Surely, this wasn’t in the script.

After all, wasn’t it a horrible summer for the Águias? Mere weeks after celebrating the first ever Portuguese domestic treble in history, the raid which had been feared for over 12 months before that finally took its full effect.

The likes of Carlos Martins and Urreta ended their contracts with little fanfare and tears. Some players had understandably served their time and were eager to continue their adventures with higher paychecks (Garay, Cardozo). Some left for massive fees indicative of the promise of their potential (Andre Gomes, Rodrigo, Markovic). Some left in circumstances laced with some regret (Siqueira, Oblak).

The most recent of these, Enzo Perez, was as bizarre as it was disappointing. The brilliant Argentine, converted from winger to a box to box midfielder through the chameleon-like powers of Jorge Jesus, didn’t get the presumed hero’s goodbye he deserved… at least, that’s until it became clear he asked to have his final appearance cut short by a half, and many Benfiquistas weren’t exactly thrilled by such a motion.

Under-promise and Over-deliver

And yet, despite losing all this talent, Benfica, weakened for the most part in squad compared to last season’s excellent balanced cast, still occupy the summit of the Liga, flirting impatiently with the idea of back to back Campeonatos for the first time since the early 80s.

To suggest this is an accident, is of course, unfair. Benfica didn’t buy the quality that they lost, and their performance in a very difficult group in Europe was hardly memorable, but the team’s investments have been like a bitter fragrance turned sweet to the more patient fans.  Yes, Samaris started very poorly. Eliseu showed defensive inconsistency to compensate for the attacking value he added. Lima lacked finishing. Fejsa and Amorim have barely seen a blade of grass.

But the team’s transfers have turned out to be in some cases inspired, and in other cases, solid, even if unspectacular. The Julio Cesar signed is more akin to the dominant experienced player at Inter than the man licking seven wounds at the World Cup. Samaris’ displays in the last couple of games have been reliable and effective, an indication of his development. Talisca’s goals won crucial points in the first few matches of the season. Jonas has been prolific in all competitions, showing a fluid, experienced foil to the consistently improving Lima.

There will be claims that Sporting are underachieving and Porto possibly rebuilding too much too soon, but no less credit for title wins has been afforded to Porto when they’ve won titles in a season when the Eagles have failed to soar.

The facts speak very clearly about this season’s Benfica. Their Liga performance thus far is the best that Jorge Jesus has ever presided over.

In most respects, no matter how you look at it, Benfica’s current squad has certainly delivered on the requirements. Jorge Jesus and his troops aren’t paying lip service to the idea of chasing back-to-back title glory, even though this team is delivering better Liga numbers than even the star studded team of 2012/13 that was pipped by Porto’s Kelvin in May of that season.

It may well still collapse, of course. Benfica weren’t able to avoid having their weaknesses exploited intelligently and incisively on two occasions by Sporting Braga, who certainly have done their reputation no harm in recent months.  Porto have quietly maintained their form, and while their talent pool lacks the experience of players like Nico Gaitan, Salvio, Maxi Pereira and Luisao, Benfica know only too well about making sure to keep a healthy distance between themselves and the Dragões.

In the meantime, the players have certainly played a substantial part. There may be concerns now for once, as the key creative force, Nico Gaitan, spends some time on the injury table, but Ola John’s performance against Maritimo will have hardly done any damage to his claim as a more than suitable replacement. The season may have been tainted by the disappointment of European endeavours, but nonetheless, significant credit needs to go ultimately, to Jorge Jesus.

Whatever doubts there have been about him in the past, he has an opportunity to emulate Sven Goran Eriksson in winning back to back titles.  And if he does, even if he may harbour personal ambition to earn a European trophy, he deserves a special place in Benfica’s managerial round table amongst the many greats that have lifted trophies at the Luz.

by Marco Lopes (for more from Marco follow him on Twitter @Footy_MarcoL) your social media marketing partner

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  • Guest - Andre/UK

    Nice points made, and yes all Benfiquistas around the world are very happy with how the Liga season has been going thus far, despite the disappointment of the the CL exit. I think there were simply too many players lost over the summer and too much of a rebuilding process at the start of the season for us to have hit the ground running in Europe. However, I have been thinking recently that such has been the progress made by the team in the last couple of months, that if that CL group actually started now, I reckon we would qualify from it now. It just came too early and the new look team hadn't found it's feet yet a few months ago.

    We all know that this period, the middle of winter, is traditionally JJ's strongest period. Every season he's been at the club this period has produced impeccable results. This is why, early in the season when everyone was writing off Benfica's chances for the season, and making Porto the big favorites for the Liga, I was saying let's wait a few months until January/February/March. That is when things become more clear. We may not have the squad strength in depth of seasons gone by, and probably not as many options as Porto's squad. But at the same time I think our first choice starting 11 is probably the strongest in the Liga, and certainly the most experienced in winning trophies. Imo we have the best keeper, CB, and RB in the Liga, as well as two of the best wingers and two of the best strikers. So still plenty of quality in this squad, no doubt about it.

    January is still very much early days in a season and there's a long long way to go. No Benfiquista is getting ahead of themselves at this point and realize that a 6 points advantage is merely 2 matches, and can change quickly. Taking things one match at a time and keeping your feet on the ground is always the best attitude. Nevertheless, it's our rivals who are under much more pressure because they know they can't afford to slip up any more, and they are both soon to resume their European campaigns too. So the next few months will be very interesting indeed.

