Portuguese League: FC Porto-Sporting CP (Match Report)

FC Porto 3-0 Sporting CP (Estádio do Dragão), 20 August 2022 – match report below

Line-up (4x1x2x1x2): Diogo Costa, João Mário, Pepe, Marcano, Zaidu; Uribe, Bruno Costa, Otávio, Pepê; Taremi, Evanilson

Also played: Wendell, Eustáquio, Galeno, Veron and Toni Martinez.

The first ‘Clássico’ of the season ended with a categoric Porto win, as the Portuguese champions beat Sporting 3-0 last night. Porto are now 5 points clear off Sporting in first place, which is an important advantage so early in the season. I have to admit though, the final score is very flattering, because Sporting were the better team for large portions of the game. Porto capitalised on Sporting’s mistakes and should have scored a fourth game (Veron’s goal should have stood), but these mostly resulted from poor defending rather than great attacking play.

It was a repeat of what we have seen since the start of the season. An inability to create chances when the opponent is organised defensively – we either manage to win the ball back in dangerous areas by committing 7 players (in lines of 3 and 4) to press the opponent outside of their penalty box, or rely on individual brilliance to make things happen (especially on the counter-attack). This is not a recipe for sustained success.

I will be keeping track of the goal and assist tallies for all competitions.

Positives & Negatives

I’ve written the full match report below, but here I’ll focus on the positives and negatives from this match. Starting with the positives:

  • May Sérgio Conceição never play Pepê as a central midfielder again, please! We finally saw the Pepê from the preseason game against Monaco. He was our main dynamo on offense, carrying the ball forward when the passing game wasn’t working, taking defenders on to open up the defence and wreaking havoc with his pace on the counter-attack. I still think it’s a waste to play him in the middle, because he is at his best running at defenders on the wing, where he has more space. But he is clearly much better suited for a #10 role than a central midfield role.
  • Diogo Costa was absolutely sublime and takes my vote for man of the match. He is the type of goalkeeper that wins you championships. I don’t know how much longer we will be able to keep him, but I hope we can at least hold on to him this season. He made 3 crucial saves in key moments and just exudes confidence, making his defence play better just by virtue of being there. He will quickly vault himself into the discussion for best goalkeeper in the world once he leaves Porto.
  • Uribe and Otávio both played very solid games. Uribe snuffed out a few potential goal scoring opportunities by being in the right place at the right time. He was also always available for the outlet pass; Otávio was a little buried in this midfield diamond, but whenever he was on the ball, you could see he was a different class from the rest.
  • After a horrid performance last weekend, João Mário was back to his best. He played well on offense and on defence. Credit to the centre-back duo as well, both were solid and made no mistakes. Galeno had another strong showing off the bench and was key in the build-up of both penalties.
  • Our pressing off the ball was excellent in the first-half, and asphyxiated Sporting’s midfield. Outside of one chance whilst the game was still 0-0, Sporting couldn’t do much on the ball, as there was always one Porto player breathing down their necks.
Fantastic performance from Diogo Costa, who gets my vote for man of the match.

Looking at some of the negatives:

  • As noted earlier, I was again unimpressed by our offense; the ineptitude of this team to create goal scoring opportunities against an organised defensive unit is concerning. Compound that with our inability to keep the ball for most of this game (Sporting won the possession battle 36%-64%), and you’re asking for trouble. A creative midfielder is lacking, but I think Sérgio is making it harder for this team by insisting in this formation.
  • Zaidu was the weakest link yesterday, losing a few balls on offense and not being decisive on defence. Sporting nearly scored later in the game due to Zaidu missing a routine clearance, setting through Fatawu on goal. He is playing better than last season, but still not entirely reliable. Evanilson also played poorly, despite the goal.
  • I thought Sérgio took too long to make changes and introduce Galeno. We couldn’t keep hold of the ball, so there was no point having 2 strikers and Bruno Costa (close second for worst performer) on the pitch. We needed someone who could just take players on and force Porro to stay back.
  • It wasn’t just on offense that the formation didn’t work. Defensively as well, Sporting were often in 2v1 situations on the wings – all of their goal scoring opportunities came from crosses. I had noted this after the game against Monaco (you can read this here), how this extremely narrow formation leaves the full-backs exposed.
Marcus Edwards was (for me) a surprise start. The defence did a good job of nullifying him.

