some intriguing academy graduates like João Teixeira.

Bebé At The Luz

The story of Tiago Manuel Dias Correia (known as Bebé) made headlines when he made a surprise move to Manchester United in 2010. But a lot has happened since then including growing out of favour at Old Trafford. He endured lackluster loan spells at Beşiktaş and Rio Ave as well, before enjoying a terrific second-half with Paços de Ferreira last season. Bebé demonstrated that he has the potential to be a quality centre-forward.

And it appears like he will get every opportunity to succeed at Benfica. The club lost two of their top three strikers from last season. Last year’s leading goalscorer Lima remains, but at age 30 it is unlikely that he will play at a high level that much longer. Plus, Jorge Jesus is said to have personally pushed for the club to sign the youngster. If Bebé does well, it would also be a major boost to the Seleção who are in desperate need of a striker.

Sporting Lisbon In Europe

After several tumultuous years, Sporting Lisbon appears to have stepped back from the brink of financial ruin. The club qualified for the Champions League for the first time since 2008-09 with a second-place finish last season. But what remains to be seen is whether this Sporting side is more ambitious than those of the past. The club has only advanced passed the group stage of the Champions League once in their history.

Sporting made some good signings this summer in an effort to add depth. However, the club was forced to sell Eric Dier to Tottenham. And the rumours of William Carvalho moving to a bigger club are expected to continue. Regardless, Sporting are not expected to lose many key players before the end of the transfer window on August 31st. The club looks to be in a good position to compete in Europe this season.

Boavista Returns

The Porto-based club was allowed to return to the Primeira Liga after a court decision overturned a previous sanction that forced the team into relegation in 2008, as a result of their involvement in the Apito Dourado scandal. Last season, Boavista was playing several notches below the Primeira Liga. As a result, the club was very active in the transfer window, almost completely reshaping their entire squad in the hopes of being competitive.

Former Portuguese international Petit will remain as manager. And he will have to rely on young players to perform if they are to avoid relegation. It certainly will not be easy. The club is still without a shirt sponsor. But the Boavista of the past had an excellent tradition of developing young players, many of whom would go on to play internationally for Portugal. They will have to rediscover that magic.

Revival Project At Braga

Sporting Braga is coming off a very poor season by their standards. Os Guerreiros were eliminated from the Europa League in the final qualification play-off by Romanian club Pandurii Târgu Jiu. Injuries and inconsistency would take a toll on the club. Jesualdo Ferreira was let go in February. Braga finished in ninth position and out of a Europa League position for this season.

Club president António Salvador hired former Portuguese international Sérgio Conceição as manager. Conceição has had some previous success with more modest clubs Olhanense and Académica. Braga also made some intriguing signings in Pedro Tiba, Marcelo Goiano and Tiago Gomes. Plus, with a healthy Éder and Rafa Silva, Braga should be a good club once again. And, it will be interesting to see how the notoriously hot-tempered Conceição will deal with higher expectations.

Young Talent On The Horizon

The great strength of the Portuguese League is its ability to discover the stars of tomorrow. Every summer, Portuguese clubs are forced to sell several players in order to stay financially secure. But every year, other quality players take their place. FC Porto have signed World Cup stars Yacine Brahimi and Bruno Martins Indi. Brazilians Talisca and Victor Andrade look like they could be quality players for Benfica as well.

And there is no shortage of promising home-grown talent. The Portuguese youth system is as strong as it has been in several years. Sporting Lisbon always has an abundance of promising players in its academy. Carlos Mané, Tobias Figueiredo and João Mário could be break out players this season. Benfica midfielder João Teixeira has looked good in the pre-season and could get some playing time with the senior squad. So has FC Porto defensive midfielder Rubén Neves.

Champions League Redemption

An emphasis on young talent, combined with strong management has prevented Portuguese clubs from falling behind Europe’s super-rich in the Champions League. Impressive, especially when you consider that other historically great clubs like Ajax and Celtic have been unable to do so. However, last season both FC Porto and Benfica were eliminated in the group stage. Although, Benfica’s run to the Europa League final allowed Portugal to surpass Italy for fourth in the UEFA coefficient rankings.

But the pressure is on for these clubs to do better this season. Benfica and Sporting Lisbon have already confirmed their place in the competition. While, FC Porto will have to qualify through a play-off against Ligue 1 club Lille. Success in club football’s most lucrative tournament is essential for the health of Portuguese clubs. Aside from the obvious financial gains, it also helps these clubs entice promising young footballers to play for them.

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Photo: Sporting Club de Braga

Photo: Sporting Club de Braga

Overview: Sporting Braga head into a new season with something to prove. The club has established itself as the best club in Portugal outside the ‘Big Three’ in the last decade.

But that reputation took a major hit last season when Braga got off to a poor start and finished a disappointing ninth in the league table. It marked only the second time the Minho club had finished outside the top five since the 2002-03 season.

Club president António Salvador has brought in former Portuguese international Sérgio Conceição to improve the team’s fortunes. And there is good reason to believe that this will happen. Several of the teams that finished ahead of Braga last season have lost several key players.

