The Liga NOS season is exactly halfway through and just four points separate Portugal's traditional three title contenders.

How do the clubs fans assess 2015/16 so far and what should we expect the table to look like come May? 

PortuGOAL quizzed its Sporting, Benfica and FC Porto experts respectively. Welcome to the PortuGOAL Primeira Liga mid-season guide.

 

 

Sporting, by Richard Cole (Twitter @leoeslions)

 

1) Has 2015/16 so far been above expectations or below expectations? 

Above expectations, the transformation under Jorge Jesus has been quick and it seems now everything has fallen into place. I would have expected us to be up in the top positions this year but not 4 points clear at the halfway point.

 

2) Judging from the first half of the season, what are your team’s strong points/weak points? 

The strong point is midfield. João Mário and Adrien Silva have improved under Jorge Jesus, especially the former. Although William isn’t at his best with Bruno César and Alberto Aquilani there’s depth there too.

The weak point is probably at right back. João Pereira has been decent most of the season but he can have moments when it all goes wrong. Ricardo Esgaio isn’t quite ready to replace him, yet.

 

3) What has been the season highlight? 

The 3-0 at the Estádio da Luz was something special that hasn’t happened for Sporting for a while. Indeed, the success in all the derbies this season has been exceptional so far. 

 

4) Who has been your team’s top performer? 

Hard to look past the Algerian goal machine, Islam Slimani. Plenty of goals and a huge amount of effort every single time. Adrien and João Mário deserve a mention too.

 

5) Who has been the best newcomer? 

I was incredibly sceptical when Sporting signed Bryan Ruiz after his time in England but he has been a classy addition to the attacking line-up. He may not be scoring like Slimani but his creativity has helped us unlock teams this year. It was telling when Jorge Jesus said he hadn’t needed to teach Ruiz his tactics because he already knew them.

 

6) Who has been the biggest disappointment? 

André Carrillo. In a year in which we have the greatest chance of success he has decided not to repay the faith and effort the club has put into him for a greater paycheck. Adeus. 

 

7) Coach’s marks out of ten? 

9.5/10, I have docked a half mark in a Jorge Jesus-like search for perfection. The early exit out of the Champions League I will attribute to the team still learning. Only that game in Albania was there any real worry.

 

8) If you could buy one player in the January transfer window, what position would you choose? 

Right-back, if there is a right footed Jefferson out there he would be very welcome. 

 

9) Which player from an opposition team (Big 3 or the other teams) has most caught your eye in 2015/16?

 I am cautiously hopeful that André Silva might be the striker the national team has needed for so long. 

 

10) Give your 1st, 2nd, 3rd for how the Liga NOS will end in May. 

1- Sporting, 2- Benfica, 3- Porto. I hope.

 

 


 

 

Benfica, by Marco Lopes (Twitter @FootyML)

 

1) Has 2015/16 so far been above expectations or below expectations?

Given the usual expectations upon Benfica to compete for honours, Rui Vitoria’s half season has ticked most of the boxes, including the important qualification for the next round of the Champions League. But there are some considerable threads of discontent upon closer inspection.

 

2) Judging from the first half of the season, what are your team's strong points/weak points?

Scoring goals doesn’t appear to be an issue at face value; Benfica have the most prolific attack in the Liga, the best goal difference, the league’s top scorer… but it’s unclear (yet) whether this team has the ability to score at will vs Sporting or Porto in decisive games.

 

3) What has been the season highlight?

The performances vs Diego Simeone’s very capable Atletico Madrid side were great, given Benfica’s relatively poor record in the Champions League in the last few years. To qualify from the group and receive a favourable draw given Porto’s failure is especially lucrative to secure the eagle’s share of the remaining TV market pool money from UEFA.

 

4) Who has been your team's top performer?

Hardly difficult to spot – despite the loss of his very capable partner in Lima, Jonas seems intent on writing some goalscoring records of his own. 19 goals in 26 appearances is seriously good value, even if Benfica had paid top money for him… which they didn’t.

 

5) Who has been the best newcomer?

With a respectful nod to Nelson Semedo … the newcomer who has made the biggest impression is Renato. He’s played with a maturity beyond his tender 18 years – his goals vs Guimaraes and Academica were as sensational as they were spectacular. Finally – a potentially viable replacement for Enzo Perez.

 

6) Who has been the biggest disappointment?

Several players have just not played to the right levels, but no-one stands out. The goal output of Raul Jimenez and Kostas Mitroglou, the drop-off in Goncalo Guedes and Eliseu as well as the tame appearances of Talisca have all been less than satisfying.

 

7) Coach's marks out of ten?

6.5 – in his favour is the Champions League qualification and his record against everyone else in the Liga (40 points vs Sporting’s 38 and Porto’s 37). But defeats to Porto and Sporting (especially a heavy one at home), elimination in the Taça de Portugal, and some lack of tactical nuance in certain matches still makes some Benfiquistas a bit nervous.

 

8) If you could buy one player in the January transfer window, what position would you choose?

