The Journeyman | Saving Sporting: Part 9 – Taking on Porto

Having established a commanding lead at the top of Primeira Liga, Sporting Lisbon faced two January battles with SC Braga and FC Porto then looked ahead to a Champions League clash with Real Madrid.

We managed to get rid of the only “not good enough and old” player at the club as we sold Carlos Jatoba to Vasco Da Game for £175k. We also sold on midfielders Miguel Luis and Joao Daniel Santos, who were both still young but probably weren’t going to threaten the first-team, to Leganes and Tottenham respectively for a combined £4.5 million.

That took our bank balance – which began at around £8 million in Blog 1 – to over £90 million. How’s that for managing finances?

There are no incomings to report this month, mainly because my scouts haven’t recommended any players good enough to me. I’ve strengthened our scouting team and sent a load of them out to find South American regens – so hopefully more positive news on that front next time…

Two big top of the table games

First up was Braga away, and we’d foolishly forgotten to remove a load of younger players from Under-23 duty while striker Andraz Sporar remained sidelined with a virus and Marcos Acuna was only fit enough to pop on the bench.

Despite giving it a bit of a hype-up, it turned out to be one of the most boring matches I’ve ever seen on Football Manager. Braga had a shot go well wide in the last minute of the first half and there wasn’t a single highlight in the second half. Still, a 0-0 draw took us to an impressive 27 league matches unbeaten.

The only positives to mention were Daniel Braganca continuing to impress with a 7.2, while goalkeeper Luís Maximiano – who doesn’t get too many mentions – and Luis Neto both played a 7.0.

Then we welcomed Porto to José Alvalade Stadium and put in probably our best performance of the save so far. At half-time we were 3-0 up from just 9 shots and had dominated 62% of possession. Pedro Mendes opened the scoring by poking home from close range after Luis Neto’s header from a corner, and Eduardo Quaresma made it three with his first ever senior goal.

Porto were shell-shocked and couldn’t bounce back in the second half, and we even added a fourth as Neto headed home a Jovane Cabral corner with 7 minutes remaining.

This huge win put us 12 points clear of Porto and Vitoria de Guimaraes, who had a game in hand and only finished 7th the previous season, with 15 games remaining.

Taking on Real Madrid

Progression in the Champions League was always going to be a tough ask having been drawn against the might of Real Madrid. However, we actually started quite well in the first leg.

Braganca gave us a lead after 12 minutes but the inevitable backlash soon arrived and Madrid came flying back through a great Casemiro strike and a Karim Benzema goal just before half-time. But we scored just after the break through Cabral and managed to hold out for a 2-2 draw.

However, going to Santiago Bernabeu was always going to be one step too far for this squad. We did at least manage to keep them very honest going into half-time at 0-0, but Eden Hazard struck on 67 minutes to give them an advantage. We then had to push for goals and Madrid eventually punished us with two late goals from Casemiro, in the 81st and 90th minutes. That said, they well and truly battered us – racking up 28 shots to our 5.

We were out of the Champions League but looking great in the Primeira Liga. And, you’d think the win over Porto would galvanise the players.

Join us next time as we look to build on the success over Porto and push towards a second league title.

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