• Wednesday, 14 January 2009

    Superliga So Far

    With the Superliga one game away from the halfway point it seems like a neat time to review the events so far, with 14 rounds gone.

    Benfica’s expensively assembled team lead the table on goal difference from Lisbon rivals Sporting. O Glorioso have lost just once all season and no team can better their goal tally of 25 from these opening 14 matches. Much of this success can be put down to the new personnel drafted in by Luis Filipe Vieira in a desperate attempt to challenge the hegemony enjoyed by FC Porto in recent years. Former Valencia and Getafe coach Quique Sanchez Flores was hired, becoming Benfica’s sixth coach in four years. Quique had been out of the game since being stupidly fired by his boss at Valencia, Juan Soler, and his disciplined, methodical approach has reaped instant rewards. In mitigation, he does probably have the best squad in the Superliga at his disposal. 15m Euros has been spent on Pablo Aimar and Jose Antonio Reyes, while up front, David Suazo, the Honduran, was recruited also on loan from Inter Milan with Jose Mourinho deeming him surplus to requirements. Suazo has so far looked pretty good, but really he should be scoring more at this level. Oscar Cardozo, the Paraguyan, has also been in decent touch while the likes of Angel Di Maria and Kostas Katsouranis have made an impression this campaign.

    Down the road at the Estadio Alvalade, Sporting Clube started the season sluggishly but have really hit top gear since December. Neither as rich nor as flamboyant as Benfica, much of their success depends on Liedson, the veteran Brazilian who has been their top scorer in each of the last four seasons. His record, of 119 goals in 223 games for Sporting, is quite incredible considering he has never been called up to the Brazil national team. He has been supported well this campaign by midfielders Simon Vukcevic and Marat Izmailov, as well as the highly-rated duo of Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso, but at the back there are still question marks.

    Champions FC Porto endured a torrid spell in November where they momentarily dropped out of the top four, but they have since recovered some ground. A 0-0 draw at home to Trofense last weekend relinquished their grip on top spot and Jesualdo Ferreira’s men have struggled to maintain the form that made them so dominant last season. With the departure of Ricardo Quaresma, Ferreira lost his main playmaker and his replacement, Cristian Rodriguez, has been inconsistent and this has had a knock-on effect on the potency of Lisandro Lopez up front. The Argentine forward’s tally of 4 this season is disappointing and Porto’s diminished firepower is arguably the reason why they sit third rather than top. Top scorer at this stage, rather improbably, is struggling Paços de Ferreira's William with 8.

    The elephant in the room is 4th placed Leixões. This tiny club from Matosinhos, a suburb of Porto, started brilliantly and were top after 10 games. They have fallen away since then, but are still only four points behind Benfica. One wonders whether, with their small squad, they will be able to keep up this impressive form until the very end.

    Much will be decided on how consistent these sides are. That has been Benfica and Sporting’s problem in the past – not necessarily their performance in the big games against their rivals, but their propensity to slip up against the likes of Belenenses, Trofense and Academica. Benfica look well placed but one can never rule out FC Porto, who may also fancy their chances against Atletico Madrid to progress to the last 8 of the Champions League. However, in Sanchez Flores Benfica have the best coach in the competition and someone who could deliver their first title in five seasons.

    No comments: