FC Porto-AS Monaco: A First Look (Match report)

FC Porto 2-1 AS Monaco (Estádio do Dragão), 23 July 2022match report below

Line-up (4x3x3): Diogo Costa, João Mário, Pepe, Marcano, Zaidu; Uribe, Bruno Costa, Eustáquio; Pepê, Taremi, Evanilson

Also played: Rodrigo Conceição, Fábio Cardoso, David Carmo, Wendell, Grujic, Otávio, Galeno, Veron, Danny Loader, Toni Martinez.

Finally, the start of the season is upon us! It has been a long wait to see the Portuguese champions back on the pitch. After several weeks of only reading about the results of the various friendly matches, we had our first glimpse of what the 2022 FC Porto may look like. Whilst this was only a friendly match, it was high intensity and Monaco proved to be a very good opponent. There are reasons to be optimistic, but also reasons to be concerned.

I’ve written my Match Report below, which I would encourage you to read, but in this part of the post I will focus on the key points for optimism and for concern:

Reasons for optimism:

  • Sergio Conceição is still our coach. For a moment I thought he would resign, especially after the shenanigans with the sale of his son Francisco to Ajax for a measly 5m€. As long as Conceição is on the bench, we have a chance.
  • Pepê looked really good. Very confident, playing across the entire pitch, linking up well with Taremi/Evanilson, making deep runs in behind to stretch the defence. He is my early season favourite for MVP.
  • The Taremi-Evanilson partnership is likely to continue producing 30+ goals this season. I don’t know if it’s true that we rejected a 60m€ offer from Man Utd for Eva (I sincerely doubt it), but if we did, the player didn’t seem affected by it and was playing like he did last season.
  • Squad depth: this is mostly a strength (see below), as we have about 14 players who could start any game without a significant drop-off in quality, and a few more who could add to this list as the season goes on. This especially true at centre-back, where the ageless Pepe continues to be a mainstay on defence, with the returning Marcano and Fábio Cardoso being solid options. David Carmo will likely emerge as the other starter, and whilst it was only a 10min cameo yesterday, he looked good. All his passes were on the money.

Reasons for concern:

  • Squad depth: there is a clear hole in midfield at the moment, with a distinct lack of creativity. Bruno Costa is not good enough to play for Porto. The jury is still out on Eustáquio, and whilst he seems to be a little better, he will cap out as nothing more than a good reserve. The difference in quality of play when Otávio came on was extreme. Without Vitinha and Fábio Vieira, we need to sign someone of similar ability to play the final pass. I don’t think André Almeida is that player. Reinforcements needed.
  • Narrow formation: I didn’t love the 4x3x3 of the first-half and I hope we don’t see it again, especially with this line-up. We were very narrow for the vast majority of it; it worked ok on offense, but on defence it didn’t – the full-backs were often on 1v2 situations, as there was no one seemingly assigned to tracking the opponent’s full-backs. Back to the drawing board.
  • Set-pieces: this could be attributed to pre-season woes, but we were pretty bad at defending corners all game long, especially in-swingers at the near post. This was also a problem last season (remember Atlético Madrid at home?) and needs to be fixed urgently. We seem to have also lost our edge on attacking set-pieces, with no corners or free-kicks creating dangerous situations. This was also an issue last season.
A good start to the season from Pepê.

Match Report

In the first-half, Sergio Conceição’s troops lined-up in a 4x3x3, with Uribe anchoring the midfield, Bruno Costa and Eustáquio playing very centrally in front of him, and a very interchangeable front three of Pepê, Taremi and Evanilson. It was an interesting tactical wrinkle that we hadn’t seen before, as the attacking front all played very centrally, basically leaving the entire flank for the full-backs. Pêpê mostly started wide left, but would often cut across to the right, whilst Evanilson would drift inside from the right and Taremi played centrally for the most part, occasionally drifting left.

The first 25mins were quite lively, which chances on both ends, from Eustáquio, Pepe and Taremi on the Porto side, and Ben Yedder twice for Monaco, for two good saves by Diogo Costa. The last 20mins were quite dull. Overall, Porto was showing some problems in creating from the back, with neither Bruno Costa nor Eustáquio really adding much in terms of creativity on the ball; Uribe looked a step slow at times, losing the ball in dangerous areas – playing so deep doesn’t suit him as much, because he is good at carrying the ball forward and making deep runs into the box, which he can’t do if he’s standing in front of the defense. Pêpê was the stand-out from the front three, but his end-product still leaves something to be desired.

After no changes at half-time, the second-half started with Evanilson scoring off a long throw-in from Uribe, after Pepe headed the ball his way, but the goal was (correctly) ruled out for offside. After giving the starting line-up a 15min run, Sergio Conceição finally made some changes and replaced the below par Eustáquio and Bruno Costa with Marko Grujic and Otávio, switching to a 4x2x1x3, inverting the midfield with Grujic slotting in next to Uribe and Otávio playing behind the front three. This completely changed the game for the better.

Just a few minutes after being on the pitch, Otávio squared it to Zaidu on the left side of the penalty box, who hit a strong low shot that Nubel saved; a couple of minutes later Otávio released João Mário on the right side of the box, but he went for the shot (got blocked for a corner) rather than crossing it to the far post where Taremi was completely unmarked. A sign of things to come.

On the 65th minute, Taremi was fouled in box by Wanderson. Penalty. It was a trademark Taremi play, with the Iranian knocking the ball away from the defender and awaiting for contact to earn the foul. He is a master at this. Mehdi took the penalty as well and hit it straight through the middle for the 1-0. A deserved lead.

Sergio took the chance to make further changes a few minutes later, sending on Galeno, Danny Loader and Toni Martinez, in place of Pêpê, Evanilson and Taremi. Galeno’s speed was an immediate problem for Monaco, as evidenced by the second goal. Grujic at the edge of the box dipped the ball in for Galeno, who sprinted from the left side and jumped unmarked, to nick the ball with his head to the far post, beating Nubel for the second time. Nice pass and a smart finish. The rest of the second-half was mostly Porto trying to get a third goal but not really getting through, as the final pass was often lacking. On the 81st minute, Sergio made his final substitutions, replacing João Mário, Pepe, Marcano, Zaidu, and Uribe with Rodrigo Conceição (playing right-back), David Carmo, Fábio Cardoso, Wendell and Gabriel Veron (the new signing making his debut) – also switching the formation once more to a 4x4x2, with Galeno and Veron outwide, Otávio next to Grujic in midfield, and Loader playing off Toni Martinez.

Celebrating the first goal of the game.

The only other highlight to note was a ridiculous penalty from Wendell, who seems to continue the trend from last season of brainfarts at inopportune times. Monaco swung a corner from the right to the near post, with Wendell losing his man and proceeding to block the header with his arm. Clear penalty. Ben Yedder hit it strongly into Diogo Costa’s bottom left corner, giving the goalkeeper no chance. 2-1 was the final score.

All in all, a fair result, as Monaco created decent enough chances to get a goal, but Porto were the better team, especially in the second-half after Otávio came on. He takes my man of the match award, for the sheer level of influence.

Match ratings (1-5):

Diogo Costa (4), João Mário (3), Pepe (3), Marcano (3), Zaidu (3), Uribe (2), Bruno Costa (2), Eustáquio (2), Pepê (4), Taremi (3), Evanilson (3);
Rodrigo Conceição (n/a), Fábio Cardoso (n/a), David Carmo (n/a), Wendell (1), Grujic (3), Otávio (4 – MVP), Galeno (3), Veron (n/a), Danny Loader (3), Toni Martinez (3).

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