Portuguese League: GD Estoril Praia-FC Porto (Match Report)

GD Estoril Praia 1-1 FC Porto (Estádio António Coimbra da Mota), 17 September 2022 – match report below

Line-up (4x4x2): Diogo Costa, Rodrigo Conceição, Fábio Cardoso, David Carmo, Zaidu; Uribe, Eustáquio, André Franco, Pepê; Taremi, Evanilson

Also played: Grujic, Galeno, Veron, Loader and Toni Martinez.

The woes continue. Another horrible first-half resulted in Porto being down at half-time. It was only 1 goal, but could have been more. Lack of aggression, bad individual mistakes and some puzzling tactical decisions have resulted in Porto looking like a really ordinary team. However, the key issue is really roster construction. There is a gaping hole in midfield and this is not going to be resolved until, most likely, next season.

Given how the game went, I can’t say a draw is totally unfair. We had a lot of half chances, but not enough true goal scoring opportunities. A lot of heart and little well-crafted football. It took a Estoril sending off and a penalty to allow Porto to escape with a draw. I was already bracing for a second consecutive defeat, which would have been a first in the Sérgio Conceição era.

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 (few) positives and the (many) negatives from this match. Starting with the positives:

  • We came out looking like we wanted to win. Pressing extremely high up the pitch, winning every second ball and making Estoril uncomfortable. They couldn’t string 3 passes together. I don’t expect us to play like that for 90mins (it’s not humanly possible), but it was good to see the team come out with some fire. This had been lacking recently.
  • Taremi makes such a difference to this team. The offense transforms when he’s on the pitch. His link-up ability is top notch and especially important when our midfield is so weak in creativity. He was unlucky not to score an absolute screamer early in the second-half. Despite the absurd amount of time it took to review the play, he kept his cool and the penalty was very well taken.
  • Rodrigo Conceição looked pretty good! He was very aggressive on and off the ball. He made some dangerous runs down the flank and looks like he can put in a decent cross. He was a little overhyped and sometimes lost the ball in silly ways. But it was a breath of fresh air from the horrid performances from João Mário in recent weeks.
  • Galeno was once again quite good coming off the bench. Maybe that’s his role. Run at tired defenders. As a starter, he hasn’t looked great. But coming off the bench, he can really help change the momentum of a game.
A nice debut in the starting line-up for Rodrigo Conceição.

Now looking at the negatives (and there are a lot of them):

  • It’s puzzling to me why Sérgio Conceição continues to insist on Pepê through the middle. He is such a bad passer for someone playing in that position. The few times we looked a little dangerous in the first-half was when Pepê had space to make runs on the wings. Whenever he would come inside and try to be an orchestrator of the offense, it would go horribly wrong. What a waste of a potentially special wing player.
  • Our midfield continues to be extremely underwhelming. Eustáquio hasn’t played bad since coming onto the team and he was actually pretty good in his starting debut against Gil Vicente. But the more I see of this Uribe-Eustáquio duo, the more I feel like it doesn’t work. They’re both like 50% of the same player, so instead of complementing each other, they seem to get in each other’s way.
  • André Franco had a really poor debut in the starting line-up. He was slow on and off the ball, didn’t really add anything and was partially at fault for the goal. I don’t know if he’s lacking in confidence or just doesn’t understand his role yet, but he looks lost out there. Evanilson was again mostly invisible. Veron also doesn’t seem to know where to play most of the time.
  • The ‘old’ Zaidu seems to be back. The way he got beat on the goal was really bad. Diogo Costa is also to blame, he should have saved that. But it all started from an awful clearance from David Carmo. The 20m€ spent on him are looking worse by the minute. Maybe he’s feeling the pressure, it’s not an easy transition from Braga to Porto. Especially as the most expensive defender in the history of Portuguese football. But he has been terrible.
  • Sérgio prides himself on having a really solid defence as the base for everything. He’s mentioned multiple times in the past that he prefers to win by 1-0 than to win 4-3. I appreciate that, but we aren’t seeing it. The team looks so disorganised whenever they get hit on the counter-attack. We’ve conceded in 5 of the 10 games we’ve played this season (and 4 of the last 6), including a whooping 10 goals over the last 3 weeks alone!
  • There seems to be no game plan right now. It’s just hoofing it forward, praying for a goal scoring opportunity to fall from the sky. It’s some of the worst stretch of football I have seen in the Sérgio Conceição era. We seem to have reverted back to the days of kicking it for Marega to run, but we don’t have Marega anymore. As a friend pointed out to me today, we’ve always had one player who could make things happen when the offense wasn’t clicking (Brahimi, Corona, Diaz), but we don’t have anyone right now. It’s really concerning.
Where do we go from here, Sérgio? Nothing is working right now. Offense is bad and defence is even worse.

Match Report

Sérgio made several changes to the starting line-up following the shocking loss against Brugge in midweek (you can read about that here). Rodrigo Conceição made his first ever start at right-back (instead of João Mário), Fábio Cardoso replaced Pepe (who wasn’t even on the bench), André Franco also made his first Porto start (in place of Otávio) and Taremi returned to the starting line-up (replacing Galeno).

I noted above that we lined-up in a 4x4x2, but it was a fairly hybrid formation. Sometimes it looked like Pepê on the left and Franco on the right, but we also saw a lot of midfield diamond, with Pepê through the middle, Uribe at the #6 position and Eustáquio and Franco as centre midfielders. A bit of a mess.

The first 10mins or so were quite good, with Porto pressing really high up the pitch and forcing Estoril to give the ball back quickly. But despite that, there weren’t any goal scoring chances. It was actually Estoril who got close to scoring on the 13th minute; a counter-attack through the right by Rodrigo Martins, who cut inside and shot it to the far post, but the ball went just wide.

