The Journeyman | Saving Sporting: Part 5 – Title Battle Goes To The Wire

Sporting Lisbon’s attempt at a first Liga NOS title since 2002 boiled down to the last two games of the season after the big six matches featured in Part 4 left them 5 points clear of FC Porto.

Title attempt 1 – Belenenses at home

We had a chance to wrap up the title as we welcomed Belenenses SAD for our final home game of the season. Things began well as centre-back Pedro Neto grabbed another goal from a corner – his 7th goal of the season.

We looked to be dominating but, like so many times this season, couldn’t find the killer second goal. And this time it cost us, as Belenenses managed to get a 95th minute equaliser out of nowhere.

Porto won 2-0 at home to Pacos de Ferreira, which meant we went into the final day of the season three points clear with an identical goal difference. However, Liga NOS is decided by teams’ records against each other which, given we’d lost and drawn against Porto, meant that we needed to get at least a point on the final day.

Title attempt 2 – Rio Ave away

Bizarrely, there was a two-week wait until we could play that last game, which saw us make the trip to 7th placed Rio Ave who had nothing to play for other than falling to 8th place. Annoyingly, holding midfielder Idrissa Doumbia was suspended after picking up a 5th yellow card in the previous game so we gave 18-year-old Rodrigo Fernandes a huge opportunity in his place. But Marcos Acuna was just about over his injury so we popped him on the bench.

The hosts came out flying, racking up a series of shots on goal in the first half hour and had a penalty appeal ruled to be outside of the box by VAR. However, we managed to keep them out and held on to half-time at 0-0.

I told the players to win the title for the fans, which seemed to inspire them but you wouldn’t have been able to tell from their performances. We created very little of note but, thankfully, nor did Rio Ave until another challenge on the edge of the box went to VAR… and again was ruled to have been outside the box.

I made one change to switch Wendel into the holding midfield role, with another youngster Bernardo Sousa coming in for Fernandes. And that seemed to do the trick in suring the team up and we just about held on to draw 0-0. It wasn’t exactly the most inspiring of performances but, it meant that the title was ours.

Sporting Lisbon were the Portuguese Champions for the first time in 18 years!

It was an impressive effort to win the league considering we were expected to finish in third place. We finished up on 83 points, with 25 wins, 8 draws and just the 1 defeat, at home to Porto. But we were well and truly pushed all the way by Porto, who won 1-0 on the last day thanks to an 81st minute goal to finish just 1 point behind us.

2019/20 Season in Review

I thought our chances of securing Sporting’s 19th title at the first time of asking were vastly unrealistic at the start of the season. However, the players most central to achieving it were striker Andraz Sporar, who bagged 20 goals in all competitions and 13 in the league, and left winger Marcos Acuna, who got 19 assists in all competitions and 13 in the league.

Acuna was also our second top scorer with 10 goals, followed by Idrissa Doumbia and Luciano Vietto with 9 – although the latter’s form tailed off at the end of the season. Younsgter Jovane Cabral popped up with 7 goals as did centre-back Pedro Neto.

It was also good to see 21-year-old midfielder Wendel get 9 assists, while his midfield partner Eduardo Henrique created 8 goals. Full-backs Cristian Borja and Valentin Rosier both got 7 assists and Sporar got 6.

Acuna also led the way in player ratings with an average of 7.36 from 37 appearances. He was followed by Doumbia with an average of 7.26 from 41 games and young centre-back Eduardo Quaresma got the same rating from just 8 matches. Other top performers were Henrique with 7.20 from 38 matches and Sebastian Coates with 7.15 from 40 matches.

We sold our first-choice goalkeeper in January, but Luis Maximiano stepped up in his place with 16 clean sheets in 22 league games and only conceded 22 goals in 35 matches in all competitions.

Pleasingly, we ended the season with 13 Portuguese players in the squad, having begun it with just 6. I’ve decided that I’m going to aim to have as many home-grown players as possible in this save and place the focus firmly on honing youth players.

End of Season Awards

Marcos Acuna took home the Sporting Fans’ Player of the Season with 44% of their vote, followed by Doumbia and Henrique. While the current crop of youngsters breaking into the first team have been dubbed a “Golden Generation.”

To further this, the board has agreed to spend £5 million on upgrading the youth and data analysis facilities and agreed to let me study for the Continental Pro license.

A look around Europe

Outside of Portugal, there was also an exciting final battle for La Liga. Atletico Madrid claimed the title with 89 points, one point clear of city rivals Real with Barcelona a further three behind. Athletic Bilbao finished in an impressive fourth.

Likewise in England things went to the final day with Liverpool crowned Champions on 91 points, two clear of Manchester City who were six ahead of city rivals United. And there was drama in Italy too as Juventus amassed 87 points to claim Serie A by one point from Inter Milan.

Bundesliga was more straightforward with FC Bayern taking the title with 84 points, 14 clear of runners-up RB Leipzig. Interestingly, Eintracht Frankfurt pipped Borussia Dortmund to third place. In France, Paris Saint-Germain were even clearer winners with their 103 point total some 27 clear of nearest challengers AS Monaco.

In contintal competitions, RB Leipzig won the Europa League by defeating FC Porto on penalties after a 0-0 draw. Both sides scored 7 penalties before centre-back Pepe missed the crucial kick. Liverpool completed a quadruple by defending their Champions League crown with a 2-0 win over PSG in the final, thanks to two goals in the opening 11 minutes from Mohamed Salah and Sergei Milenkovic-Savic.

That wraps up the 2019/20 campaign, so join us next time as we go through a second Summer Transfer Window and begin our defence of Liga NOS.

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