Centre forward – in truth, the replacement for Lima is still lacking, both in goal output and in how Jimenez and Mitroglou don’t seem to link up with Jonas tactically in the way Benfica enjoyed last season.

 

9) Which player from an opposition team (Big 3 or the other teams) has most caught your eye in 2015/16?

Ruben Neves - his playmaking style hints at shades of Andrea Pirlo or Xabi Alonso, and like Renato Sanches at Benfica, he too plays with a maturity beyond his years.

 

10) Give your 1st, 2nd, 3rd for how the Liga NOS will end in May. 

A difficult question given that it’s unclear who Porto will sign as their new manager! But considering Benfica are still to enjoy the returns of Salvio and Semedo to the lineup, I expect their league form to improve. Time will tell how the clash at the Alvalade in March defines this, but I think Jorge Jesus will prove the charm as the top 3 finishes as we see it now – Sporting, Benfica, Porto.

 


 

 

FC Porto, by Simon de Sousa (Twitter @FCPortoWorld)

 

1) Has 2015/16 so far been above expectations or below expectations?

The 2015/16 season is currently slightly below expectations - most Portistas would have expected to be sitting atop the league and probably still in Champions. Although a Taça de Portugal semi-final date is set, so a dobradinha is still very much possible. The club is under new direction now with Rui Barros [currently] - so there’s certainly renewed hope.

 

2) Judging from the first half of the season, what are your team’s strong points/weak points? 

FC Porto have still looked quite vulnerable at the Center Back position, both Maicon and Marcano below their form from 2014/15, while Martins Indi has improved himself. As usual, Porto have a strong midfield core including Danilo, André André, Neves and now the rising form of Herrera.

 

3) What has been the season highlight?

FC Porto’s best match of the season came on UCL MD2 vs Chelsea where the Dragões played a perfect 4-4-2 to outdo then Mourinho’s slumping Chelsea.

 

4) Who has been your team’s top performer? 

While André André is certainly a fan favourite and was making a difference in many matches, he unfortunately fell to muscle fatigue issues all of December. Certainly Portistas would agree newcomer Danilo Pereira has settled in as a rock in front of the back four, and he is a player who match after match puts in sound performances. 

 

5) Who has been the best newcomer?

My answer above of Danilo Pereira can fit for this question as well - same goes with André André.

 

6) Who has been the biggest disappointment?

Easily, Giannelli Imbula. Not because of his fee - probably not even because of himself, but was one of the few players Lopetegui wasn’t able to fit properly in his midfield role. Imbula is a deep lying 8 but with Danilo able to cover a lot of ground as the 6, Imbula often found himself not aware of his next movements - clogging up the midfield.

 

7) Coach’s marks out of ten?

It’s not possible to mark Rui Barros already - he’s only coached 2 matches thus far and both vs Boavista who are admittedly a weak side. So, to mark Lopetegui I believe a 6/10 to be fair seeing as how at the time of his departure FC Porto were regressing and the players starting to struggle in responding to tactics. His first season was stronger.

 

8) If you could buy one player in the January transfer window, what position would you choose?

With the departure of Dani Osvaldo and André Silva still working his way into the main squad, a striker is the top priority to aid Aboubakar who himself has had his struggles the past two months.

 

9) Which player from an opposition team (Big 3 or the other teams) has most caught your eye in 2015/16?

Nelson Semedo from Benfica [pre-injury], Bryan Ruiz from Sporting, Rafa from Braga and Diogo Jota from Paços.

 

10) Give your 1st, 2nd, 3rd for how the Liga NOS will end in May. 

I’m too biased to give a realistic answer - I believe Porto & Sporting will be in a very tight race at the end.

 

 

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  • Guest - Dave/UK

    A bit harsh on Rui Vitoria I feel. Admittedly every Benfiquista hopes (and half expects) their team to win the league every season, but in reality, things are not that simple. The current Benfica squad is not weak, but it is the weakest it has been for around 6 years. You also make no mention of the injuries that Vitoria has had to contend with this season. He has lost Luisao, Semedo and Salvio to long-term injuries, while Fejsa, Silvio and Gaitan have also missed quite a few games.

    After a shaky start, Vitoria has steadied the ship, and although most would agree that there is still a lot more to come from the team, they are scoring goals for fun. I think someone said that they haven't scored this many goals at this stage in a season since Sven. But of course, Benfica's goalscoring form is entirely due to the players, whereas their derby losses were due to the tactical deficiencies of the coach. ;-) ;-) Sometimes players just have bad games...

    One of the biggest positives with Vitoria has been his willingness to promote youth, and the future certainly looks bright. And, as you mention, he has overseen some good performances in the Champions League.

    Highlighting Guedes as a disappointment is also harsh. Aged 19, players will always have dips in form. Vitoria has done the right thing by taking him out of the limelight, and hopefully he will come back stronger. Carcela has done an excellent job in his place.

    I also think that the Jimenez-Jonas partnership is showing signs of improvement. Jimenez stretches defences with his pace and running in a way that Mitroglou can't. Let's hope he can grab a few more goals in the second half of the season. I would say that a central defender and a central midfielder are bigger priorities than signing a fourth striker.