Match Report

Otávio was back in the starting line-up, as expected, but Bruno Costa was a surprise start instead Grujic (injured, not even on the bench). I was sure Eustáquio would start if Grujic couldn’t go. It didn’t really work because Bruno Costa was terrible. The rest of the line-up was as predicted (see here). Sporting started Edwards instead of Nuno Santos, which also surprised me, but I don’t think it worked either.

The first-half was fairly even, with a lot of fouls and not a lot of football. But Sporting could have opened the score on the 10th minute. Pedro Gonçalves had a nice run on the left (the only time he looked threatening), leaving Pepe in the dust and found Matheus Reis in the box. He couldn’t control it and after some confusion, the ball landed at the feet of Morita, who dribbled past Otávio and hit it strongly with his left foot against the post. If not for the post, it would have been a goal, because Diogo Costa had no chance.

There was barely anything else noteworthy throughout the rest of the first-half, until Porto got on the scoresheet on the 42nd minute. Pepe played a simple pass to Uribe just inside Sporting’s half, who played it quickly to João Mário on the right. With tons of space in front, he carried the ball to the edge of the box and sent in an excellent cross to Taremi at the far post. He got there before Adán, the two collided, and the ball landed at the feet of Evanilson to tuck it home from close range.

The build-up to the first goal. You can see the front 3 on top of Sporting’s defence and a line of 4 in front of Uribe, who supports the two defenders.

Sporting wasn’t going down without a fight and almost scored twice before the break. On the 47th minute Trincão set off Matheus Reis on the left, with a lot of time and space to play the right ball, he crossed it to Trincão again near the penalty marker. He slotted it to the left of the goalkeeper, but Diogo Costa made an incredible reaction save. From the ensuing corner, Gonçalo Inácio got the header in at the near post, which Diogo saved in a very unorthodox fashion, but had the reaction time to grab the ball before Coates could score on the rebound.

Sporting came out strong from the break and had a couple of half chances in the opening 10 minutes, but Porto’s defence stood strong. Both coaches made their first substitutions around the 70th minute, with Rochinha and Nuno Santos coming on for Morita and Neto, and Galeno and Eustáquio replacing Taremi (carrying a knock) and Bruno Costa. Both teams maintained their formations, but Sporting were clearly looking more attacking.

Soon after the changes however, Porto scored the second goal and effectively ended the contest. A nice link-up play between Galeno, Evanilson and Pepê, sent through the former Grémio winger on the left side of the box. He hit a nice pass to the far post where Eustáquio was going to score, but his shot deflected off Nuno Santos and turned into a cross to Galeno. He headed it home, but Porro was on the line to save the ball with his left hand (pretty good save actually). Penalty and red card. No debate. Uribe proceeded to make it 2-0.

With just 10 men on the field, this match was basically over, but Sporting didn’t give up and continued to have more of the ball as they tried to get a goal. On the 82nd minute, Coates hoofed the ball forward to Fatawu, who was running in behind Zaidu. The nigerian completely muffed the clearance and effectively padded the ball down to Fatawu, who outpaced Marcano to go clean through on goal, but he couldn’t score past Diogo Costa.

Just a couple of minutes later, off a Sporting corner, Pepê ran with the ball from outside Porto’s box all the way to Sporting’s midfield half and sent through Galeno on goal. The brazilian was quicker than Adán to get to the ball and got fouled. Clear penalty. Galeno stepped up and made it 3-0. That was game over.

There was still time for Sérgio Conceição to make his last subs, as Veron, Toni Martinez and Wendell came on to replace Pepê, Evanilson and Zaidu. On the 92nd minute, Veron dispossessed Fatawu and went clean through on goal. He dribbled past Adán and made it 4-0. However, the referee inexplicably blew his whistle before the end of the play, signalling a foul by Veron in the build-up. Horrible decision, because there was no foul and he didn’t allow VAR to correct his mistake. This was textbook how not to referee a play in the era of VAR.

Pepê’s blistering pace created a lot of problems for Sporting’s defence.

Overall, this was a very important win. The flattering score shouldn’t mask this team’s shortcomings, because there is a lot of work to be done (in the transfer market, but especially on the training ground). But it will be a nice confidence booster ahead of the next match at Rio Ave, and also a confidence killer for one of our main rivals.

Match ratings (1-5):

Diogo Costa (5), João Mário (4), Pepe (3), Marcano (3), Zaidu (2), Uribe (3), Bruno Costa (2), Otávio (3), Pepê (4), Taremi (3), Evanilson (2); Eustáquio (3), Galeno (4), Wendell, Toni Martinez and Veron (n/a).

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