Portuguese League: Rio Ave FC-FC Porto (Key Takeaways)

Rio Ave FC 3-1 FC Porto (Estádio dos Arcos), 28 August 2022 – key takeaways below

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

Also played: André Franco, Galeno, Veron, Danny Loader and Toni Martinez.

What a disaster. There is no other way to describe this match other than utter disaster. Porto came out flat, conceded 3 goals in a 20min span in the first-half, and dug too big of a hole to claw back from in the second-half. The warning signs were there from the beginning, and I had pointed these out several times (dating all the way back to the last friendly against Monaco, which you can read here), but the results up to now helped mask most of these issues. No more.

We came into this game knowing we had the chance to go 8 points clear off Sporting (after their shocking home loss to Chaves), which would be tremendous after just 4 games. But somehow that wasn’t enough motivation to start off strong. Rio Ave had the first chance of the game after less than a minute in, and that set the tone for the rest of the first-half. Changes are needed.

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

Key Takeaways

I usually write the positives and negatives after each game, as well as give you a match report with the detail of what happened during the game. In the interest of not making this post huge (also it’s coming in late, as I was unable to watch this live) and given that I have few positives to note, I’m going to do key takeaways instead:

  • First things first: well done Rio Ave. They played really well in the first-half, with an excellent defensive plan and some really good performances up front. Fábio Ronaldo looks like he could become a pretty good player. Pedro Amaral, Costinha and Yakubu Aziz were also excellent. Jonathan was very solid in goal.
  • Sérgio criticised Rio Ave for time-wasting and even got into it with Rio Ave’s coach (Luis Freire) after the match. I didn’t see that. There were 3 big stops during the game, one after Veron hit a thunderous shot at Ronaldo’s face (legitimate stoppage), a second one to review the penalty claim (took a little too long, but not Rio Ave’s fault) and one after Galeno stepped on Amine’s ankle (he seemed to exaggerate how hurt he was, but that was a decent shout for a VAR red card). If all small teams played like this, we would have a much more enjoyable League.
  • Luis Freire stifled our offense by playing in a hybrid 3x4x3 / 5x4x1, whereby the front three would press our back three in the first instance, forcing the ball out to our full-backs that would then get pressed by their full-backs. Not dissimilar to how Porto has been defending thus far. If the Porto players got over the first line of pressing, the Rio Ave wingers would drop deep and tuck inside, to create a sort of midfield wedge, to take away all the space in the centre. A very smart way of approaching it and it really worked.
  • Porto made life easy for them though, by insisting on playing in this extremely narrow formation for the entirety of the first-half. It’s time for Sérgio Conceição to admit that the midfield diamond is just not working. This formation is easy to defend, because the opponent can just pack the centre of the pitch and force the ball wide to our full-backs. João Mário can still make things happen on occasion, but Zaidu cannot without support. This makes us extremely predictable on offense. You could argue for its defensive benefits, but you didn’t see them in this game.
  • Sérgio also trotted out the same starting line-up that played against Sporting. The old dogma of not making changes from game to game if you keep winning is ridiculous. You need to adapt your game plan to your opponent. Once I saw the line-up, my initial reaction was that we would struggle to generate any kind of offense against a team that would mostly play in a low defensive line. That was indeed the case.
  • This formation is wasting Uribe’s ability to cover as much ground as he could (because there are 2 players in front of him that take up some of the defensive space he could occupy), it forces Otávio off the ball and out of the game (too many players in that area means the ball often goes to someone else) and makes Pepê extremely one-dimensional (he doesn’t have space to run at defenders and through balls are not a strength of his). It’s time to put this one to bed, for good.
  • Bruno Costa is a fine player and he actually played OK (judging by performance level alone, he shouldn’t have been substituted at half-time), but he’s not special in any facet of the game. It’s a waste to have someone on the pitch that doesn’t really contribute to anything. He won’t lose the ball, but he won’t pick out a great pass either. He isn’t bad defensively, but doesn’t cover enough ground quick enough to be effective. In short, he isn’t good enough to play for Porto.
  • It’s blatantly obvious that Porto need a different type of midfielder, someone who can add some creativity to the offense and also help carry the ball forward. That midfielder does not exist right now. Otávio can do some of that, but he is better playing without a fixed position within a structure, rather than being the main source of creativity. I don’t know that that player will come. They cost money and Porto already have a lot of resource tied to essentially the same kind of player – Uribe, Grujic, Eustáqui and Bruno Costa. But it is clearly a need.
  • João Mário’s performance level is puzzling to me. He played incredible against Marítimo, but was horrendous at Vizela. Great against Sporting and then terrible at Rio Ave. It’s bizarre. I thought he could be our long-term answer at right-back, but perhaps this needs to be reassessed.
  • Taremi didn’t look right from the start – he was probably playing at 80% after spending the entire week limited due to injury – so why not give Galeno a run? Or Danny Loader, who has already started some games this season? Could even play Toni Martinez, who is most useful in these types of matches. Taremi missing that penalty in the second-half was unlucky, but perhaps if he was fully fit he would have scored. We have a fairly deep roster on the offensive side, so we need to rotate a bit more.
  • Marcano was shocking in this match. He was involved in all 3 goals, albeit there is blame to share around his team mates (Otávio on the first goal, Bruno Costa on the second goal and João Mário on the third goal). It was a nice comeback story and he scored the winner against Vizela, but it’s time to make way for David Carmo. You can’t have 20m€ sitting on the bench.
  • On that note, I expect to see several changes next week. I wouldn’t be suprised if Sérgio went back to the tried and tested 4x1x3x2. If I had to guess, this is what we’ll see on Saturday: Diogo Costa, Pepê, Pepe, David Carmo, Zaidu, Uribe, Eustáquio, Otávio, Galeno, Taremi, Toni Martinez.
  • Galeno (a continuation of previous weeks) and Veron played reasonably well off the bench, and Toni Martinez proved he is probably the best attacking headers of the ball in Portuguese football. I can’t assess André Franco’s performance, because he only got 25mins and it was a very unstructured Porto playing more with heart than brain.
  • The last time Porto lost this badly for the League was against Paços de Ferreira a couple of years ago (funnily enough, it was also the last time I didn’t see a League game live). Porto bounced back by going undefeated the rest of the way (and making it over 50 games undefeated), including 7 consecutive wins after that loss. We need a strong showing at Gil Vicente next weekend, because after that we travel to Madrid to play Atlético in the Champions League.
Back to the drawing board. Porto need a new style of play if we want to win the League.

Match ratings:
Diogo Costa (3), João Mário (1), Pepe (3), Marcano (1), Zaidu (2), Uribe (3), Bruno Costa (2), Otávio (2), Pepê (2), Taremi (2), Evanilson (2).
Galeno (3), Veron (3), Toni Martinez (3), Franco & Loader (n/a).

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