Sunday, October 7, 2012

FC Porto punish Sporting for bad start

Starting elevens

FC Porto and Sporting met in absolutely opposite sides of the spectrum. The Dragons were on the back of a good display and subsequent win against Paris Saint-Germain, whereas the Lions had been trounced by Videoton, with the subsequent dismissal of Ricardo Sá Pinto. Therefore, it was only natural that Vítor Pereira chose not to make any changes on his eleven. Sporting caretaker coach Oceano Cruz kept the same basic structure, going with Schaars and Elias in the centre and Pranjic in front of Insúa on the left, supposedly to keep Danilo in check and exploit James Rodríguez's back, since the latter often tends to drift into the middle.

Oceano's plan seemed to rely on tying Porto down and avoid a goal during the game's initial stage, instructing Schaars to stick tight to Lucho almost all over the place. With Elias occupied by João Moutinho, Fernando was often free, since Izmailov was acting as some sort of no. 10 and letting FC Porto holding midfielder free, which meant the Portuguese champions kept enjoying numbers-up situations.

Despite all the flak he's been getting from the stands, Vítor Pereira has to be credited for getting FC Porto to play more fluid football in the early stages of the season, with an accompanying higher defensive line. By winning many balls back during Sporting's build-up or transition phase, FC Porto were able to exploit Schaars' absence, since Lucho would drag him around. This move would in turn open up space for James, who tried to hit the target from that very area (in front of the centre-backs, were Schaars should be) moments before Danilo provided the assist for Jackson Martínez's cheeky back heel.

Sporting seemed a bit stunned for a few minutes, while FC Porto remained compact, but dropped back up front. With Mangala coming on for the injured Maicon, the Dragons were bound to run into trouble, since the French centre-back does not react as quickly and is more prone to misplacing passes. Furthermore, Vítor Pereira's men started to decompress after the goal, apparently reliant on the fact that they would be able to create danger as soon as they hit the throttle.

On the half-hour mark, Sporting started loosening their chains, realising that FC Porto's high line was now vulnerable without Maicon. Izmailov got closer to his midfield and started providing a few key passes that a more clinical finish would have turned into assists. Maybe Pereira's intention was just that all along, because Sporting kept making a mistake they have been making for quite some time now, regardless on who the manager is: pushing forward with both full-backs when trailing, opening up huge holes and consequently numerical inferiority situations.

Sporting dictated the first 15 minutes of the second half. With Izmailov ever more present (his substitution's timing was unfortunate, because he was starting to be the linchpin that Sporting needed), FC Porto midfield was at times marooned, namely after Varela's poor decisions in the final third, breaking up the team in some critical situations. However, if Sporting want to fight for a position more suited to their history, Elias has to become more involved and offer passing options, instead of hiding himself from the match, and there has to be better organised attacking moves. As things stand, everyone just seems to expect Carrillo to come up with something.

Rojo's sending off was a natural consequence of Sporting venturing forward (and should have laid the match to rest even before the second penalty). Even though the Argentinean centre-back's approach in not exactly beyond reproach, Sporting's next coach has to make it priority number one to review the full-backs' positioning when attacking, since it often leaves the Lions totally and unnecessarily exposed.

All in all, it was a somewhat scrappy match. Sporting maintain their all too clear lack of attacking options and the next manager will have his work cut out for him. As for FC Porto, even though their victory was not unfair, there were times of poor control and decision making (namely in their transitions into attack) that could have proven disastrous. Nevertheless, Vítor Pereira will be ecstatic after two important victories and no goals conceded.

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