The season 2022/23 season started last weekend, with Porto beating Tondela in the Portuguese Supercup final. The new league season is now upon us, with the first Portuguese League match being played this Friday, as Benfica takes on Arouca at home (Porto will be facing Maritimo on Saturday). This post is a preview of the 2022/23 season, where I have set out my expectations for Porto and our main rivals, and what I believe the final outcome may be.
We go into the season as the reigning Champions, after an absolutely stellar season when it comes to Portuguese competitions (not so much in European competitions), so one could argue that Porto start out as the favourites. Whilst I believe we are slight favourites and will note why, there are some issues to consider.
Looking at the positives first:
- This is year 6 under Sérgio Conceição, and this is a great advantage. There is a lot of built-in experience within the squad – players like Otávio have been here since the beginning, and have a lot of influence in helping on board new players, plus the coaching staff has remained intact.
- The way Porto plays under Sérgio’s stewardship has changed quite a bit from season to season, and there is a stark difference from 5 years ago. He has shown a lot of tactical flexibility over the years to try and come-up with new solutions if things are not working.
- The fanbase is 100% behind the team and the coaching staff. This is key – it makes for a very daunting task for our opponents to play at the Estádio do Dragão. Even away games most of the time feel like homes games, given the amount of fans travelling with the team.
- Whilst we lost some key players (see below) there is still a lot of talent in the squad. I’m also expecting further development in players like Zaidu, João Mário, Pepê and Grujic; Plus, there are others like the newly signed Veron, or youngsters Gonçalo Borges and Vasco Sousa that could emerge as viable starters.
- There is a lot of quality in the centre-back position in particular, which was an issue last season due to injuries to Pepe and Marcano. David Carmo is a star in the making and Fábio Cardoso is a starter in this league.
- The frontline appears to be really strong, if it stays like this. Taremi and Evanilson have a fantastic partnership, Toni Martinez is a very good reserve off the bench and Danny Loader appears very promising. I’m expecting 50 goals between the 4 of them.
There are some negatives to consider however:
- Vitinha is irreplaceable in the short-term. He completely transformed how our midfield operated last season. Not having him in the squad anymore will mean the way we play has to change. One player who could take on some of the creative burden was Fábio Vieira, but he sold in the summer as well. The two starting midfielders (Uribe and Grujic) and the two back-ups (Bruno Costa and Eustáquio) are all kind of similar, so at least one new, different type of midfielder is needed.
- There is a lack of depth in the full-back position, which comes from last season. Zaidu is a borderline starter and Wendell is a decent reserve, but none of them, in my view, are Porto-level quality at this moment in time. João Mário had a very good season, but he has no back-up. Bruno Costa played there at times, but he’s not suited for that role. I don’t know that Rodrigo Conceição can actually play. It’s puzzling to me that Tomas Esteves never got a chance.
- There is an overall lack of Champions League experience in this squad. That reared its ugly head last season, in the way we got beat by Atlético in the group stages, when we were by far the better team in both games.
Sporting look pretty much the same as last season. I expect a slight pull-back from them, on the basis that they lost their best player in Pablo Sarabia. However, Pedro Gonçalves is likely to play much better and I think Trincão will be a good signing for them. Palhinha leaving doesn’t really move the needle in my opinion, as Ugarte had already taken over as the starter towards the end of last season.
The key thing to keep an eye on is whether Mateus Nunes stays – it looks like he will stay, but there is no guarantee given how weak the negotiating position of Portuguese clubs is relative to English clubs. If he leaves… it would be quite difficult for Sporting to find an adequate replacement in the short-term, so that would make me reconsider where they stand.
Benfica comes into the season with a completely new coaching staff, a different style of play and a lot of new players to integrate. Whilst they lost their best player from last season Darwin Nuñez (even if a tad overrated), the squad appears to be much more balanced and with more options at key positions.
Their new coach, Roger Schmidt, has an interesting brand of football, predicated on high pressing and involvement of lots of players in the attacking build-up; so far, early indications appear quite positive (the 4-1 win against Midtjylland yesterday was impressive). We have seen some defensive frailties however, which could be exploited in the early goings, as they try to bed down this totally different style of play.
In addition, Schmidt is very new to the reality of Portuguese football, and that matters; the last foreign coach to win a Portuguese league in his debut season was Co Adriaanse for Porto, back in 2006. Still, I expect a much improved Benfica compared to last season, and this should be a 3-team fight until the end.
In conclusion, I believe Porto start the season as the favourites. However, it’s a smaller margin than in recent years, and this is one that will be decided right at the end. In terms of percentages, I would have it as: Porto 35%, Sporting 33%, Benfica 32%.