THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Portuguese season back to usual routine

icon portclubs8 November ~ With a quarter of the Portuguese Liga played a familiar pattern is emerging. After an off season in which they still won a second consecutive title – making it eight from the last ten – Porto are back to their best and top the league, just ahead of Benfica. Both teams have found a winning South American attacking formula: Porto have Colombians Jackson Martínez (the league's top scorer with eight) and James Rodríguez, while Benfica's lanky Paraguayan Óscar Cardozo has been hitting it off well with the Brazilian Lima, formerly of Braga.

Porto have clicked into gear in just about all other departments too, producing form has seen them qualify early for the last 16 of the Champions League. A possible exception is at left-back, where the adapted central defender Mangala has looked a little uncomfortable. Benfica have the same, now perennial left-back problem and others, notably in midfield where Javi García (now at Manchester City) and Axel Witsel (Zenit St Petersburg) have been sorely missed. In the Champions League they have underachieved and qualification from their group is looking compromised.

Sporting Lisbon, the third so-called Grande (an epithet that's becoming increasingly difficult to apply to them) are struggling badly and not for the first time. Already into their third coach, the Belgian Franky Vercauteren replacing Oceano, who replaced Ricardo Sá Pinto, they can't put a foot right. They have won just two official games all season and are 13 points off the pace, ten points behind third-place Braga, who are once again producing decent campaigns both domestically and in the Champions League.

Even more worrying for Sporting fans is that they're only one point above the relegation zone. If they weren't suffering so much, they might be able to derive some consolation from their B team, which currently top the second tier. Six clubs were allowed to register their B teams in the division, bloating it to 22: Sporting, Porto, Benfica, Braga, Vitória de Guimarães and Marítimo. Porto and Braga's B teams are near the bottom but that will worry them little given their positive A campaigns thus far.

In the next division down, a once great club reached a nadir in their history at the weekend: Boavista, under the inexperienced hand of former Portugal international Petit, lost 7-1 at Fafe, leaving them fifth from bottom with just one win from seven games. It was their worst defeat since 1982 but at least they had the excuse of that one, 6-0, being against Porto. A decade ago Boavista were putting in perfectly honourable, Braga-like performances in the Champions League. Phil Town

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