Porto FC: 10 Bold Predictions for the New Portuguese Season
Last season was an unbelievable one for FC Porto.
The Portuguese club managed to win an unprecedented treble, scoring the domestic double as well as the UEFA Europa League. They showed pure class throughout and several players established themselves as world class athletes.
However, with the new season looming, their chase for a repeat of last season will be much more difficult than expected.
Not only have domestic rivals Benfica and Sporting strengthened heavily in the off season, but the loss of star manager Andres Villas Boas to Chelsea will also hit the club hard.
Given all these factors, the race for the 2011/2012 Primeira Liga will be an exciting one and Portuguese teams will also be looking to make a big name for themselves in Europe this season.
Here are 10 bold predictions regarding those upcoming competitions.
Portuguese Teams Will Dominate the Europa League Again
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Last season's Europa League was dominated by Portuguese teams—of the four semifinalists, three were Portuguese clubs.
Although champions Porto drew the most attention with their brilliant displays, Benfica and Braga in particular made spectacular runs in the competition as well.
In this season's competition Sporting, Vitoria, Nacional, and Braga all feature in the qualifying rounds, facing FC Nordsjælland, Atletico Madrid, Birmingham City and Young Boys.
Although some of those could widely be considered difficult draws, you can expect to see the disciplined defending and attacking flair we witnessed from the Portuguese last season. We could easily see a Liga Sagres dominated competition for a second year running.
Porto and Benfica Will Make Deep Runs in the Champions League
As much success as Portuguese clubs saw in last year's Europa League, many criticized the nation's football clubs saying that the tournament meant very little.
While I did mention a host of top football clubs which were defeated and point out that three of four semifinalists were Portugese, perhaps the naysayers bring up a good point.
As honorable as it was for Porto to do the treble and Braga to have their fairytale run, you would barely expect the clubs to fare well with the real big boys in the Champions League. Right?
That's where you're wrong. This season Porto and Benfica, Portugal's premier clubs, will be in the competition and are ready to take on Europe's best.
If their blistering form from last season continues then only a handful of sides stand in Porto's way and in Benfica's case, the club's smart summer buys and tidy transfer business have them looking a tough team to face.
It may not sound likely, but you shouldn't be surprised if both Porto and Benfica make it far in next years Champions League.
Sporting CP Will Flop
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In terms of Portugal's top clubs, Sporting have been vast underachievers in the past few seasons.
Their last league capture came way back in 2002 and apart from some measly Super Cup and Taca de Portugal successes, the team has performed poorly in European competition.
Now, the club renowned for youth development has taken a very different approach at success. They have been active in the summer transfer window, bringing in as many as 14 different players.
While they haven't exactly splashed out any Manchester City-esque cash, the club's policy must still be looked upon with a slight abhorrence.
They have made some excellent captures including those of Jeffren Suarez, Diego Capel, Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Stijn Schaars, Diego Rubio and more, but to expect the club to bring in so many new players and automatically become a serious challenger domestically and continentally is just silly.
On top of all that, Domingos Paciencia has just been brought in at manager, meaning that the team's chemistry will be shaky—as demonstrated in their poor preseason.
Don't get me wrong, Sporting have been and will continue to be one of the top teams in Portugal, but they will not be able to challenge for the title quite yet.
The League Will Produce Another Special One
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The story of the Primeira Liga last season was not only the magnificent triumph of FC Porto. It was also the emergence of one of football's best new managers—Andres Villas Boas.
The 33-year-old has no playing experience and was in his first season with the club. However, his attack minded football and constant pressing game led his team to an amazing treble and an overall record of 58 games, 49 wins, five draws and four losses.
His success led to instant comparisons to former Porto boss Jose Mourinho, who is now indubitably the best manager in the world.
It would be nothing short of amazing for the league to simultaneously produce another high profile manager following Villas Boas's departure to Chelsea, but it is possible.
Of the 16 coaches in the league, 15 of them are Portuguese and many are young, ranging from the ages of 35 to 44, so you could see the Special Three emerge from Portugal soon.
Nuno Gomes Will Thrive at Braga
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Perhaps it isn't quite a bold prediction given Nuno Gomes's quality and high profile within the league, but you must admit the veteran striker is getting older.
The 35-year-old was a living legend at Benfica where he has scored 166 goals in 403 appearances. Gomes has now opted for a change of scenery and is with rising Portugese club Braga.
The striker is hoping to rediscover his top form from earlier in his career and gain a spot with Portugal's national team at Euro 2012.
A 35-year-old may not be the top choice but given Portugal's lack of talent up front, Gomes could produce a brilliant season with Braga and show that he has one more trick up his sleeve.
James Rodriguez Will Flourish
Neymar Schmeymar? Who needs him when you have the most promising young player in the world on your hands—James Rodriguez.
Most football fans would quickly dismiss the link, but Porto's supporters know that the youngster has a simply brilliant future ahead of him.
The 20-year-old is blessed with great pace and creativity and showed his stuff last season, scoring three goals and assisting five in 24 appearances.
After his breakout season last term, you can expect the young Columbian ace to feature much more prominently. Who knows, soon he could have his own €100 million release clause.
Hulk and Falcao Will Slow Down
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On the other hand, you can also expect Porto's big two of Falcao and Hulk to slow down a little from their stunning form last season.
The South American duo combined for a breathtaking 75 goals last campaign with Hulk doing the major work in the league as Falcao simply destroyed European opposition.
However amazing their displays last season were, though, it is unlikely that they'll be able to repeat such great feats.
Their class is permanent, but change of personnel, tiredness and high expectations will all ensure we won't see anything as brilliant as we did last season.
Porto's New Signings Will Become Huge Successes
Speaking of Falcao and Hulk, Porto are a club constantly renowned for their great talent scouts and wonderful youth development.
This summer has been no different with marquee signings including Kleber, Juan Iturbe, Alex Sandro and Danilo.
All have been highly touted, attracting the interest of top clubs, meaning Porto may be able to make some more hefty profits in the near future.
The youngsters will have a tough time breaking into a stacked squad, but the club are known for giving the little guys a chance and turning them into absolute superstars. If that's the case again this year, Chelsea, Real Madrid and the likes can get their wallets ready.
The League Will Be Much Closer Than Last Season
Last season's Portuguese league was an absolute blowout. FC Porto ran away with the league, not losing a single match and having their closest opposition a total of 21 points away.
While their domestic triumph can be widely attributed to their vastly talented squad and the magic of Andres Villas Boas, poor seasons from biggest rivals Benfica and Sporting also played a considerable role.
Now with Sporting and Benfica's summer spending sprees coming to a close, both teams are considerably stronger than they were last season.
The Portuguese league will again be dominated by the top teams, but you can expect to see a much tighter race among the front runners than we witnessed last campaign.
Porto Will Emerge Victorious Yet Again
As much as I believe the league will be far closer than it was last season, I still can't help but think that FC Porto have a pivotal advantage over any Portuguese opposition.
As they say in football, "the cream rises" and the Porto squad at the moment is one of the absolute best in all of Europe.
In addition to some smart purchases over the summer, they have so far managed to keep all their top profile stars such as Hulk, Falcao, Freddy Guarin, Joao Moutinho, Alvaro Pereira and more. The loss of Andres Villas Boas will hit the club hard, but Vitor Pereira is an able replacement and the team showed what they were capable of last season.
Whatever the outcome, we are in for quite a season in Liga Sagres.