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Tuesday, 18 September 2012 09:56

It’s back!

How will Porto, Benfica and Braga react to key departures?

ChampsLgLogo.jpgThe 2012/13 Champions League proper begins tonight. Portuguese fans will be even more transfixed than usual by the competition that represents the pinnacle of club football with three Liga Zon Sagres teams in this season’s group stages.
Upon learning their fate in the draw made on 30 August, all three Portuguese clubs were reasonably satisfied with the outcome, which appeared to open up good prospects of making progress to the knockout stages. But that was before the dramatic late transfer activity took place, with FC Porto (Hulk), Benfica (Javi Garcia and Axel Witsel) and Braga (Lima) left significantly weaker for losing their best players.
So as the trio kick off their Champions League campaign this week, extra interest has been generated to see how each club reacts to the departures.

Dynamo Zagreb v FC Porto

The Dragons get the ball rolling in terms of Portuguese participation with a trip to Croatia tonight to face Dynamo Zagreb. In the pre-match press conference, coach Vítor Pereira was inevitably asked about the impact of the departure of talismanic club captain Hulk.
“We will change absolutely nothing. We have worked for over a year on playing a certain way, implementing certain principles, and the departure of a player – although I acknowledge a very important player for us – will not change that. The team will respond collectively.”
Porto will also have to make do without the injured Fernando. Defour is expected to slot into the defensive midfield position. With centre-back Rolando suspended, FC Porto are likely to line up as follows:
Helton, Danilo, Otamendi, Maicon, Alex Sandro, Defour, Moutinho, Lucho González, Varela, Jackson Martinez, James Rodriguez
Dynamo Zagreb are in the Champions League for the second successive season, and will be looking to improve on a disastrous campaign last year in which they conceded a record 22 goals. Nevertheless, as Dynamo’s Portuguese centre-back Tonel was keen to point out, “we have not lost a single game yet this season.” And if the Portuguese champions needed any more warning to be on guard, they need only look at the statistic that on the four occasions the two clubs have met previously, the home side have always triumphed.

Celtic v Benfica

On Wednesday Benfica dispute the stand-out match of the week for Portuguese teams, as they take on Celtic in Glasgow. While Porto coach Vítor Pereira has to contend with the loss of one player, albeit a brilliant one, his counterpart at Benfica, Jorge Jesus, faces a huge challenge in plugging a gap left by the sales of midfield duo Garcia and Witsel.
The charismatic coach often receives criticism for an overly gung-ho approach, and the fact that the two players who did most to provide defensive cover for the Eagles are no longer on the books undoubtedly represents a huge challenge for the rest of the squad – and Jesus’ tactical nous. Young Portuguese duo André Almeida and André Gomes have been drafted into the squad from the B team, and may well be seeing first-team action earlier than expected.
At the time of writing it was still unknown whether captain Luisão will be available. The towering central defender has been banned for two months domestically for knocking over a referee in a pre-season friendly, and FIFA are currently analysing the case before deciding whether the suspension will be extended to international competitions. Should Luisão miss the match, his place will be taken by Jardel or Miguel Vítor.
While much of the focus will be on how Benfica try to stop Celtic scoring, the Lisbon club have an embarrassment of riches in terms of attacking options. Salvio, Cardozo and Rodrigo have all shown excellent form in Benfica’s three games so far this season, which have yielded 10 goals for Jorge Jesus’ men. Add to that the threat carried by Nolito, Nico Gaitán (who has yet to feature this season) and new centre forward Lima, and Jesus may not be overly worried about his back line, feeling that his charges can outscore the Scots.
Benfica’s full squad for the match in Glasgow is as follows:
Artur Moraes, Paulo Lopes, Bruno Varela; Miguel Vítor, Luisão, Jardel, Garay, Melgarejo; Matic, André Almeida, Bruno César, André Gomes, Pablo Aimar, Enzo Perez, Nolito, Ola John, Salvio, Gaitán; Cardozo, Rodrigo, Lima
The two storied clubs have met six times in the past, and honours are even, with three victories each, in which the home side always prevailed. It is the third time Celtic and Benfica have been drawn in the same group. On the two previous occasions (2006/07, 2007/08), the Scottish team qualified for the knockout phase (finishing 2nd in the group) at the expense of their Portuguese opponents (3rd). Moreover, Celtic have a formidable record against Portuguese opposition at Celtic Park, having won 9 and drawn 1 of 10 games.
Benfica’s flying left-back Melgarejo, for one, attaches little importance to the past. “We are very confident and we’re going there with ambition to get a victory,” said the 22-year-old Paraguayan, who was buoyed this week by signing a contract extension until 2018.

