Posts Tagged ‘SL Benfica’

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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.

Renato Sanches - Benfica

The first half of the Primeira Liga (Liga NOS) season officially came to an end this past weekend, making it an ideal time to reflect on some of the best home-grown Revelações. Portugal is in the middle of an exciting emerging generation. And the talent is no longer primarily concentrated among the country’s “Big Three.” Here are just some of the top revelations this season from Portugal.

Rui Silva, Nacional, Goalkeeper

The 21-year-old back-stopper has been one of the most consistent performers this season in the Primeira Liga. Silva replaced the injured Gottardi at half-time in a September match against Academica and has not looked back. Since then, he has conceded only 18 goals in 13 matches, and kept his club in matches against Sporting CP and FC Porto.

Rúben Neves, FC Porto, Defensive Midfielder

No list of promising Portuguese players is complete without the FC Porto midfield prodigy. Neves burst on to the scene last season with some impressive performances at the tender age of 17. He has continued to grow this season. In October, he became the youngest captain in the history of the Champions League. And he recently became the youngest player in club history to amass 50 senior matches for the Dragons.

João Palhinha, Moreirense FC, Defensive Midfielder

Portugal has never had a better crop of young defensive midfielders. Palhinha, who is on loan from Sporting, has been terrific this season for Miguel Leal’s club. The 20-year-old possesses a good combination of size, positioning and defensive instincts, making him ideal for the position. Palhinha and fellow Sporting loanee Iuri Medeiros have been fundamental to Moreirense’s turnaround from a poor start.

Renato Sanches, SL Benfica, Central Midfielder

The 18-year-old began the season with Benfica’s B squad but has since solidified his position in Rui Vitoria’s midfield. His individual highlight was a brilliant 40-yard strike against Academica in December. He has also not looked out of place against tougher competition in the Champions League. And the most telling statistic, Benfica has won nine of the ten league matches Sanches has played this season. The only blemish was a scoreless draw against União da Madeira.

Diogo Jota, Paços de Ferreira, Winger

The talented teenager has made a major impact for Paços since his debut in the second-half of last season. Jota has scored five goals and created another six, in 16 matches this season. He has formed a good partnership with Bruno Moreira. And together, they have propelled the club to fifth-place. It seems like Jota is destined to move on to a bigger club this summer. Benfica are said to be very interested.

Honorable Mention

Miguel Silva, Vitória de Guimarães, Goalkeeper
Nélson Semedo, SL Benfica, Right-Back
Rúben Semedo, Vitória Setúbal, Centre Back/Midfielder
André Horta, Vitória Setúbal, Attacking Midfielder
Iuri Medeiros, Moreirense FC, Midfielder/Winger
Gonçalo Guedes, SL Benfica, Winger
Gelson Martins, Sporting CP, Winger

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.

Sporting Fans

Sporting got their season off to a positive start by beating city-rivals Benfica in the Portuguese Super Cup at Algarve Stadium on Sunday.

It was an absolute storybook beginning to life at Sporting for manager Jorge Jesus. His precipitous departure from Benfica in the summer added a touch of drama rarely seen at the Portuguese Super Cup.

After the win, the Portuguese manager was uncharacteristically modest, deciding instead to credit his players for winning the match.

“The big winner is Sporting and its players. It is not easy for a club to come together like that in five weeks. It demonstrates the intelligence of these players,” he said.

The match itself lacked the intensity and rhythm of a typical Lisbon derby. There were few chances and ended with a solitary goal by André Carrillo. Sporting striker Teó Gutiérrez had a goal wrongfully ruled out for offside in the first half. Early in the second, Carrillo’s shot from distance was deflected off Gutiérrez into the goal.

Sporting controlled the balance of play for most of the match and were deserving winners in the end. João Mário was behind many of the club’s attacks. The 4-4-2 system seemed to work for the club, at least on Sunday. The Lions were able to keep the pressure on Benfica throughout.

