The Journeyman | Saving Sporting: Part 11 – Impressive Meneses

Two games into Primeira Liga season three and we’d started well with two wins, including an impressive 4-0 defeat of Vitória de Setubal. But that promising start was soon to hit a bit of a bump.

The Summer transfer window saw us add a couple of new young additions, including 16-year-old English striker Philip Cohen. We paid Portsmouth £5 million up front, which could rise to £18 million with a load of potential add-ons. He’s already the third best striker at the club, so I’m very excited to see how he gets on at the club.

We may have won the first two games but we’d not looked great in either. And the form soon dropped with a 0-0 draw against Vitoria de Guimaraes then a 2-0 home defeat to FC Porto in which we were absolutely shocking.

That was followed by another home game against CD Santa Clara. We started really well, got ahead through a Pedro Mendes penalty and were dominating, only for Santa Clara to go down the other end and score with their very first shot. We threw everything at it, including throwing on young striker Philip Cohen and going ultra-attacking but nothing was happening.

That was until the 84th minute, when Mendes got on the end of a cross from Cristian Borja only for it to be saved by the keeper. I presumed that was the chance gone, but Cohen got onto the ball, shot and then it rebounded back off his boot and into the net. The 16-year-old had scored on his debut and won us the match. What a moment for the youngster as he became the youngest ever Primeira Liga goalscorer!

But the faltering start continued as we went to Pacos de Ferreira and were 2-0 down by half-time, with the home ridiculously scoring with their first two shots. Both were scored by striker Gelson Dala – who we sold to them and is awful. We’d been battering them all game – yet again – but just couldn’t score – yet again.

I laid into them at half-time and eventually got a response as Rodrigo Fernandes stepped up to score from range. Four minutes later we were back in it as Braganca won a penalty and Mendes stepped up to convert and get us level. But despite having the momentum of course nothing else happened for the rest of the match and we came away with a 2-2 draw.

Form gradually builds up

Back on home ground we then take on Estoril Praia and again came out flying. But this time we managed to take advantage of it. Idrissa Doumbia smashed in a screamer from range to open the scoring on 16 minutes then Braganca doubled the lead nine minutes later. Again, we absolutely hammered them with 29 shots to just 3, but somehow weren’t able to score any more goals.

Now, in the last year or so of the save I’ve noticed I’ve been getting questions about having a defensive approach – despite leaning my attributes towards attacking, most frequently playing a positive style and asking players to be more expressive. But I do notice we struggle to score many goals and have a hard time putting teams away – but how I can change it tactically, I have no idea.

A perfect example of this issue was an away game at Moreirense, in which we were awarded a 4th-minute penalty that Mendes duly converted. But then, despite dominating and having loads of shots, we couldn’t add to the lead and walked away 1-0 winners. I’m not complaining about the win but I definitely wouldn’t say I’m a defensive-minded manager!

On the back of that game, Jovane Cabral had the absolute gall to ask me for a new contract after this spell of form (in which the 6.0 against Pacos de Ferreira was actually a 5.9 when we took him off), which has led me to not only dropping him but considering cashing in on him. Absolutely baffling.

But our ‘defensive’ approach was forgotten as we went to FC Famalicao – who had Fabio Silva, who’d signed from Porto for £5 million in the summer, up front with support from Gabriel Martinelli and Chris Willock – and won 3-0 at a canter. J Fernandes hit a lovely shot from the edge of the box to get us going on 8 minutes, then P Mendes robbed a defender and ran through to score and Braganca smashed home after being teed up by Goncalo Meneses to send us in three-up at half-time. Their interesting attacking trio did absolutely nothing.

We then thumped new boys Penafiel 4-0 thanks to a Mendes brace, which took him to 10 goals for the season. Academy product Meneses claimed two more assists to move to 10 in 15 matches, which is hugely impressive for an 18-year-old. And he’s generally shown great improvement over the last couple of months.

And another home win followed as we beat Braga 3-2, but it should have been far more comfortable having been 3-1 up and bossing it before giving away a 78th minute penalty. However both Joelson and Rodrigo Fernandes scored and played really well, which was pleasing to see.

This uplift in form resulted in Pedro Mendes winning the October Player of the Month with 4 goals in 3 games and me winning Manager of the Month. But we are some way behind Benfica, who’ve started the season in staggering form.

Tough looking Champions League group

Our second venture into the Champions League saw us drawn in a group alongside Ajax, Bayern Munich and Real Sociedad – which looked pretty tricky.

The group began with entertaining Real Sociedad and we were very much the better team with plenty of shots but couldn’t find the killer goal. That was until the 71st minute when Mendes got onto the end of an excellent Meneses cross to head home. Then two minutes later Meneses was at it again, teeing up J Fernandes to double the lead, and Sociedad had no answer.

We then went away to Ajax, who were massive favourites, but again got our noses in front and they weren’t able to score past our resolute defence. Now I guess I understand why they refer to me as a defensive manager… But no amount of defensiveness would have helped us against Bayern, who eased to a 3-0 win. However, we bounced back from that loss with a hard-earned 0-0 draw at home, and could even have nicked it with a late Gonzalo Plata chance.

But that sets us up nicely for qualification and one more win could seal it.

Join us next time as we push into the Winter of Season 3 in Portugal and look to keep pace with Benfica and seek Champions League qualification.

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