The Journeyman | Saving Sporting: Part 6 – A Somewhat Sluggish Start

Sporting Lisbon’s defence of an unexpected title win in the first season began with two matches FC Porto, who we hadn’t beaten in three attempts. First was the Supertaca Candido de Oliveira – or Supercup – then we were drawn to visit Porto on the opening day of the league campaign.

However, before we could get to that there was another summer of transfer activity, in which we cleared out more of the deadwood at the club and brought in some exciting new youngsters.

Multiple sales

The summer’s outgoings began with Luciano Vietto moving to Arsenal for £7 million. His form had tailed off at the end of the season, so I decided to cash in. Then midfielder Joao Paulinha had an offer of £11 million from SC Braga, where he’d been on loan for the first season, so we snapped their hands off.

Those were the two big sales of the summer, but we also offloaded backup centre-back Tiago Ilori to Huddersfield Town for £1.6 million. While a whole host of players that had been away from the club on loan during the first season.

In total we sold 21 players for a total of £29,5 million.

Young signings

In their place we signed nine youngsters for a total of just £4.5 million. The pick of the bunch may well be right-back David Fernandes, who came in for £1.5 million from Rio Ave. While striker David Silva could also be an exciting prospect.

We didn’t buy any senior players because of the quality of young players coming through the ranks and a few players returning to the club having been on loan the previous campaign.

The pick of those was central midfielder Daniel Braganca, who looks like an excellent player.

While the Fernandes duo – winger Joelson and central midfielder Rodrigo – had shown great development over the summer, so we’ll plan to give them plenty of game time.

All of that means we’re starting the season with a much more youthful looking squad than the previous campaign, with 16 players aged 23 or under and only four who are 27 or older.

And, we’re looking a little like this tactic-wise. The only major changes are Marcos Acuna dropping to left-back, allowing us to play Jovane Cabral and Rafael Camacho on the wings, with Braganca and Eduardo Henrique likely to rotate on the right-hand side of the central midfield pairing.

Season 2 begins

Our preparation for the new season was bizarrely lax, with my assistant manager Dennis Bergkamp deciding we only needed one pre-season friendly. As a result, all of our players are woefully short of match sharpness.

First up was the Super Cup, in which we got battered in the first half. Porto scored after 12 minutes through Otavio then doubled their lead 12 minutes later through debutant Alan Pulido. We managed to get a goal back out of nowhere through Wendel, to go in at the break 2-1 behind.

I told them to sort it out at half-time and we played much better at the break. We immediately had a goal ruled out for offside, then missed a host of chances before having another goal ruled out for offside in the last minute. But all in all Porto deserved their 2-1 win, having 20 shots to our 16 in total.

Next up it was familiar opposition, as we made the trip to Oporto to face Porto again. This time I brought Cristian Borja back in at left-back, with Acuna moving forward to the wing for Cabral, and Henrique returning in place of Braganca.

Porto absolutely dominated us once more, but it took them until the 57th minute to get their noses in front. They racked up 24 shots and had two appeals for penalty denied by VAR, while we’d had only 5 shots all match and just 2 on target.

However, luck came our way as VAR was used to award us a penalty in the 82nd minute. I’d made all three subs, including taking off striker Andraz Sporar for 21-year-old Pedro Mendes to make his debut. But, when the penalty was given, Mendes stepped up to take responsibility and duly smashed it home into the top corner. We held on to claim a vital draw, although that did mean we’ve now gone five games without a win over Porto.

The two Porto openers were followed by a home game against SC Braga, who finished third in the first season. And it was a very dull affair with neither side creating anything of note and our main threat coming from two tame shots by Camacho. So, a 0-0 draw saw us remain unbeaten but, worryingly, go six games without a win carrying over from the end of the previous campaign.

However, up next was an opportunity to set that straight with a home game against SC Farense. But the boys managed to make massively hard work of this one as well, even when Farense got reduced to ten men early in the second half. I did everything I could to try and motivate them and encourage more attacking.

And it eventually paid off as Sporar converted after a nice but of play down the right by Camacho. But despite remaining on an attacking mindset, the boys didn’t create any more chances – which is a bit strange! But, we’ll take a 1-0 win to get the season going.

More sales followed, with Matheus Pereira moving to Udinese – who’ve now bought three of our players in six months – for £4 million. And that means our finances are looking very healthy. When we took over the club had just £8 million in its bank balance, now we’ve increased it eight-fold to £64 million.

Join us next time as we push ahead with our attempts to defend our Liga NOS crown with Sporting!

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