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  • Of course, witnessing Benfica doing so well, as a fan, is wonderful....
    However, what about for the years to come? Benfica has an older/old team in their late 20's and early 30's for the most part. (Luisao, Lima, Jonas, Jardel, Moraes, Julio Cesar, ...etc) and once the younger talent departs once more, I really hope those holes are plugged with younger more flairish talent.
    We really need another CB instead of Jardel that is mid 20's, and less of a liability, that is 1st team quality.. and our LB/RB position's needs to be filled with a younger regular. Andre Almeida can play there, however a regular LB would be great. Maxi apparently is about to leave, and he's heading toward 30, so maybe a Silvio (when fully healed), would be a good option to opt for a full-on move? Almeida i can only see as a substitute that can be used as a CDM or both full-backs respectively.

    Personally I always love to see home-grown players... which is why I am a big fan of Sporting's squad (Adrien, Carvalho, Figueredo, Oliveira, Cedric, Patricio, Mane, Martins, etc).

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  • Hi all,

    I just finished watching a horrible Benfica performance against a decent but 'not' exceptional Pacos team. Both teams were bad it has to be said. People have been raving on about Talisca, but I think he's still not a finished product by far. Today he was horrible, his shooting was wayward at best and was a times closer to the corner flag than the goal. Has he just lost confidence, having a dip in form or not getting the extra space on the ball now that Benfica are playing 2 forwards (Jonas and Lima) or is it down to the fact that Enzo has left or something else. In any case since lighting up the liga and scoring goals for fun in his first few games he hasn't done much for a while now.

    @Andre you make some wonderful points as always, but I'd have to dissagree that Benfica has the best Centre forwards. Jackson of Porto is way above the rest. Jonas has been brilliant in a short time but he should be judged for consistency after a longer period of time. Oliver Torres (I think he's an inside forward can anyone confirm this?) and Nani might also argue their case in the best winger argument and I'd also rate Rui Patricio above Julio Cesar but I do concede that the best goal keeper could be debated.

    @Dumb and dumber - So JJ you wait so long to make a sub and when the games slipping away you finally bring on the secret weapon aka Derley then of course in injury time and trailing 1:0 you bring on Guedes. Smart? I still cannot understand why Derley gets a game he's an above average player at best. Time after time he gets in a good position but then his skill, control and shooting means the end result is a ball metres wide or over the bar (like the bebound shot today from Limas initial shot). I've said it before and I'll say it again but player like him and Jardel are not at a level to be playing in this team. Bebe (who is now tearing it up in Spain and drawing rave reviews against Real Madrid) would have been a far better option but as he's gone. Surely Rui Fonte deserves to get a chance ahead of Derley at least. Surely? Does anyone agree? Secondly give Guedes a proper run or don't play him at all. Bringing him on in injury time is just plain silly. What can he do in a few minutes. He's not even warmed up and I'm assuming that this could add to his nervousness?

    Penalty - Did anyone see the penalty? It was pretty clear but the referee somehow who had the perfect view of the incident did not want to make the call and was looking to the linesman who was actually in a worse position to see the incident. After about 3 or 4 clear seconds had passed the referee blew the whistle. In the spirit of justice and fairness it was a penalty and deserved to be called and was another defensive lapse by Eliseu.

    Finally I know most won't agree but in my opinion Sporting have a real shot at this. They have a settled squad, which has gotten stronger since last year. The game with Benfica could decide their fate. A win means they have a better head to head.

    from Melbourne VIC, Australia
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  • Guest - Andre/UK

    @Steve, Australia....if you read my comment again, you will notice the use of the preposition OF..."two OF the best wingers and forwards". This has a very different meaning than saying "THE two best". I totally agree that Jackson Martinez is the best forward in the League, but stand by my claim that Jonas and Lima are two OF the best. Gaitan and Salvio are without doubt, two OF the best wingers. And I definitely disagree with you that Patricio is better than Julio Cesar. Patricio is always a potential banana skin/Frango. I never fully trusted him and still don't!

    I do agree with you about Derley though. He's been totally unimpressive every time I've seen him play this year. Thank goodness we've signed this young Uruguay forward, Rodriguez, because we need another strong option in attack. Hopefully he brings more to the table than Derley. I do think though mate that the team, despite clearly not being as strong as last year, still has more quality than you give it credit for. And I think with Silvio at LB and (soon to return) Amorim at DM, we have arguably the strongest and most balanced starting 11 in the Liga. Time will tell!

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  • I guess everyone got ahead of themselves. As a Benfiquista, I'm very concern about the club going forward on several fronts. We've always had to sell players in order to maintaing our revenue up, but where is the next long term player. Like I mentioned in the Silva piece, besides Luisao, we don't currently have our manager on the field. Enzo filled that role and we had Nuno, Luisao, Quim to lead the new players in the Benfica way. Who's the next guy?

    As for our back to back title aspirations, being out of European play and Taca will help. Frankly, I don't think that's good enough. At least it should't be.
    All the credit to JJ in bringing on the new faces and making it work, but Porto's rebuilding also has a lot to do with our lead. Sporting still has a way to go yet, before being a big force.

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Tabela Liga Zon Sagres ao vivo oferecida por


"More reinforcements will arrive at no cost, but I don't want to talk much about them."

Jorge Jesus
(Sporting coach says the club will be making more January additions (free transfers) to the squad)


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