The Journeyman | Saving Sporting: Part 12 – Top of the Table Lisboa Derby

Sporting Lisbon headed into November 2021 on the back of five straight wins and with key players and young starlets hitting a real purple patch of form.

And that form continued as we went up against struggling Boavista, with Daniel Braganca continuing his fine form with two assists and another from in-form right-winger Goncalo Meneses. On the same day, Benfica lost their first match of the season at home to Porto.

We then somehow only won 2-1 at Desportivo des Aves despite having 36 shots to their 4. The hosts scored after 30 seconds and the winner was only secured through a Pedro Mendes penalty. But that did take us to 7 straight league wins.

Next up was 4th-placed Rio Ave, and an uneventful first half ended 0-0. But that changed with another penalty going in our favour, which Mendes converted for his 15th goal of the season. Meneses then wrapped up the win with his 5th goal and earned himself the player of the match.

He was at it again as we edged a very dull affair at CD Marítimo 1-0 which, after a long spell of cup games on which there’s more below, setup a home clash with top of the table SL Benfica.

Disappointingly, the match turned out to be a turgid affair. There wasn’t a single highlight in the half and, despite demanding more and going on attack, we only mustered one tame shot from Mendes that was straight at their keeper. Benfica also only had one highlight, which saw Luís Maximiano push Marco Asensio’s shot wide.

That did at least keep us in the title race but it made things very tight indeed at the top as Porto won at the same time as we were playing. Going into the winter break, there are now just 2 points separating the top three and we’re 12 points clear of 4th-placed Belenenses.

Champions League progression

We secured qualification for the knockout rounds of the Champions League for the second time with a big 3-0 win at Real Sociedad. Braganca and Meneses were both in exceptional form again, with the former creating two goals and the latter scoring twice. In that game, Alexander Isak played a 5.0 for Sociedad.

Our final game of the group was at home to Ajax and I made a few changes to rest the regular starters. That included bringing in Philip Cohen up front and he delivered big time by scoring a goal in each half as we won 4-0 to top the group. Cohen has already become seriously good at just 17-years-old – to the point that my coaches think he’s better than Mendes to be our best striker. But we can’t really drop Mendes yet based on his form.

Annoyingly, even though we won our group we then got drawn with Inter Milan in the first knockout round, who I doubt we have much chance against.

We took on Leixoes in the Taca de Portugal so I threw a few youngsters in. And one of them, striker Philip Cohen, got us off to a great start with one of the strangest FM goals you’ll see. Sebastian Coates headed a corner goalwards, a defender tamely cleared off the line and it bounced off Cohen’s knee and trickled over the line. Another youngster Bruno Tavares doubled the lead and we won 2-0. At the same time, Benfica won 10-0!

Portimonense were up next and I decided to fully rotate the team, which saw 21-year-old Ronan Darcy captain the side and 18-year-old academy product Marcio Barreira get a first start. Unsurprisingly, they scored from an indirect free-kick but substitute Gonzalo Plata equalised from close-range late on. Having made all three subs we then had a player injured, and lost in extra-time. But more worryingly, young right-back Daniel Fernandes played a 5.0 to dash any thoughts I had that he was ready to become our first choice.

I also then immediately realised we had a League Cup game up next, so I should have played in the first team in the previous match.. oh well! But we won the League Cup game 1-0 to qualify for the next stage.

Youth prospects

Away from the on-field action, we also received our first visibility into this year’s youth intake. And it generally looks positive, with “an excellent group of players coming through” and, in particular, a good Portuguese centre-back. However, the lack of green in the preview makes me doubt that’s true. Confusingly, it also says there are a lot of wingers coming through but “few good wingers in general,” which is another red flag that it might be crap.

Also, looking ahead to the January transfer window, Chelsea, Liverpool and Bayern Munich are interested in Braganca, while Chinese side DL Pro are after several of our players, including Coates, Cristian Borja and Idrissa Doumbia.

Join us next time as we look to keep up the pressure on Benfica and Porto and tackle Inter in the first knockout round of the Champions League.

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