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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.

Benfica Champions 2014-15

Benfica’s goalless draw with Vitória Guimarães on Sunday was enough to clinch the Liga NOS title for a second consecutive season with one match to spare. It was their 34th Portuguese League title, the most of any club. No club in the top 6 European leagues has more.

It also marked the first time since 1984 that As Águias won the title in back-to-back years. It seems like manager Jorge Jesus has finally accomplished what he was brought in to do and that is break FC Porto’s dominance in Portugal. At least for now.

Here are the 5 reasons Benfica won the Portuguese title this season.

Jorge Jesus’ Adjustments

Benfica lost several key players from last season’s championship-winning side. It is certainly not easy for any manager to integrate so many new players into the squad. Andreas Samaris, Talisca and Jonas proved to be adequate replacements.

When Enzo Perez left during the January transfer window, Jorge Jesus managed to find a replacement within the squad by converting Pizzi into a central midfielder. Although Lima and Jardel struggled at times during the season, Jesus stuck with them and was richly rewarded in the end.

Jonas

The Brazilian has to go down as one of the best signings of the season. It sounded like an odd signing at first. Jonas, a 30-year-old striker, out of contract at Valencia, who would never command a large payout for the Portuguese club.

Still, he proved to be exactly what the club needed. Jonas scored a goal in his first match with the club in October and has hardly stopped since then. With a match to spare, Jonas was second in the league with 18 markers in 26 matches.

Júlio César

He was once touted as one of the best goalkeepers in the world but Júlio César has had a rough go since leaving Inter Milan in 2012. He passed through Queens Park Rangers before ending up on-loan at Toronto FC in MLS. And there was the matter of the seven goals against Germany in the service of Brazil last summer.

Benfica, still reeling from the abrupt departure of Jan Oblak, decided to take a chance on the Brazilian. It proved to be another masterstroke. The now 34-year-old has made the most of his Portuguese adventure. He has earned an impressive 15 clean sheets.

Early European Exit

European competitions have always been a mixed blessing for Portuguese clubs. And like we saw this season, an early exit from competition could have a positive impact on a club’s domestic form. Benfica, once again failed to advance passed the group stage of the Champions League.

From the time the club played their last match in the Champions League in December, Benfica lost only two matches in the league the rest of the way. FC Porto and Sporting’s domestic form seemed to suffer as the season progressed, while Benfica only got stronger.

Head-to-Head Record Against Sporting and Porto

Benfica managed one victory and three draws against the other two members of Portugal’s ‘Big Three’ clubs. The club’s 2-0 victory at the Dragão in December was the difference in the end. It was the first time Benfica beat FC Porto away in the league in Jorge Jesus’ tenure as manager.

Jesus’ critics would argue that Benfica did not show up out to win the April 26th O Clássico against Porto, it really matters little in the end. Benfica put themselves in the position to dictate terms with their stellar league form. They proved themselves worthy champions.

Just days after conceding the Portuguese League to rivals Porto, Jorge Jesus’ club completed a collapse of epic proportions not seen since Sporting Lisbon’s 2005 campaign. A late goal by Chelsea’s central defender Branislav Ivanović was the difference as the London-club defeated Benfica 2-1 in the Europa League final in Amsterdam on Wednesday night.

Jorge Jesus fielded a familiar 4-3-3 formation, with Oscar Cardozo leading the attack. Eduardo Salvio and Nicolas Gaitan started on the wings. Chelsea were without the injured John Terry and Eden Hazard, but fielded a strong squad with former Benfica players David Luiz and Ramires.

The two clubs played to a scoreless first half, with Benfica controlling most of the possession and managing the most scoring chances. In the second half, Os Encarnados started brightly against the Blues. Benfica thought they scored after Oscar Cardozo capitalized off a brilliant cross by Nicolas Gaitán, but it was called offside. The replay shows that the call was very close, but it was probably the right decision.

Soon after the disallowed goal Chelsea’s Fernando Torres was put in alone by Juan Mata. Torres dribbled past Benfica Goalkeeper Artur and scored. Despite being the better team, Benfica were a goal down at the hour mark of the match.

