History beckons for Porto this season as they aim to equal their own record of winning five straight titles, having first achieved the feat back in 1999.
Pedro Pinto in Lisbon
Whether the northern heavyweights are successful will largely depend on who leaves the club before the transfer window closes. So far, they have lost top scorer Lisandro Lopez and versatile left-back Aly Cissokho to Lyon, while influential midfielder Lucho Gonzalez has joined Marseille. To soften the blow, Argentinian playmaker Fernando Belluschi from Olympiakos and Colombian striker Radamel Falcao (River Plate) have been brought in. The pressure will be on coach Jesualdo Ferreira to make those new pieces fit in his puzzle and keep the championship streak going.
There is no Portuguese club more familiar with losing top talent to overseas clubs than Sporting Lisbon. The Lions have seen the likes of Simao Sabrosa, Hugo Viana, Ricardo Quaresma and Cristiano Ronaldo all leave the Alvalade stadium before reaching their peak, but there seems to have been a change in fortune over the last couple of years.
Wanted midfielders Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso have stuck around and it seems they will again line up in the green and white hoops this season. That’s great news for manager Paulo Bento, who hasn’t had much money to play with in the transfer market. The lone signing so far has been Chile international Matias Fernandez, who arrived from Villarreal.
Sporting have finished runners-up in the last four years and will be hoping to finally take an extra step this season and win their first title since 2002.
Lisbon rivals Benfica have championship hopes of their own. Expectations, always sky high at the Estadio da Luz, have not been realised of late and just one title in the last 15 years is the poorest spell in the club’s history. Their failure has resulted in a yearly change of manager and this season was no exception, with Jorge Jesus joining from Sporting Braga. Jesus, who also had successful spells with Uniao Leiria and Belenenses, is getting his big break and a first real chance at winning silverware.
He will have a strong squad at his disposal with president Luis Filipe Vieira investing in Argentina striker Javier Saviola (Real Madrid) and Brazil’s Ramires (Cruzeiro). The two players join a large South American contingent at the club with Luisao, Pablo Aimar, Angel Di Maria and Oscar Cardozo the most notable. Jesus has professed his desire to play with two up front, which will be music to the ears of Benfica fans. Saviola and Cardozo are expected to get the nod ahead of Nuno Gomes and Mantorras.
Only one club outside the traditional big three has won the title in the last 50 years and few expect any of the other teams to be contenders.
Nacional of Madeira finished fourth last season, equalling their best-ever performance, but will struggle to repeat it considering they lost Nene, the league’s top striker, to Cagliari and central defender Maicon to Porto. Manuel Machado is an experienced and wily coach, but another top-five finish may be too much to ask.
That’s good news for Sporting Braga who were fifth and are aiming to re-establish their position as Portugal’s fourth-best club. Having lost their inspirational manager to Benfica, they have brought in Domingos Paciencia, who led Academica to an impressive seventh place last season.
Having qualified for Europe for only the second time in their history – as last season’s Portuguese Cup runners-up to Porto, Pacos Ferreira aren’t seen as contenders for a Europa League spot again this time, with many observers expecting the resurgence of Guimaraes, who finished third in 2008 but dropped to eighth a year later. New manager Nelo Vingada starts his fourth season at the club with high expectations. Former Portuguese international Alex returns to the club following a spell at Wolfsburg and has been followed by USA’s Kamani Hill.
Having led the table before running out of steam and finishing sixth last term, Leixoes will probably join Academica and Maritimo in mid-table tranquillity while the other top-flight clubs face a battle against relegation.
Rio Ave, Naval and Setubal all managed to survive last year but should expect another rough ride this time around and could even be weaker than both newcomers, Uniao Leiria and Olhanense. Leiria are back in the first division, where they had been a mainstay over the last decade, while Olhanense have a good manager in former Porto defender Jorge Costa and have strengthened their side considerably.
One final word about Belenenses. Lisbon’s third most popular club were relegated at the end of last year but readmitted to the top flight following the financial collapse of Estrela Amadora, who struggled to pay players’ salaries last season and failed to provide the league with the necessary financial assurances to be entered in the championship. As a result, they have been relegated to the third division.