Braga v CFR Cluj

Braga also play on Wednesday, welcoming the champions of Romania, CFR Cluj, to the quarry. After squeezing past Udinese in the play-off, Braga are in the group stage of the Champions League for the second time in three seasons. In 2010/11 the Arsenalistas clocked up three wins and three defeats, and José Peseiro will feel his experienced team can at least match that performance this time round.
It is the first time the two clubs have met, but a multitude of links between both sets of players ensures neither club will hold surprises for the other. Cluj have six Portuguese in their squad, and three ex-Braga players (Mário Felgueiras, Diogo Valente and Rafael Bastos), and ten of Cluj’s squad have Liga Zon Sagres experience, most notably Sougou, who was a stand-out performer at Leiria and Académica. Braga goalkeeper Beto was the Cluj number one last season, as the then Porto player spent a successful season on loan, helping the club lift the Romanian league title.
A measure of the progress Braga have made in recent years in Portugal is exemplified by the fact the club provided more players to the Selecção than any other team in the recent World Cup qualifiers. Beto, Nuno André Coelho, Custódio, Rúben Micael, Rúben Amorim and Éder were all at the orders of Paulo Bento. Despite the loss of goal machine Lima, with such quality and experience available, anything other than a victory will be a disappointment for the home team.

Probable Braga starting XI:
Beto, Salino, Douglão, Paulo Vinícius, Ismaily, Custódio, Hugo Viana, Mossoró, Rúben Micael, Alan, Éder
by Tom Kundert

Comments (4)
Great posts !!
4 Wednesday, 19 September 2012 18:04
Ian I totally follow you.. Porto still has so much raw power that missing a guy like Falcao is a bigger hurt than missing Hulk.

James & Varela are extremely capable on the wings and with Lucho & Moutinho in the middle they are mouth watering.. all they need is a finisher.. just imagine Cardozo between those two.

But Porto controls the game so well and they will have abundant chances so everything looks great like you I really wanted to watch the Real v Man City game.. as it was such a treat to football fans.. yet I was on the patio and with limited bandwidth.. I watched the Porto game instead.. and tracked the others on Livescore..

Streaming with no audio sucked.. but what is a Portuguese fan to do.. and it was worth it and Porto's consistent attacks paid off!

I watchd the extended highlights of the Real game later.. even though it was great I still preferred it that way.

Andre i agree with everything you said.. and even though I bash JJ you have to give him some credit for the all out attack. His 4-4-2's are more like 2-4-4's and they have assembled a monstrosity at the top that few teams can compete with. Fortunately we have Artur in net and he is one of the best in the game at the moment.

Even without Maxi & especially Luisao I think Jardel in the middle and Vitor on the right.. we will have a strong backline.. with Matic supporting we might even be stronger than we have been in the last few games.

Malgarejo is an awesome attacker but is horribly inept at the back.. but our attack is so strong.. that they will be hard to cope with.

I know JJ will go with this lineup..

Rodrigo Cardozo
Gaitan Aimar Salvio
Vitor Jardel Garay Malgarejo

bar injury.. although his CL squads have been known to be anything but a norm.

You and I both would go more conservatively away.. and both of us would have Nolito who is not only a great playmaker, scorer, but also a player that tracks back on the wing. Even Enzo Perez who is less flambouyant but tracks back would be good..

I personally would have Enzo at RB.. and add Vitor to the DM position to solidify the back.. and even more defensive posture with a 4-4-2 would be to put Almeida in there and leave Aimar on the bench..

Airton would be perfect if he was there.. but we all know that won;t happen and we hope that our firepower away at such a hostile place as Celtic Park is enough to draw and win...

We are all crossing our fingers..

We know there are players that could today put on a huge show.. that on this big stage could make a name for themselves..

Like I said.. Gaitan loves these stages and I expect big things.

As result is definitely at hand...

