Brazilian striker Hulk, midfield general Joao Moutinho and central defender Rolando have all been linked with big-money moves, and if the trio did leave the damage would be severe. As expected, Colombian midfielder Fredy Guarin made his loan move to Internazionale permanent, while arriving are two highly-regarded youngsters: Brazilian keeper Fabiano, bought from Olhanense, and Colombian front runner Jackson Martinez, who was snapped up for £7million from Mexicans Jaguares. With memories of compatriot Radamel Falcao’s goalscoring exploits still vivid, the latter will, rightly or wrongly, be judged by those exacting criteria.
Porto also hope this will be the season when two gifted youngsters, Colombian winger James Rodriguez and Argentina’s Juan Manuel Iturbe, make their mark.
Having to play second-fiddle to Porto is a thorn in the flesh of Lisbon powerhouse Benfica, and although theoretically their squad is the equal of their northern rival’s, they do not have the same belief, killer instinct and powers of endurance. Which is a shame because they do have the raw material in the perfectionist ways of coach Jorge Jesus; the goal threat of Oscar Cardozo, Nolito, Bruno Cesar and young Nelson Oliveira; the playmaking skills of Nicolas Gaitan; and the physical force in defence of skipper Luisao and Ezequiel Garay. Chief among the new faces is Dutch winger Ola John who arrives from Twente.
For all the passion and loyalty of Sporting Lisbon coach Ricardo Sa Pinto and his potentially sound recruitment drive – bringing in Croat wing-back Danijel Pranjic from Bayern Munich, Swiss defensive midfielder Gelson Fernandes from Saint-Etienne and Moroccan attacking midfielder Zakaria Labyad from PSV – club president Luis Godinho Lopes was indulging in wishful thinking when he recently announced his side would be “fighting for first place”. The buzz at last season’s Europa League semi-finalists
is that revered Brazilian striker Liedson could return for a second spell in green-and-white hoops.
The epitome of high-ranking consistency with three top-four finishes in as many years, Braga have a new figure at the helm as former Real Madrid assistant Jose Peseiro takes over from Leonardo Jardim. One of Peseiro’s main problems is that his squad is too big. With the necessary pruning proving somewhat difficult, additions to the ranks have been thin on the ground – the main one being the arrival from Romanian champions Cluj of keeper Beto, who will do battle with the experienced Quim for the starting spot. The key men continue to be prolific goalgetter Lima, backed up by Hugo Viana and with Custodio in midfield.
In a country ravaged by economic crisis, a sustained challenge to the hegemony of the big four clubs is unlikely. However, on Madeira both Maritimo and Nacional have a predilection for rebellion and punching above their weight. Despite losing top scorer Edgar to the petro-dollars on offer in the Gulf, Vitoria Guimaraes still have enough solidity and enterprise to stay in the top six. Academica will also have been buoyed by their domestic Cup Final victory over Sporting Lisbon last spring – their first trophy in 73 years – and the bright ideas of coach Pedro Emanuel. Down in the Algarve, Olhanense seem on the rise too, cleverly led by former Portugal winger Sergio Conceicao.
For the rest, survival is the name of the game. Pacos de Ferreira look short on firepower now leading striker Paraguayan Lorenzo Melgarejo has returned to Benfica following a spell on loan. Gil Vicente, Vitoria Setubal, Beira-Mar and Rio Ave have all the limitations expected of shoestring clubs, as do promoted Estoril and Moreirense. Estoril are banking on one last hurrah from ex-Benfica, Porto, Atletico Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain midfield starlet Hugo Leal, while in only their fourth season of top-flight football Moreirense will be looking to new Brazilian striker Pedro Beda for salvation.
By Nick Bidwell
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