From the home of Mourinho, Ronaldo and Xavier
As we welcome 2011 and hope things on the pitch remain at least as exciting as last year, this is perhaps as good a time as any to have one last look at the best and worst of 2010.
TEAM – FC Porto
Yes, Benfica won the League last season, but they ran out of steam in the final third of the competition while Porto ended the year on an amazing 36-match unbeaten streak. They reclaimed the No.1 spot in Portugal and currently hold a comfortable eight-point lead in the League.
The question now is not whether they are going to be crowned champions, because even at this early stage that looks all but a certainty, but when they are going to order the medals. That is of course, if the ghost of Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle doesn’t haunt them...
MANAGER – André Villas-Boas
In 2009, Jorge Jesus vowed to Benfica supporters that the team would play two times better than they were at the time, and he delivered on that promise over the course of the 2009/10 season. Benfica’s footballing steamroller impressed everyone and it may be strange not to give the 2010 award to a man who put the Eagles on top once again.
But it just so happens that Jesus also promised his team would be a contender in the Champions League this term, a declaration made a mockery of by an embarrassing 3-0 loss at the hands of Hapoel Tel-Aviv.
Some rather poor business in the transfer market and signs of questionable tactical judgement have raised questions about his long-term future at the club and his stock has naturally fallen. On the other hand, André Villas-Boas could not have asked for a better year. After steering Academica to a safe mid-table position, he’s becoming the next big thing in Europe as the young manager ended the year undefeated at FC Porto with a chance to win a few pieces of silverware.
Can he cope with the increases pressure in 2011? That’s what we’re going to find out....
Honourable mention goes to Leonardo Jardim, who led Beira-Mar to promotion last season and is currently performing well above expectations with a comfortable eighth place.
PLAYER – João Moutinho
People will cite Hulk’s frightening form, particularly in the second half of the year. And the truth is the Portugeezer can’t deny that the Brazilian has had a brilliant year since returning to the first team fray and – much like strike partner Falcao - has been quite prolific this season. But João Moutinho has been the dynamo that gave the Dragons the much-needed balance they were previously missing in midfield.
The pint-sized playmaker made the transition from Sporting to FC Porto with surprising ease and is now probably the first name on Villas-Boas’ teamsheet.
Powered by Duracell batteries that help him keep going at full pelt for 90 minutes plus, he’s made quite a difference at both ends of the pitch. Moutinho has always been known for his consistency, but with such drastic move he took his game to another level that has also propelled him to the national team. Kudos to him!
MATCH – FC Porto v SL Benfica
People from both clubs will remember this match for quite some time. If there were any lingering doubts about the current gap between the two sides, FC Porto dissipated them in November’s match at Estadio do Dragao. After racing into a 3-0 lead within the first 30 minutes, Porto barely needed to break sweat to keep Benfica at arms length.
Such was the demonstration of power that in the end, after Porto defeated their arch rivals 5-0, many wondered whether there were two leagues being played within Liga Zon Sagres...
Sevilla v Braga was another terrific match with seven goals and vastly contrasting emotions throughout the 90 minutes. Braga had overcome Celtic and beat the Spaniards at home with a 1-0 narrow win, but to go to Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán and score four goals was one hell of an achievement and made it a proud night for Portuguese football.
DISAPPOINTMENT – David Luiz
Boy, what a difference one season can make! Last term the Brazilian looked like being well on the way to becoming the best centre-back in the world. Fast, strong, comfortable with the ball on the feet, he only had to wait one more season for his dreams of a big-money move to one of European football’s giants to come true.
Whether such a dip in form is due to sulking or not, David Luiz is not playing anywhere near his best. Everybody loses because the player may not move to the club he dreams of and Benfica may not be able to demand the transfer fee they had previously hoped for.
REVELATION – Sílvio
An intriguing player. He was already tipped to have a bright future at Rio Ave, but has blossomed into a solid full-back capable of operating on either flank and quite adept at defending and attacking. It’s just a matter of time till his name appears recurrently on Paulo Bento’s lists.
TO WATCH IN 2011 – José Couceiro
The arrival of the former FC Porto manager at Sporting as the club’s new sporting director raises more questions than it answers.
Can the trio of chairman José Eduardo Bettencourt, coach Paulo Sergio and Couceiro co-exist as their duties will most likely overlap?
The long-term feasibility of his signing might be a problem but there is a more pressing matter: will he actually bring something to the club? Get ready for power play and muscle flexing at Alvalade...
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