The match sets the stage for both clubs this season. Jorge Jesus was brought to Sporting to win titles and did so in his first match, albeit a rather meaningless one. For Benfica and new manager Rui Vitoria, the pressure continues to mount. Right-back Nélson Semedo was a surprise addition to the Benfica line-up and was impressive. He could be a player to watch this season.

Big three load up

Portuguese clubs continue to bolster their line-ups. Last week, Benfica signed Greek striker Kostas Mitroglou on loan from English club Fulham. He will be counted on to replace Lima who left for Qatar in July.

Not to be outdone, Sporting signed Italian international midfielder Alberto Aquilani to a three-year contract. The 31-year-old arrives on a free transfer. The Lions also added 19-year-old Brazilian midfielder Bruno Paulista from Bahia. Sporting were in talks to sign Kevin-Prince Boateng last week but the Ghanaian failed his medical.

Sporting also loaned Miguel Lopes to La Liga club Granada. The club will play CSKA Moscow in their Champions League play-off on 18 August and 26 August.

At the Dragão, FC Porto added volatile Italian-Argentinian striker Dani Osvaldo. He was released by Southampton last season. Aly Cissokho has also joined the club on loan from Aston Villa. This will be his second spell with the club. They start their season at home against Vitória Guimarães on Saturday.

Young stars shine again

Bernardo Silva continues to amaze. The 21-year-old was inexplicably left out of Monaco’s starting XI on Saturday against Nice. After his club went down, he was subbed in and scored early in the second half. They would come back and win 2-1. On Monday, it was announced that the youngster has signed an extension with the club until 2020.

Fellow U21 star, Ivan Cavaleiro also appears to be settling in well at the principality since arriving in the summer. He scored a brilliant goal against BSC Young Boys in their third-round Champions league playoff, helping them advance.

And on Sunday, Portuguese right-back Cédric Soares had a dream debut for Southampton against Newcastle United. In the first half, he delivered a perfect cross to Graziano Pellè to put his club ahead. The match would end in a 2-2 draw.

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.

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.

Related Posts:

BENFICA: 2014-15 Season Preview

SPORTING LISBON: 2014-15 Season Preview

FC PORTO: 2014-15 Season Preview

SPORTING BRAGA: 2014-15 Season Preview

Sport Lisboa e Benfica/Isabel Cutileiro

Sport Lisboa e Benfica/Isabel Cutileiro

Benfica’s 2-0 defeat of Olhanense at the Estádio da Luz allowed the Lisbon club to clinch the Primeira Liga title with two matches to spare. They overcame the memory of last season’s epic collapse to win their first League title in four seasons and the 33rd in their long history.

It could end of being a historic year for the Portuguese club. The Eagles are still active in the Portuguese Cup, League Cup and the Europa League. Although, Juventus will be a major challenge in the semi-finals of the Europa League.

After a difficult start to the season which saw them drop points in three of their first six matches, Benfica dominated their opponents the rest of the way and were fully deserving of their title.

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

Jan Oblak

The goalkeeper is usually the most unheralded member of any championship squad. But in this case, many Benfiquistas will look back at the moment Jan Oblak replaced an injured Artur in a December League match against Olhanense as the turning point of the season. The Slovenian has been solid ever since. And so have Benfica.

Benfica would win 15 out of the next 16 League matches with Oblak as the regular starter. The Slovenian goalkeeper conceded only three goals along the way. Artur was not necessarily at fault for the club’s early season struggles. However, the squad did play much better in front of Oblak.

Squad Adjustments

Jorge Jesus has demonstrated an ability to alter his squad when needed this season. Guilherme Siqueira, Silvio, Ljubomir Fejsa, Lazar Marković and Miralem Sulejmani gave Jesus more options in key positions. In the event of injury or poor form, Jesus was always able to find a more than reliable replacement.