But the Portuguese club did not quit and they were given life when Chelsea defender César Azpilicueta handled the ball in the box, giving Benfica a good chance to tie the match. Oscar Cardozo stepped up and scored on the ensuing penalty.

Chelsea quickly responded with a few good chances and seemed to come into the game more as the second half unfolded. Oscar Cardozo had the best chance for Benfica when he let go a good shot just outside the box which Petr Cech tipped over the bar.

Now into injury time, disaster struck for Benfica. Chelsea’s defender Branislav Ivanović scored off a corner by Juan Mata. Jardel and Andre Almeida could do nothing but watch as Ivanovic brilliantly executed a header to put Chelsea ahead for good.

Manager Jorge Jesus told SIC television that he was proud of his club’s performance. “We conceded another goal in the 92nd minute. But it was a final between two good clubs, Benfica were better for most of the match. We were missing that lucky break which would have put us ahead, which we would have deserved.”

Jesus is likely to receive most of the criticism for the last two defeats but club president Luís Filipe Vieira told media after the match that he will remain with the club.

“I have already said that Jorge Jesus is my manager and he will continue to be for many years. He is part of our plans and I am very satisfied with what he has been able to accomplish.”

Second half substitute Lima told media that Benfica deserved to win based on its overall performance. “We were the better club on the field. It is difficult to explain. We want to thank our supporters who came to support us by the masses. We wanted to win for them, for us and for our families. Unfortunately, we were not able to do so. Now we have to hold our heads high.”

Jorge Jesus’ club entered Saturday’s match against Porto with a one point lead over their archrivals, only to lose on a late goal by Kelvin. The loss means that Porto could clinch a third straight domestic league title with a win on the weekend against Paços de Ferreira.

On Wednesday night in Amsterdam, Jorge Jesus’ club was hoping to erase the memory of the devastating loss on Saturday by winning their first major international trophy since their second European Cup trophy win in 1962. But it was not to be.

In the span of less than a week, Benfica have lost their slim lead in the Portuguese League, as well as the Europa League final. To make matters worse, both matches were lost on goals in injury time in the second half.

José Peseiro’s Sporting Lisbon side had a similar thing happen to them in the 2004-05 season when they gave up the lead in the Portuguese League and lost the UEFA Cup final to CSKA Moscow within a week. The UEFA Cup final was held at their home ground, the Estádio José Alvalade that year.

The loss to Chelsea means the most successful and popular club in Portuguese football have lost a total of seven consecutive finals in major European competitions. The two-time winners of the European Cup/Champions League have lost in the finals of that competition a total of five consecutive times (1963, 1965, 1968, 1988, 1990).

Wednesday’s loss in Amsterdam to Chelsea was their second loss in the UEFA Cup/Europa League tournament. They also lost to Anderlecht in 1983. They have never won the tournament.

Benfica entered Saturday’s match against FC Porto with the possibility of winning three trophies this season. A win against Vitória Guimarães in the Portuguese Cup final on May 26th would now be little consolation for Benfiquistas who within several days have seen their club’s promising season come to a disappointing end.

stevenvitoria1

Portuguese football website O Jogo is reporting that Benfica have entered into negotiations to sign central defender Steven Vitória. The 26-year-old’s contract with his current club Estoril expires at the end of the season and he is widely expected to move to a bigger club.

Born to Azorean parents in Toronto, Canada, Vitoria was signed by Porto in 2005. After graduating to the senior side in 2006, Vitoria was loaned to Tourizense, Olhanense and finally Covilhã. In 2010, he signed with Estoril and was the key reason for the club’s promotion to the top tier of Portuguese football this year.

Vitoria has been a revelation for the suburban Lisbon club. Standing at 1.95m tall, he is also known for his goal scoring ability. He has scored a total of 10 goals this season for Estoril, including 8 in the Liga Portuguesa. This puts him in the top 20 in league scoring overall. Though 8 of his goals have been penalties. Vitoria did score an impressive goal off a free-kick in a Taca da Liga match against Porto in December.

It is believed that Vitoria would be a long-term option for Benfica who expect first-choice central defender Ezequiel Garay to leave this summer. While club captain Luisão is now 32 and Jardel is not seen as a good enough option going forward.

