We’ve begun putting our stamp on Sporting Lisbon by selling off several of the club’s older, non-essential players during the first January transfer window. But it’s not affected Sporting’s fine form in our first campaign.
This has seen us increase the club’s balance from its starting point of just £5 million to now standing at £24.6 million. This included selling Brazilian midfielder Matheus Oliveira and Argentinian midfielder Rodrigo Battaglia to Udinese for £3.1 million and £3.8 million respectively and Bruno Paulista to Almeria for £500k. We also sold our starting goalkeeper Renan Ribeiro for £1.3 million, because he had the same rating as our backup goalkeeper so I thought we’d take the cash. And backup right-back Stefan Ristovski moved to Alaves for £3.7 million.
We made our first and only signing so far this Sporting boss by bringing in 17-year-old striker Manuel Oliveira from Rio Ave for £800k. He has good potential and is very much one for the future.
No January blues in Lisbon
January 2020 was dominated by league action as we began to play catch-up on the teams around us. But goals were very few and far between.
The month began well as Luciano Vietto scored in the 3rd minute of a home game against Rio Ave. It was a dull affair in which we had 9 shots and the opponent just 3, and we held on for the remaining 87 minutes for a 1-0 win.
The same scoreline followed in a vital game at home to SL Benfica. Marcos Acuna got the only goal of the game with a long range wonder strike on 20 minutes, then we held on despite Benfica having 14 shots and 8 on target.
That was followed by a 0-0 draw at Gil Vicente, then we racked up two more 1-0 victories at Vitoria de Guimaraes, thanks to a goal from substitute Jovane Cabral, then away to Vitoria de Setúbal, with a penalty from Andraz Sporar. We finally got among the goals a little more with a 3-0 success at home to CD Santa Clara, thanks to Wendel scoring two lovely curled long-range efforts then a late third from substitute Luiz Phellype.
This led to me winning the Manager of the Month for January, which once again delighted Director of Football Hugo Viana.
Fine form continues in February
The six consecutive clean sheets of January were long forgotten when the opening game of February served up a nine-goal thriller. We went away to mid-table Moreirense FC and raced into an early two-goal lead as Sebastian Coates and Idrissa Doumbia both scored from Acuna free-kicks inside 14 minutes. The hosts got one back the next minute then we scored our third goal with only our third shot of the match as Wendel scored in the 16th minute – to make it three goals in three minutes.
Moreirense got back into it again with 32nd minute penalty by Pedro Neto, to send us in 3-2 up at half-time. The hosts came out and dominated us but we won a penalty of our own through Sporar to make it 4-2, only for Neto to grab his second five minutes later. But we seized control with Acuna scoring then Sporar grabbing his second to wrap up a 6-3 win.
However, the defence was back to its best as we welcomed Portimonense SC and dispatched them 2-0 through Rafael Camacho’s first league goal and Coates making it two goals in the last two games.
That win led to injuries for both Doumbia and Eduardo Henrique, which left us with somewhat of a lack of midfielders for a trip to SC Santa Clara. young Rodrigo Fernandes stepped into the defensive midfield rile and Miguel Luis came into midfield and we managed to sneak yet another 1-0 win, thanks to a 26th minute strike by Sporar. That took us to seven consecutive league wins, which was apparently a Sporting and Liga NOS record, though I doubt either are actual non-FM records.
We wrapped up league games for the month with a home game against Famalicao, and took the winning streak to eight matches with a 3-0 success. The in-form Acuna – an average of 8.16 over the last five games – proved why both Manchester clubs are interested in him with two goals alongside one from Wendel, all scored in the first half.
This fine form led to a second consecutive Manager of the Month accolade, which this time got Chairman Frederico Varandas all excited, and Sporar winning Player of the Month thanks to five goals in five matches.
The next five league games will be absolutely pivotal to the destination of the title in 2020. In the space of 15 days we visit Benfica, who are currently some 19 points off the pace in fifth place, play second-placed FC Porto who are 7 points behind us home and away, welcome relegation threatened Boavista, and travel to third placed SC Braga. It’s a huge set of fixtures.
Facing Ajax in the Europa League
Away from the league adventures, we also faced a two-legged Europa League first knockout round clash with Ajax. The first leg was at the Amsterdam Arena and we somehow managed to win 1-0 despite Ajax racking up 27 shots – of which 9 were on target – and having Acuna sent off two minutes into the second half having scored in the final minute of the first half.
Despite Acuna missing the return leg we made it through with another 1-0 win, this time decided by Vietto’s wonderful solo goal just 16 seconds into the match – which set another new club record. Vietto has been out of the side lately due to poor form and hadn’t scored in his previous 9 appearances, so it was pleasing to see him get back amongst the goals.
I’m not sure how an Ajax team containing Dusan Tadic, Donny van de Beek, David Neres and Hakim Ziyech failed to score against us twice though. Also, the Europa League success brought much-needed benefit to the bank balance.
Join us next time as we tackle the tough looking run of league games that are likely to define the destination of the 2019/2020 Liga NOS title!