For example, Bruno Cortez proved unconvincing at left-back early in the season. With Silvio unavailable due to injury, Jesus had an excellent option in Guilherme Siqueira. Also, when last season’s Player of the Year Nemanja Matić moved on to the Premier League, his countryman Fejsa was more than able to fill the void.

Ezequiel Garay/Luisão

Benfica’s centre-back pairing was the spine that kept the club together this season. At 33-years-old, Luisão is probably having the best season he has ever had in Portugal. The Brazilian looked determined at the start of the season. He has scored some key goals in Europe as well.

Ezequiel Garay is also having an excellent season. The Argentine has scored six goals in the Portuguese League, a very impressive total for a centre-back. He is widely expected to move on to a bigger club this summer. Garay and Luisão have helped Benfica to the best defensive record in the league.

Squad Depth

As mentioned, Benfica’s summer signings gave manager Jorge Jesus better options. With the exception of Matić, the club did not lose any key players this season. Perhaps motivated by a three-year drought and the memory of last season’s collapse, the club spent heavily in the summer to boost their chances of winning the League.

Their great rivals, FC Porto lost several good players last summer. While, Sporting Lisbon has revived themselves through their famous academy. However, the long-awaited League title will have to wait another year. Benfica’s squad was so deep that Jorge Jesus could afford to rest many of his key players in the Europa League and Cup matches, and often still managed to get a good result.

Maturity and Experience

This year’s Benfica squad was not only deep but also determined and mature. Several players like Oscar Cardozo, Luisão, and Maxi Pereira were on the 2009-10 squad which was the last to win the title. Their maturity and expertise proved valuable this season. Perhaps the memory of last season’s collapse also served as extra motivation.

And with players like Ezequiel Garay, Nicolás Gaitán, and Rodrigo expected to move on this summer, finally winning a League title with the club is no doubt a relief. In the end, Benfica had the right combination of youth, talent and experience to come out on top. Manager Jorge Jesus may have silenced some doubters as well, at least until next season.

bernardo_silva_4

19-year-old Bernardo Silva has been quietly putting together some excellent performances for club and country so far this year.

The attacking midfielder is currently playing with Benfica’s B squad in Portugal’s second division and has begun to establish himself as one of the country’s brightest young stars.

A classic playmaker or number 10, Silva has been a central figure in the most potent offense in Portugal’s second tier this season. Benfica B have scored 43 goals in 21 matches so far.

Silva, playing against mostly experienced professionals, has contributed three goals and five assists for the club. He is exactly the type of player that Portugal have seriously lacked since the days of Rui Costa and Deco.

He is part of an exciting generation of Benfica youth players. Silva, along with winger Ivan Cavaleiro, full-back João Cancelo, and midfielder Andre Gomes are widely seen as exceptional talents destined to play for Portugal.

Under manager Jorge Jesus, the club has preferred to purchase inexpensive imports from mainly South America, but it remains unlikely that they will continue to ignore exceptional players like Bernardo Silva much longer.

Silva has also put in some excellent performances with the U19 and U21 squads so far this year. He was a major part of Portugal’s run to the semi-finals of the U19 European Championships in Lithuania this summer. They lost to Serbia on penalties.

He has also begun to make an impact at the U21 level. In a recent match against Israel, Silva entered at half-time with Portugal trailing 2-1. He proceeded to dribble past no less than five Israeli defenders before passing the ball to FC Porto’s Ricardo Pereira for the tying goal.

Silva would go on to score two goals as Portugal held on to defeat Israel 4-3. The Selecção remain perfect after four matches in qualification for the 2015 European Championships in the Czech Republic.

Portugal has failed to qualify for that tournament three consecutive times but it looks like that streak of futility will end this time around. With players like Silva, Pereira, Cavaleiro, Bruma, Marcos Lopes and others, there is a lot of optimism surrounding the country’s youth system right now.