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SCOUTING REPORT: Estoril Defender Steven Vitória

Jorge Jesus’ Benfica side earned a well-deserved 3-2 victory over Ligue 1 side Bordeaux on Thursday to earn a place in the quarterfinals of the Europa League where they will face Newcastle United.

With injuries to Luisão and Ezequiel Garay, Jesus was forced to use Jardel and Roderick Miranda as Benfica’s central defence pairing. Strikers Lima and Oscar Cardozo began the match on the bench, with Rodrigo playing upfront.

Jardel justified Jorge Jesus’ confidence in him by scoring the opening goal of the match in the 30th minute. Benfica went into half-time with a comfortable 2-0 lead on aggregate.

In the second half, Jardel misplayed a long ball which Bordeaux’s Malian striker Cheick Diabaté was able to capitalize on, giving the French side a glimmer of hope. But it was short lived.

Just a minute later, Nicolas Gaitán found Oscar Cardozo in the box. After getting past a defender, the Paraguayan slid it past Bordeaux goalkeeper Cédric Carrasso.

After an own goal by Jardel, Cardozo scored his second of the match two minutes into extra time, sealing the victory for the Portuguese side.

After the match, Jorge Jesus said that Oscar Cardozo’s introduction into the match in the 66th minute for Rodrigo was the decisive moment. Jesus also spoke about his decision to rotate his squad this season.

“It has been the Europa League where we have used the most regular starters. The response from the players who have not played regularly has helped alot. It is not me, I believe in the players who play for me and especially what they are capable of,” Jesus said.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Steve Gardner

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Steve Gardner

Benfica 2 VS 2 Porto

(0-1) Mangala 8′
(1-1) Matić 10′
(1-2) Martínez 15′
(2-2) Gaitán 17′

Benfica XI: Artur, Maxi, Garay, Jardel, Melgarejo, Matic, Perez (Martins 58′), Gaitán (John 88′), Salvio, Lima (Aimar 69′), Cardozo

Porto X1: Helton, Danillo, Mangala, Otamendi, Alex Sandro, Fernando, Moutinho, Lucho (Castro 90+2′), Defour (Izmaylov 75′), Jackson, Varela (Abdoulaye 88′)

Benfica hosted Portuguese champions Porto in the first Clássico between the two clubs this season and the game did not disappoint.

French defender Eliaquim Mangala began the scoring for Porto in the 8th minute off a Joao Moutinho free kick. The capital club quickly responded with a brilliant strike from Serbian Nemanja Matić to even the score at the ten minute mark.

In the 15th minute, Benfica goalkeeper Artur woefully mishandled a pass from his own defender resulting in an easy goal for Jackson Martinez.

But two minutes later, Nicolas Gaitán again equalized for Benfica. The score was even at 2-2 at the 17 minute mark of the game. From then on, both teams tightened up defensively with good chances being hard to come by.

In the second half, Benfica had the best two chances. Oscar Cardozo was put in alone on goal against Helton but saw his shot deflected out of play by the Brazilian goalkeeper.

Later, substitute Pablo Aimar missed a diving header from a few yards away through a nice feed by Matić.

That seemed to seal the draw for both teams in a scintillating contest in the Portuguese capital on Sunday. Matić and Moutinho were the Men of the Match for their respective teams.

Porto manager Vitor Pereira questioned the performance of referee João Ferreira after the match.

“I have to disagree with three offsides that were wrongly called against us, that could have left us alone on goal. Two players should have been sent off, one right in front of me,” Pereira said.

“Maxi Pereira, right in front of me, should have been expelled and Matic should have been given a second yellow with 15 minutes left!,” Pereira said noticeably agitated.

Benfica manager Jorge Jesus dismissed Pereira’s claims and added that Cardozo’s miss in the second half was key to the match.

Benfica currently lead the Liga with 36 points after having played 14 matches. Porto remain three points behind but have played one less game.

Elsewhere in Portugal on Sunday, Jesualdo Ferreira’s Sporting side beat Olhanense 2-0 with goals from Labyad and Adrien Silva.