The club still boasts the most talented squad outside the traditional ‘Big Three.’ And with a healthy Éder, combined with several good young players, there is no reason why Braga cannot do better this season. Their quest for redemption begins on August 17th when they play Boavista at Estádio AXA.

Key Additions: Danilo (Vasco da Gama), Rambé (Belenenses), Wallace (Cruzeiro), Marcelo Goiano (Grémio Anápolis), Matheus (América), Fábio Martins (D. Aves), Carlos Fortes (R. Santander), Tiago Gomes (Estoril), Franco Acosta (Fenix), Vítor Golas (Sporting), Pedro Tibá (V. Setúbal), Pedro Santos (Rio Ave), Salvador Agra (Académica), Luís Silva (Gil Vicente), Hugo Vieira (Gil Vicente), Zé Luís (Videoton), Kritciuk (Rio Ave), Djavan(Benfica)

Key Subtractions: Cristiano (Académica), Paulo Vinicius, Rusescu (Sevilha), Edinho, Kadu (V. Bahía), Tomás Dabó (Arouca), Florent, Rabiola, Eduardo (D. Zagreb), Helder Barbosa, Douglão, Yazalde (Qabala), Joãozinho (Sheriff)

Manager Profile: Sérgio Conceição was a quality player during his career, having amassed 56 caps as an international for Portugal. He has begun to build a reputation as a good manager as well, having previously propelled Olhanense and Académica to mid-level finishes. At Braga, he will have a far more talented squad than he is used to working with.

Players To Watch: Éder is absolutely essential to the team’s success. He scored 13 goals in 18 matches in 2012-13 before suffering a knee injury. A foot injury forced him to miss most of last season as well. Braga is also expecting more big things from 21-year-old midfielder Rafa Silva who is an outstanding talent.

Expectations: Sporting Braga will hope to finish in the top five in the Primeira Liga, as well as qualify for a European competition for next season. They will also be hoping to win one of Portugal’s two domestic cup competitions, which the bigger sides often neglect until the later stages.

OLHANENSE vs BRAGA - TACA DE PORTUGAL

Braga midfielder Rafa Silva has been one of Portugal’s top revelations so far this season. The 20-year-old has impressed with his skill, vision and strong dribbling ability.

He has also shown a keen eye for goal. He has scored for Braga in all three club competitions. And he also scored for Portugal’s U-21 squad in a October 15th match against Azerbaijan.

Under the tutelage of veteran manager Jesualdo Ferreira, Silva has demonstrated a unique skill level that only elite players possess. He is nominally an attacking midfielder but he has also played on the wing at times this season.

Born Rafael Ferreira Silva in Forte da Casa, near Vila Franca de Xira, he is most often referred to as Rafa. The talented midfielder certainly took the difficult route to the top division of Portuguese football. He played for local clubs Atlético Povoense and Alverca at the youth level, before signing with second division club Feirense.

Rafa would impress with Feirense scoring ten goals in 41 matches for the club in 2012-13. Suddenly, he was no longer the best kept secret in Portugal’s lower divisions. Despite reported interest from Sporting Lisbon, Rafa decided to stay in the north of Portugal and signed a five-year deal with Sporting Braga last summer.

Manager Jesualdo Ferreira used Rafa in the role of a late substitute at the beginning of the season but has since earned a place in the starting XI.

Braga had a disappointing start to the campaign but have since seen their results improve. Rafa has been a major part of Braga’s resurgence and is expected to be an impact player for the club going forward.

After Rafa’s two-goal performance against Olhanense in a Portuguese Cup match in November, Ferreira praised his young star’s talent but added that he still needed time to mature as a player.

“Rafa? He came out of the second division and brought a lot of excitement, but some people forget that he is not a true footballer yet. He is still trying to get there,” Ferreira told Maisfutebol.

“I have trained plenty of ‘Rafas’ during my career. A 20-year-old without much experience at this level needs to learn how to best use his individual abilities for the collective good. He could only be a ‘top’ player when he learns how to play as part of a squad.”

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Hugo-Vieira

Sporting Braga continue to quietly strengthen their club after signing Portuguese attacker Hugo Vieira from Benfica.

The 25-year old signed a new four-year deal with the Minho club. Vieira was signed by Benfica last summer after an impressive season with Gil Vicente but never played a competitive match for Os Águias.

He was loaned to Spanish club Sporting Gijón last season who are currently playing in Spain’s second division. After only making four appearances for the club, he asked to terminate the loan and finish the season with his previous club Gil Vicente.

The Barcelos native did not disappoint upon his return scoring eight goals in 13 league matches the rest of the way, helping his hometown club avoid relegation.

In an official statement on Braga’s website, Vieira said that joining Os Arsenalistas was an easy decision.

“I am very happy to join SC Braga, as everyone is well aware, it is a big Portuguese club. I had other offers but I think joining this club was the best choice for me and I hope to experience many good moments in this sweater,” he said.

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