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 AS Monaco's João Moutinho Will Lead Portugal's Midfield In Brazil Photo: Wikipedia Commons/ Fanny Schertzer

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/ Fanny Schertzer

Portugal’s midfield was the source of some debate during the 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign. The Selecção struggled to manufacture scoring opportunities, even against far weaker teams like Northern Ireland and Israel, leaving many to question whether the midfield trio of Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles and João Moutinho was still the best option.

Since becoming Portugal’s manager, Paulo Bento has always preferred a 4-3-3 formation with a midfield ‘triangle’ in the middle. Miguel Veloso has played in the defensive midfielder role, with Meireles and Moutinho in front. The midfield has lacked creativity and fluidity at times since Euro 2012.

At the same time, an emerging generation of young midfielders appear ready to challenge the more established veterans for playing time. Sporting Lisbon’s midfield ‘three’, along with FC Porto’s Josué and Benfica’s André Gomes are all exciting prospects.

Futebol Factory looks at the midfield position for Portugal ahead of next year’s World Cup.

Tickets Booked: João Moutinho (AS Monaco), Miguel Veloso (Dynamo Kyiv), Raul Meireles (Fenerbahçe)

On The Bubble: William Carvalho (Sporting Lisbon), Josué (FC Porto), Rúben Micael (Sporting Braga), Custódio (Sporting Braga), André Martins (Sporting Lisbon), Ruben Amorim (Benfica), Adrien Silva (Sporting Lisbon), Paulo Machado (Olympiacos), André Gomes (Benfica)

AS Monaco’s João Moutinho is simply one of the best box-to-box midfielders in football today. At only 27-years-old, he is already extremely accomplished and should lead the Portuguese midfield for many more years.

Moutinho recorded eights assists in 10 matches during World Cup qualifying. He also delivered two brilliant passes to Cristiano Ronaldo on that magical night in Stockholm that sealed Portugal’s place in Brazil.

After that, things appear far less simple. Fenerbahçe’s Raul Meireles is also a box-to-box midfielder, who has previously played for Liverpool and Chelsea. But since moving to Turkey last season, he has seen his quality drop. Although he is still a good tackler and rarely gives up possession, the offensive side of his game is not what it was.

The 30-year-old put in a good performance in Lisbon against Sweden, but was largely anonymous in the second leg in Stockholm. He remains one of the most experienced players on the Selecção and if he remains healthy, is very likely to be in Brazil.

Dynamo Kyiv’s Miguel Veloso has played in defensive midfield since the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign and has performed the role well. The problem is that Veloso is not a ‘true’ defensive midfielder, lacking the physicality, defensive instincts and tackling ability.

Bento has used him in the role because of the lack of better options at the position. But the 27-year-old could still be a very effective midfield ‘creator’ in a more forward role.

The rest of the players in contention fall into two groups: Experienced veterans who are yet to fully prove themselves and promising youngsters who await their opportunity.

Sporting Braga’s Rúben Micael is a former first-choice midfielder whose recent form for Portugal has led to some negative criticism. But he has remained a mainstay on the squad. His teammate at Braga, Custodio has received some caps under Paulo Bento but is no longer first-choice at club level. But he is a good defensive midfielder who plays simple, reliable football.

Benfica’s Ruben Amorim is currently out with a knee injury but has in the past been selected by Bento as well. His performances for Benfica have been positive so far this year and he has been a reliable substitute for Portugal when called upon. Nominally a central midfielder, he could also play right-back.

Olympiacos’ Paulo Machado is no longer first-choice with the Greek club, although he was recently called up for an international friendly against the Netherlands and remains in contention.

In the youth category, Paulo Bento has a level of quality not seen for some time if ever. William Carvalho, André Martins and Adrien Silva have formed the Sporting Lisbon midfield this season and all have very good potential.

Angolan-born William Carvalho has been one of the best players in the Portuguese League this year with his excellent displays in defensive midfield. So much so that, Arsenal, Manchester United and Juventus have taken notice.