That was the catalyst Estoril needed to even up the game and they slowly started having more of the ball. On the 29th minute, Erison found himself in the face of goal, but Diogo Costa responded with a great save. On the rebound, with an open net, Tiago Gouveia hit the post. Just a couple of minutes later, Gouveia dribbled past David Carmo inside the box (made him look foolish) but his shot was saved by Diogo Costa (difficult angle). It was a sign of things to come.

Porto tried to respond and scored two goals in 3 minutes, both of which were correctly ruled out for offside. First Eustáquio (close) and then Zaidu (not close). It looked like that could galvanise Porto to end the second-half on the front foot, but no.

On the 41st minute, André Franco lost the ball just outside the box; it landed at the feet of David Carmo, who under pressure made a really poor clearance. Joãozinho, with all the space in the world, sent Gouveia through on goal on the left side of the box (Zaidu let the ball go over his head and was then out of position) and with a tight angle managed to sneak it past Diogo Costa (I think he should have done better). 1-0 Estoril.

I can’t say it wasn’t deserved. Porto didn’t really create any clear cut chances. It was actually Estoril that looked more dangerous, despite not having a lot of possession. Being 1-0 down was probably flattering for Porto, given the amount of chances Estoril missed in the first-half.

A few dangerous runs from Pepê in the first-half, but didn’t amount to much.

Porto came out with the same line-up in the second-half, which was surprising to me. I was sure André Franco would have stayed in the dressing room and potentially Zaidu as well. We had our first real chance to score on the 50th minute; Zaidu’s cross on the left was cleared by a defender, but Eustáquio won the second ball inside the penalty box. He let it go to Taremi just outside the box who hit it first time, but the ball smacked against the bar.

Estoril wasn’t going to just give the ball away and defend, they actually tried to hit us on the counter-attack sometimes; they almost scored on the 54th minute. Rodrigo Martins ran down the whole right flank and crossed it to the far post where André Geraldes appeared behind Zaidu, but Diogo Costa made a great save with his right foot.

Sérgio had seen enough and brought on Galeno for André Franco, moving Pepê to the right-wing and Galeno played on the left. A fully fledged 4x4x2. Galeno had immediate impact and made our left wing a lot more dynamic. On the 65th minute, he crossed it to the far post to Evanilson, who headed it just wide. Galeno also had a nice run a couple of minutes later, cutting inside for a shot but it went straight at the keeper.

Despite looking more dangerous, we weren’t creating a lot of chances. On the 72th minute, Veron and Toni Martinez came on to replace Evanilson and Rodrigo Conceição, with Pepê moving to right-back. On the 77th minute, Mor Ndiaye got sent off (a second yellow card that could have easily been a straight red card). From the ensuing free-kick, Eustáquio found Veron in the centre of the box, but his header hit the post. It was one of those nights.

Galeno was the only one that looked like he could make something happen in the second-half. He has had tremendous impact off the bench.

On the 80th minute, Galeno cut inside from the left and passed it to Uribe at the edge of the box; he sent Toni Martinez through on goal, but the Spaniard never lifted his head to see where he was and just hit it straight at the goalkeeper. The type of poor decision you make when you’re under pressure trying to get a goal. That’s how Porto played all night.

Sérgio made his two final substitutions of the night, bringing on Marko Grujic for Eustáquio, and Danny Loader for Zaidu. It looked like a desperation move at that stage – one of those ‘put a lot of men in the box, hoof it forward and hope for the best’ kind of strategies.

Porto created another couple of half chances, mostly from Galeno running down the left flank, but the shots would inevitably get blocked by the defence before they could trouble the keeper. The final ball was lacking for the majority of the game and even corners were mostly poorly taken.

The referee gave 7mins of extra-time (it felt short), mostly due to the amount of time it took to review Ndiaye’s sending off. On the first minute of extra-time, VAR signalled a penalty. The ball was launched back into the area after a short clearance, where Loader got a header in and Joãozinho blocked it with his arm. It was very clearly handball and it looked like Loader was onside as well. However, this inexplicably took over 6 minutes to review. Why?

On the 97th minute, Taremi scored from the spot and Porto were level. I felt like there was a chance for some late game heroics, but during the next 5 minutes the referee gave to compensate for the earlier delays, Porto couldn’t do anything with the ball. There were several poor crosses into the area, that were either easily dealt with at the near post, or went straight out for a goal kick. The match ended 1-1.

Given he scored the penalty, Taremi probably takes my vote for man of the match on our side. But it was by default really, because no one played well.

It was really important for us to win this game before the 2 week break; confidence was low and the 3 points would have been vital for this team to try and re-emerge. Even more so after Sporting lost at Boavista a couple of hours later. But it didn’t happen and we only have ourselves to blame.

Benfica play at home against Marítimo tonight, who sit in last place with zero points. The likelihood of them dropping any points tonight is very slim, so we’re very likely to hit the break with a 5 point deficit after just 7 games. It’s looking bleak out there.

Unless we produce something magical when the League restarts on the 30th, we’re probably going to go on a run of some pretty bad results, because there are several games to be played in a 6 week period and some very tough opponents.

Given how poor we have looked recently, I fear we’ll be writing this season off by middle of November. I don’t see where we go from here. There is no money to bring in a difference maker in January and even if there was, by that point we might already be out of the running.

Match ratings (1-5):

Diogo Costa (3), R Conceição (3), F Cardoso (3), D Carmo (2), Zaidu (2), Uribe (3), Eustáquio (2), A Franco (1), Pepê (3), Taremi (3), Evanilson (2).
Galeno (3), Veron (2), T Martinez (2), Loader & Grujic (n/a).

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