Portuguese football needs it..
Here we go!!
3 Wednesday, 19 September 2012 12:21
A new CL campaign for SLB tonight. It has to be said that the preparation leading up to tonight has been far from ideal, losing two important midfielders and our captain to suspension. But adversity often brings out the best in teams and gets them more unified. All Benfiquistas hope this will be the case with our club at the start of this new season.

We would all love to get all 3 points tonight, and are certainly capable of pulling it off...however we must also acknowledge that Celtic Park is traditionally a tough place to go to in the CL, and we must be at our best and fully concentrated and motivated, in order to get a good result. A draw would be a good result and I would be satisfied with a point. A loss would be very disappointing considering Barcelona are our next opponents.

I hope JJ takes the safer option and goes for a 4-2-3-1 formation, as I believe he should for all away matches in the CL this season. This formation would likely enable us to get at least a point out of the match. But it is most likely he will go for 4-4-2 with both Rodrigo and Cardozo up front and try all out to get all 3 points. This is risky considering our defensive short-comings, but you have to admire JJ's determination to always go for a win regardless of the opposition. Fortune favours the brave? We sure hope so!

Curiously I think playing Miguel Vitor at right-back in place of the suspended Maxi may work well for us, as Vitor won't pour forward as much as Maxi does and as Melgarejo does on the opposite flank, and what we need is for him to stop Celtic crossing into our box. He will also act as a 3rd centre-back in defending from set-pieces, which looks to be Celtic's main avenue for scoring. I am also hoping for a strong performance from Matic in protecting the back 4. And Aimar's experience and class could be key as well. I personally would start Nolito on the left-flank tonight as he really seems like a "big-match" player, and just needs the confidence boost of starting important matches for us. He could make the difference for us in attack if given the chance.

It's only the first match so nothing will be decided tonight, although it may well set the tone for our campaign. I repeat a loss would be very disappointing as it would leave us with hardly any more margin for error in the group, considering we have to play Barcelona twice. A draw would be a good result, while a win would be absolutely fantastic. I just hope we play our normal attacking game and put on a good show to represent the strength of our Liga.....FORCA!!!
Life after Hulk starts now...
2 Tuesday, 18 September 2012 14:22
...and looking at Porto's probable starting XI, they have more than enough players to do some serious damage in this group. James, Jackson, Varela, Moutinho and new capitão Lucho...mouth watering. As much as I'd like to watch City v Ronaldo & Madrid, it will be Zagreb v Porto that gets my attention this evening.
Excited for all 3 teams!!!
1 Tuesday, 18 September 2012 13:14
Porto still has a great squad although Fernando not anchoring midfield is cause for concern.. but I trust that they will get a result.

Braga too who have real fighting spirit I also think will do well at home... they just need to manahufacture goals but they have a great midfield and I see it happening.. although sometimes they make things nailbiting..

Benfica I am more concerned about because from reports not even Maxi will play.. that makes our defence suspect... although I trust that Jardel & Vitor can cope well.. as both are quite promising.. it will be nice to see the young eagles spread there wings too in Almeida & Gomes.

What will be more important will be who JJ slots up front.. Gaitan was back the other day against Betis.. but it was only when Nolito came on did he thread a ball over to Gaitan to finish. Gaitan for all his faults.. usually plays well on these big stages.. Salvio has been playing exceptional as has Rodrigo.. Cardozo is the Goaldozr and will always threaten given the right passes..

Malgarejo is extremely dangerous moving forward on the overlap.. so it is exciting times for the game officials that track points..

But Celtic is never easy in Scotland they have a real fighting spirit even though they sit 5th in the weak League.. a draw would be a good result..and I expect some of these guys on this big stage to seize the moment.

Benfica might be weakened in defence but they are oozing with talent all over the pitch especially with our keeper in Artur..the best GK in a long time at Benfica..

I think Luisao will still hopefully be eligiable for this game.. and with Maxi gone that is important.. as I think Vitor will be entrusted with the right wing.. unfortunately the wings aren't great for Vitor as he doesn't have the foot speed to compete with some of the high flyers on the wing. He is very smart though and with JJ's penchant for attacking football will slot in well defensively. If he can combine well with Matic.. mistakes hopefully should be kept to a bare minimum.

Anyways I pray that all the Portuguese clubs do well this year in the CL and if not can go deep in the Europa League.

Would be a major check mark on the bucket list if we could pass Snoria A this year..

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