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  • Guest - Val

    Guest - Dave/UK
    Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Dave has said exactly what I would say in regards to Benfica. Rui V is not getting the credit he deserves for what he is doing with, imo, the weakest side of the big 3. He qualified in a tough group in the champions league, who cares about the cup in comparison. YES it is about tactics, just ask Porto and their coach about it.

    Well said Dave. Unless you are a JJ or a Mourinho and steal all the credit. Blaming Rui V when Benfica loses and crediting the players when they win is silly.

    Pizzi has also been solid when called upon and he can score goals. No chance in HELL he plays under JJ. Along with Renato, Goncalo or Nelson, they just wouldn't play under JJ. Hey, how is Malgarejo doing? I am very curious how Benfica do in the upcoming derbies because this Benfica is much different from the one that lost v Porto and Sporting. We will have to wait.

    from Burlington, ON, Canada
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  • Guest - Chris

    Guest - Dave/UK

    I'm giving Mr. Lopes' analysis a 6.5 based on the absolute lack of credit handed to Rui Vitoria, who has one of the worst Benfica team in 10 years, if not the worst, given to him. As a Portista, I have to admit that Benfica is easily the most fun team to watch this season. So I find it odd, that a guy who has there for 6 years, only won the league when Porto had bad years, is so lauded for his "attack-minded" football, yet Rui V, who has already matched JJ's illustrious Champions League in 6 years, in his first year in charge, gets no love.

    He has been classy, learned from errors and is getting the team to gel really well at exactly the right time of the season. I think Mr. Vitoria deserves some credit for emerging from his criticisms very well. He is also smarter than people give him credit for. Take his press-conference remark when somebody asked him about JJ's usual trash talk. He responded brilliantly: Jorge Jesus when he was my age, was fighting for promotion from the second division.

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  • Guest - jon/usa

    I also think that Marco's assessment of Rui Vitoria is a bit too harsh, especially when you consider that we have been plagued by several long-term injuries to some of our most talented players. Yes, it is perfectly fair to highlight a lack of tactical nuance in big matches against quality sides, and the three defeats to a JJ-led Sporting has certainly been tough to swallow.

    Nevertheless, we must give him credit for both making it out of a potentially tricky Champions League league (a more difficult group than Porto's) and for showing a great deal of trust in the likes of Goncalo Guedes, Nelson Semedo, and Renato Sanches. Guedes is still quite raw and unpolished, but his talent in undeniable. I was a little worried about Semedo's inexperience at the beginning of the season, but he proved more than ready to be playing excellent football at the highest level -- his performance against Atletico Madrid in particular was absolutely outstanding. Renato has also proven to be an enormous upgrade from both Talisca, Pizzi, and Andre Almeida at the hugely important #8 position. While he's still very much a work in progress, Renato is an absolute beast on his day. The kid's got world-class potential. I highly doubt that these kids would be anywhere near the starting 11 if JJ was still at the helm.

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  • Guest - Andre/UK

    Well as I had thought at the start of the season, this year could really be a proper 3 horse race for the title right to the end, which would be the first time in 10 years this is really the case. Up to now Sporting have had the greatest wind in their sails and have clearly made the strongest start (albeit also with some terrible results too: CSKA, Skenderbeu, Uniao Madeira, Tondela last night). What they most have going for them is the momentum that JJ has built up, winning the last 2 titles in Portugal, and his know how in getting results in the Liga. However, as we all know, there are no prizes given out in winter, they only come in spring. We have all seen JJ mess up at the end, after having made strong starts to seasons, with stronger squads than this current Sporting one. So we shall see in time how Sporting respond to their unfamiliar current position of being league leaders and favorites.

    Porto are totally in the running as per usual. I'm not sure how much of a good idea it was to sack Lopetegui halfway through the season and how much this will affect their title push. Yes he was an arrogant so and so, who underachieved by winning zero titles in his time at the club, but the club will now be forced to take a new direction with the most important half of the season to come. Because of this, I think at this stage Porto are looking the least likely of the 3 to win the Liga, but that is not at all to say that they won't end up in first place. There's all to play for.

    Benfica are starting to really hit their stride in recents weeks, at a good time too, after a very shaky start under Vitoria. I hadn't been overly impressed with Vitoria in the first half of the season. We did well to qualify with relative ease from our champions league group, but overall it seemed Vitoria was struggling to find the identity and approach he wanted from the team, which is uderstandable given the fact that he took over from a coach who had been at the team for the previous 6 years and who had a clear approach and identity. But Vitoria has impressed in how he has conducted himself publicly (in responce to JJ's "trash talk" as Chris mentions!!) and in his faith in our talented youth players. A couple of months back I was finding it hard to see us winning the title. But things usually change quickly in football, and we have some very important players like Luisao, Salvio and Semedo returning from injury, which will be a big boost to the team and we have every chance now. So it's difficult to call the champion at this point, a case can be made for all 3 teams. But it's looking like being a very exciting climax to the season.

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