Friday, July 19, 2024

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Sporting look like Champions

In a week of Carlsberg Cup matches Sporting put on a display that showed they’re not only serious contenders for the Cup, but could be ready to take their first league title in seven years.


The Lions put away Paços Ferreria 5-1 as they progressed to the semi-finals with their biggest result of the season, but it was the way they produced their victory that was more impressive than the score line.



Paolo Bento put out his usual diamond midfield, but today it found Rochemback starting at the back of it, Izmailov on the left, Moutinho on the right and Romagnioli at the head as Vukčević was pushed up to partner Liedson in attack.


Many a manager has found that putting out your best 11 players doesn’t necessarily create your best team, and while Miguel Veloso has arguably been second only to Izmailov among Sporting’s best players this season, it is his absence through injury that seems to have inadvertently led Bento to finding his best team.


While Bento can’t take any credit for not putting Veloso in the side, he can take credit for finally dropping the totally ineffective Helder Postiga and slotting Vukčević up front instead. The Sporting manager has lacked options in attack, with only the pacy but wild-firing Djalo and the past-it Derlei providing back up for Postiga and Liedson, but his sudden decision to shove Vukčević forward is paying dividends.


The Montenegrin had previously been deployed either at the front of or on the left of the midfield diamond, but his transition to a striking role has seen him score three goals in three games and left Postiga looking very desolate on the bench last night.


In a typically solid first half display, Sporting dominated but didn’t create a wealth of opportunities, and although they deserved to go in ahead it was only because of a goalkeeping blunder that they did. Liedson looked somewhat shocked to see his injury time volley dribble past Cássio into the net, but he won’t care, for while the Portuguese call such a blunder “um frango” (literally, “a chicken”), this one proved to be “um frango monumental” in the words of the country’s Record newspaper, as it made him the highest scoring foreign player in Sporting’s history .


The second half was a totally different story following the introduction of Pereirinha for Romagnioli and the removal of the largely ineffective Moutinho. Sporting were suddenly transformed from an average team to an unstoppable machine as Moutinho’s replacement Adrien went to play on the left, freeing up the right flank for Izmailov who proceeded to dictate the game.


Bouncing passes off Pereirinha the wily Russian orchestrated the best 45 minutes of football seen on these shores all season. With Vukčević and with Liedson also sprung into life it took Sporting only three minutes to fashion another goal, with Pereirinha sliding a cross along the floor to Liedson who duly obliged with a finish from eight yards.


All four of the aforementioned worked tirelessly throughout the half and Rochemback put in the kind of no-nonsense muscle at the back that Veloso’s game doesn’t provide as Sporting crafted chance after chance. Threading passes between defenders, spreading the ball wide, playing it through the middle and knocking about swift 1-2s, the team’s attacking prongs worked with both a fluidity and a conscientiousness of their roles and positions that Bento had not been able to manufacture previously this season.


Izmailov moved between the right and the left wings to torment Paços as he and Pereirinha created chance after chance for Vukčević, who could have had a hatrick, and Liedson, who could have easily had five. As it was Vukčević got one on 75 and Liedson wrapped up his hatrick on 88, but it was Izmailov’s swerving, dipping strike from distance on 66 that epitomised the sheer jaw-dropping brilliance of Sporting’s second half display.


Along with above par displays from Ronny at left back and Caneira at centre back, this was far and away the best performance of the season by any team. And with Porto and Benfica only managing to slog their ways to unconvincing 1-0 wins against Académica and Belenenses this weekend, Sporting suddenly look like potential champions.

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