The rebuilding effort at Sporting Lisbon seems to be defying the “Saving” aspect of the name of this particular save. After a sluggish start to their Primeira Liga defence, the Sporting boys are well and truly firing on all cylinders as we head into November.
Importantly, we received £13 million for making the group stages of the Champions League, then received a £3.7 million boost as a result of Manchester United doing the same thanks to one of many clauses in the Bruno Fernandes deal.
We were included in the first pot of the draw, which helped us avoid some of the bigger teams in the competition. And we got what looked like a relatively favourable draw in AS Roma, Olympique Lyonnais and Eintracht Frankfurt. It certainly could have been worse, but more on that later.
After draws with FC Porto and SC Braga then a narrow win over SC Farense, the lads found their scoring boots with a 4-0 away thumping of Rio Ave led by a brace from Andraz Sporar. That was followed up with a 3-0 win at home to newly promoted Estoril Praia. But then the big Slovenian striker kicked into form with two consecutive hat-tricks in a 4-1 win at CD Tondela and a 5-0 smashing of Moreirense FC.
The goals kept on coming as we won 3-0 away to Pacos de Ferreira thanks to a Rafael Camacho brace. And equally importantly, the defence was doing its bit as we took the clean sheet tally to four straight matches with a 1-0 win at Vitoria de Giumaraes – who at that point were second in the league – then 2-0 at home to CD Santa Clara.
A big Benfica test
But the big test came as city rivals SL Benfica came to town. Benfica, the champions of Portugal in 2019, have had an interesting time of it during this save. They finished 5th in 2020, behind Braga and Marítimo, then sold off a load of players in the summer, including Florentino Luis and Alex grimaldo both joining Liverpool and 30-year-old Pizzi going to Tottenham for a ridiculous £32.5 million.
In total, they brought in £144 million during the summer and spent £42.5 million of it on, well, not a lot. Most of that went on the other Luis Suarez from Watford and Yangel Herrera – neither of which have started a game yet this season. Bizarre.
They’d started the season well with a mighty impressive 19 match unbeaten run in all competitions before losing to Porto in their last game. We looked to take advantage of that blip and came out flying, racking up 10 shots inside the first 15 minutes. And we made the pressure count as Sporar steered home a rebound from a very tight angle after the keeper had parried his first attempt from a Cristian Borja cross.
We kept the pressure going but had to wait until the 75th minute to double our lead. This time an Acuna corner found Sporar free in the six-yard-box and his header was fumbled into the net by the keeper. Benfica won’t be happy with their defensive and goalkeeping efforts, but we were chuffed with a vital three points.
That made it 9 consecutive league wins and took us 9 points clear of Marítimo and 11 ahead of Porto, who both have a game in hand, and 12 clear of Benfica, who have two games in hand. Sporar’s 13 goals in 11 games puts him 7 clear of anyone else and matches his tally for the entire previous campaign – in November. He’s also got the highest average rating, most player of the match performances, while Luís Maximiano has 9 clean sheets in 11 matches.
Champions League struggles
Our Champions League exploits aren’t looking quite so rosy. We drew with Roma, took a 5-0 hammering at Lyon, beat Eintracht Frankfurt away then managed to lose to them at home – both 1-0. So with Roma away and Lyon at home to come, Europa League looks like our best bet.
We’re also struggling in the League Cup, which my board don’t care about anyway, but progressed in our first round of the Taca de Portugal with five players on the scoresheet as we beat Sporting Ideal 5-0 away.
Join us next time as we continue our defence of Primeira Liga, try to improve our European form and get through the Winter in Portugal.