Sunday, August 11, 2013

FC Porto 3-0 Guimarães: Dragons pick up where they left off

Starting elevens

The Portuguese Supercup is usually a time where the two strongest teams meet as something of a taster for the upcoming season. This year, thanks to the strong second half of their seasons, Vitória Guimarães booked a well-deserved place against champions FC Porto via their success in last season's Portuguese Cup. However, any chance of an evenly-balanced match subsided after a mere five minutes.
After the early departure of João Moutinho and James Rodríguez, FC Porto displayed a rather usual eleven, with Defour playing in what used to be Moutinho's position and Licá surprisingly taking his place on the left, with Varela stationed on the right (and Iturbe oddly not even on a bench with newcomers Herrera, Quintero, Ghilas and Josué). Guimarães' resistance lasted all of five minutes, when Lucho González provided the assist for Licá to score for the club he supported since he was a child.

  • Lucho runs the show

While the opposition was rather feeble, to say the least, in the play that led to the first goal of the match (a huge no-no in professional football at such a high level), its most interesting aspect was actually Lucho's positioning. Paulo Fonseca seems to have abandoned the system (4x3x3) that the Dragons have favoured for a decade and a half (Co Adriaanse's experiences notwithstanding).

Indeed, Defour would start alongside Fernando and move further up while starting the first build-up phase. Lucho, rather than completing the midfield threesome, started off much closer to Jackson Martínez, often combining with the Colombian striker in interesting one-twos and effectively running the show throughout the match.

Rui Vitória's men played an important role by not managing to find a way to mark the Argentinean captain or keep the passing lanes closed, which meant Lucho had all the time in the world to make the best decisions - whether by peeling off his marker or vacating the space for others to occupy. The neuralgic area in front of the Guimarães defence was never duly taken, with centre-backs afraid to come out and press Lucho or Jackson and midfielders leaving acres of space behind them.

Adding insult to injury, the deployment of the skilful Barrientos on the left provided little (if any) defensive coverage down the wing, a wing that FC Porto kept ramming down to their heart's content. No wonder, then, that all of FC Porto's three goals should stem from that side, with neither Addy nor the midfielders looking to offer the necessary cover.

  • Licá's impressive start

While the new formation allowed Lucho to do what he does best, there were several other points of interest, the most interesting of which was Licá's positioning and movement. If Iturbe's absence was rather conspicuous, Licá's inclusion in the starting line-up was not less surprising, particularly considering he showed a few signs of restlessness, probably from trying too much too soon. The Portuguese offers a somewhat dfiferent perspective as far as FC Porto wingers go, since he adds a striking dimension to the team's skill set.

Rather than just playing out wide, Licá often moved inside, overloading the centre area of midfield (for instance, when Lucho drifted away and dragged his markers with him), leaving the wing to Alex Sandro. More importantly, he effectively acted almost as a second striker whenever the ball was being played on the other wing, not far off Jackson Martínez. His goal (the first of the match) offered good evidence when Lucho spun behind Jackson and Licá appeared on the far post burying the ball into the net.

While his skills may eventually come up short against stronger opposition, this sort of threat may well prove all too important for FC Porto when facing smaller teams, especially in their own turf.

  • Paços de Ferreira all over again?

In a less interesting second half, there were however a few details that could allows us to take a peek into Paulo Fonseca's ideas and plans for the future of his team. Fonseca's previous charge at Paços de Ferreira Josué came on and his presence immediately mirrored Fonseca's former team formation and movement.

Indeed, an almost perfect square almost instantly formed, with Fernando alongside Defour and Josué drifting inside from the left the second the ball got to the feet of Alex Sandro or Mangala, further enhancing FC Porto's dominance as far as ball possession is concerned. Whether that means FC Porto will resort to the first-half's plan or the second-half one remains to be seen as the season progresses, but the signs of the coach's work and the several formation alternatives seem to be a relevant issue.

As for Vitória de Guimarães, the need to work once again with a short budget and therefore with a squad filled with young and new players means that Rui Vitória will have his work cut out, even though which game plan Guimarães' leader will choose (the sight during the second half of balls being bombed forward towards the promising Maazou) remains to be seen.

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