Champions League: FC Porto-Club Brugge (Key Takeaways)

FC Porto 0-4 Clube Brugge KV (Estádio do Dragão), 13 September 2022 – key takeaways below

Line-up (4x2x3x1): Diogo Costa, João Mário, Pepe, David Carmo, Zaidu; Uribe, Eustáquio, Otávio, Pepê, Galeno; Evanilson

Also played: Wendell, Gabriel Veron, Gonçalo Borges, Danny Loader and Toni Martinez.

What an utter disaster. There is no other way to describe what happened on Tuesday night. The game against Rio Ave was bad and we’ve had other bad losses in the past, but I don’t remember seeing a Sérgio Conceição team play so disjointed for a long time – perhaps not since the 3-2 loss at home to Krasnodar in August 2019. But even then, we still managed to score twice and kind of get back into the game. In this one though, it went from bad to worse. Porto never looked like they could go on to win once they went 1-0 down.

This was the second worst home loss in Porto’s storied history in the Champions League – the worst was 5-0 against Liverpool a few years ago. I would argue this one was much worse – that loss against Liverpool had some randomness to it, whereby we had a couple of chances to score, but didn’t, and then Liverpool scored 5 goals from 6 shots on goal. Brugge made us look like we don’t belong in the Champions League and that’s what is extremely concerning.

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

Key Takeaways

  • With Taremi suspended following the sending off at Atlético, most people expected Toni Martinez to start next to Evanilson, with Pepê and Galeno on the wings. But Sérgio surprised everyone by starting Otávio. He was supposed to be out for one month but returned after a week. It was a risk and it backfired, because Otávio clearly looked unfit. He never got into the game and was subbed off in the middle of the second-half. He’s now out for the game this weekend.
  • Looking back to the starting line-up, Pepê was playing ‘in the hole’ behind Evanilson, rather than on the right wing and Otávio through the middle. This was a bit puzzling to me. I don’t understand why Sérgio keeps insisting on playing Pepê through the middle. He’s not exceptionally creative, he is a below average passer and isn’t a plus finisher. He is really good running at defenders and stretching the defence, which he can only do when playing on the wing.
  • Porto started off OK and Galeno could have scored after 4mins, but he rushed his shot and missed the opportunity. That was the only period where Porto looked like they could win the game, other than that it was a total wash.
  • On the 15th minute, Brugge made it 1-0. Pepe missed the clearance and João Mário was too slow to stop Jugtla, fouling the Spanish striker inside the penalty box. The first of many mistakes from him. 1-0 Brugge. The momentum had shifted before then and this goal solidified it.
  • Porto tried to respond, mostly through Galeno running at Odoi. After a while, Brugge adjusted to how Porto played (long balls behind the defence) and moved their defensive line back about 10 meters. That was enough to kill off our offense, given the game plan revolved around hoofing it forward for Galeno to run. We didn’t create a single chance for the remainder of the first-half.
Otávio (after a surprise return) was subbed off on the 60th minute, after a very uninspired performance.
  • Sérgio made 2 changes at half-time, replacing João Mário (absolutely horrible performance) and Evanilson (a continuation of his terrible run of form), for Toni Martinez and Danny Loader, moving Pepê to right-back and returning to the 4x4x2. I would have brought on Franco and Veron instead of Loader, and would have also subbed off Otávio – I thought the main issue was getting the ball to the forwards, which is a problem Loader wouldn’t help solve.
  • Regardless, these were potentially positive changes. However, just a minute into the second-half, Brugge made it 2-0. David Carmo and Zaidu looked like a bunch of amateurs, not attacking the ball carrier nor defending the space where Sowah was going to run into. Easy finish. Just a few minutes later, Brugge made it 3-0. Meijer easily dribbled past Pepê and found Skov Olsen alone at the far post. That was effectively game over.
  • Sérgio tried to inject a bit more energy and flair into the team, bringing on Gonçalo Borges and Veron for Otávio and Galeno. But it was too little too late. They never got going, because the team was broken. Toni Martinez had a couple of half chances and Loader forced Mignolet into a good save from a header, but it wasn’t enough. Wendell got some minutes in garbage time, replacing Zaidu (who was terrible as well), and actually had a nice long range shot that got quite close.
  • There was still time for Brugge to make it 4-0. The team looked like it had already given up at that point (Brugge hit the post just a few minutes prior to that), so it wasn’t surprising. But it made this loss feel so much worse. In practical terms, there isn’t much difference between 3 and 4 goals, but psychologically, 4-0 just feels really harsh.
  • Lastly, kudos to Brugge. They are clearly better than I thought. In that same post I wrote: “if we can’t beat the team in Pot 4, then we have no business trying to qualify out of the group stage” – and I stand by that. It’s not looking good.
Toni Martinez was one of the few saving graces from this game.

Match ratings (1-5):

Diogo Costa (2), J Mário (1), Pepe (2), D Carmo (1), Zaidu (1), Uribe (3), Eustáquio (2), Galeno (2), Otávio (1), Pepê (2), Evanilson (2).
T Martinez (3), D Loader (2), G Veron (2), G Borges (2), Wendell (n/a)

Pressure is on for the next few weeks. We play at Estoril this Saturday – it’s probably a good thing that this is an away game. The fans are clearly unhappy about the team’s recent results, so the atmosphere in the stadium would likely be quite tense. There is a break coming-up for national team games and then the League is back on 30th September, for a crucial home game against Braga.

There will be another 9 games until 13th November, when the League stops for the Qatar World Cup. This list of games includes Leverkusen (home and away), Benfica (home), Brugge (away) and Atlético (home), plus a couple of tough away games at Santa Clara and Boavista. This stretch is a make or break for this team – we’ll need a minimum of 3 wins and one draw from the remaining 4 Champions League games (seems unlikely at this stage), as well as beat Benfica (who are currently undefeated) and not drop anymore points in the League.

Can we do it? I hope so, but I doubt it. It was very clear that we lacked a midfielder with Vitinha-like characteristics (you can read my transfer window review here), but it seems we are also really lacking at right-back (João Mário has regressed badly) and some of our key players are underperforming (Otávio and Evanilson). Left-back has been an issue for a while, but it becomes really glaring when we play against better teams. I don’t know that Sérgio will be able to pull another rabbit out of the hat.

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It’s difficult to see where we go from here. Sérgio has a lot of thinking to do.

PS: You will have noticed that I didn’t write about the 3-0 win at home against Chaves. I was at the stadium and due to travel and my day job, I didn’t have time to write about this game. I’ll leave my match ratings below – it was a solid win, but a flattering final score. Chaves had a couple of good chances to equalise before the break and in the second-half they just ran out of steam.

Diogo Costa (3), João Mário (3), F Cardoso (3), David Carmo (3), Wendell (3), Uribe (3), Eustáquio (3), Pepê (2), Galeno (3), Taremi (4), T Martinez (2).
Evanilson (3), A Franco (3), G Veron (3), G Borges & R Conceição (n/a).

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