A calm demeanor, combined with good passing, physical strength and strong football IQ, have many people predicting big things for the 21-year-old. He received his first cap in Portugal’s 3-2 win against Sweden.

Andre Martins and French-born Adrien Silva have been selected by Paul Bento before, although they were left out against Sweden. Both have been in good form this season for a resurgent Sporting Lisbon side. Martins is a playmaker or Number ten-type, while Silva is a box-to-box midfielder.

FC Porto’s Josué is another promising midfielder for the Selecção, who could also play on the wing. He recently started in place of Raul Meireles against Luxembourg and played very well.

Although he has a history of disciplinary issues. He was reportedly released from FC Porto in 2011 for that reason. So far this year he received a one game suspension for spitting on another player.

In addition, he was also caught on camera flashing a obsence gesture to the crowd after Cristiano Ronaldo’s third goal in Stockholm. Paulo Bento has not spoken publicly on the incident but he is well-known for being a strict disciplinarian.

Benfica’s André Gomes remains another possibility. He received his first call-up to the national team in February against Ecuador but did not play. Gomes is widely touted as a future star but is currently not seeing much action with Benfica.

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Fábio Coentrão Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Cropped/Ludovic Péron

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Cropped/Ludovic Péron

Portugal has always had a great deal of depth at the full back positions. Ahead of the World Cup next year, Paulo Bento has several hard choices to make.

Fábio Coentrão and João Pereira have commanded the flanks for most of Paulo Bento’s time as Portugal manager, with their bursts of speed and sound offensive instincts.

However, early season injuries, combined with a loss of playing time at their respective clubs have many people doubting whether both will be ready for Brazil.

Futebol Factory looks at the full back position for Portugal.

Tickets Booked: Fábio Coentrão (Real Madrid), João Pereira (Valencia)

On The Bubble: André Almeida (Benfica), Vitorino Antunes (Málaga), Cédric Soares (Sporting Lisbon), Sílvio (Benfica), Miguel Lopes (Olympique Lyonnais)

For most of the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign Fábio Coentrão and João Pereira have occupied the full back positions with Portugal, with the exception of injuries or suspensions. However, both have been battling injuries and inconsistency so far this season which has caused them to miss action.

Real Madrid’s Coentrão is currently sidelined with a thigh injury. Also, despite being one of Portugal’s best performers over the last several years he has not always been first-choice with Real Madrid. José Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti have at times favoured Brazilian Marcelo at left-back.

The 25-year-old has struggled to replicate the form he had with Benfica, perhaps due to the more defensive-minded managers at Real Madrid. Although, recent reports have him signing an extension with the club which could mean more playing time.

Valencia’s João Pereira is also trying to regain his form after suffering a thigh injury last month. Also, the 29-year-old’s performances for the Selecção have not been great over the last year. He will need to improve because there are several good alternatives at right-back.

Benfica’s André Almeida filled in for Pereira in two World Cup qualifiers against Israel and Luxembourg last month and played very well. However, he regularly splits playing time with defensively challenged Maxi Pereira at Benfica which is a concern.

Málaga’s Vitorino Antunes has played very well in place of Coentrão in recent matches and it appears likely that a place in the squad is his to lose.

Sílvio, who is currently on loan with Benfica from Atlético Madrid, is known for his excellent crosses and is good defensively, but is often injured. He recently missed several weeks with a serious knee injury but is back playing. He could play on both the left and the right.

Miguel Lopes has received some caps under Paulo Bento although not since the early stages of 2014 World Cup qualifying. He is currently on loan with Ligue 1 club Lyon from Sporting Lisbon. Like Silvio, he has also battled injury problems throughout his career. But he is back playing again.

And Sporting Lisbon’s Cédric Soares is an offensively gifted right back who has been selected in the past. Although he is yet to receive his first cap for Portugal.

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