Villas-Boas inspires annus mirabilis
The 2010/11 Portuguese Liga has come to end, with Porto claiming the title in emphatic style. Indeed, Andre Villas-Boas’s charges made a strong case for being among the finest championship-winning sides in the country's history after going unbeaten for their entire campaign – a feat only previously achieved by Benfica in 1972/73.
A remarkable record of 27 wins and three draws from 30 games left Os Dragões’ rivals trailing far in their wake, including 2009/10 champions Benfica, whose title defence was hampered by a disastrous start. What is more, Porto had the satisfaction of sealing the crown in Lisbon on 3 April, their 2-1 win over As Águias underlining a level of superiority that had been clear since their 5-0 home mauling of the same side back in November.
“This will go down in history and remain in people’s memories forever. Completing a league campaign without defeat is something that’s unlikely to happen again in the years to come,” said 33-year-old Villas-Boas, who is still in line for an incredible quadruple in his first season at the helm. With the domestic Super Cup and league already in the bag, Porto play fellow Portuguese outfit Braga in this Wednesday’s UEFA Europa League final and meet Vitoria Guimaraes in the final of the Taca de Portugal four days later.
Should the men in blue and white stripes lift both trophies, Villas-Boas will have outdone the accomplishments of his former boss, Jose Mourinho. The current Real Madrid coach, who employed Villas-Boas as his head of opposition scouting, won a treble of the Portuguese league, cup and UEFA Cup in his own first full season at Porto in 2002/03.
Despite his success, Villas-Boas has never tired of repeating his credit-must-go-to- the-players mantra after virtually every victory of this glorious campaign. And it is true that, in addition to a fine team ethic, there were a host of individuals who shone for Porto this term.
Grabbing most of the headlines were the team’s forwards, with Brazilian powerhouse Hulk finishing as the division's 23-goal top scorer, followed by his Colombian side-kick Falcao on 16. Level with the latter on 16 strikes was 36-year-old Joao Tomas, one of the most experienced goal-getters still operating in Portugal, whose tally helped ensure Rio Ave finished well clear of the relegation trapdoor.
Turning back to Porto and mention must be made of two more key performers: goalkeeper Helton and tireless midfielder Joao Moutinho. The Brazilian shot-stopper enjoyed arguably his best season to date in European football and conceded just 16 times in the league, while Moutinho was able to make good on a promise he made when arriving from Sporting in summer 2010. “I came here to be a champion,” said the ex-Sporting captain on his official unveiling at the Estadio do Dragao, having never finished higher than second with Os Leões.
Misery in Lisbon
As in any competition, there must be winners and losers, and there is little doubt Benfica will view 2010/11 as a season to forget. After delighting fans and neutrals alike with their sparkling attacking football during the previous campaign’s charge to the title, Jorge Jesus’s side gave themselves too much work to do after falling to defeats in each of their opening three league games.
Though their emphatic reverse in Porto did trigger a lengthy run of consecutive wins that kept their supporters’ hopes of glory alive, the end of Os Encarnados’ season featured a number of painful and morale-sapping defeats. Forced to endure FC Porto’s title celebrations after they clinched the crown at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz, As Águias were knocked out of the semi-finals of the domestic cup by Villas-Boas’s men and beaten by Braga in the last four of the Europa League.
Runners-up in 2009/10, the club’s highest-ever finish, Braga’s continental commitments affected their ability to repeat that feat this time around. Indeed, defeat to Sporting on the last day of the season consigned them to fourth spot and enabled the Lisbon outfit to snatch third – small consolation for Os Leões after another disappointing campaign.
However, despite that late setback, this season will live long in the memory of Braga fans. Having first done themselves proud on their debut in the UEFA Champions League group phase, where Domingos Paciencia’s charges finished third in their section to enter the Europa League knockout stage, Os Arsenalistas went on to down Liverpool, Dynamo Kyiv and Benfica on their way to their first ever European final.
Set to take part in next season’s Europa League are Vitoria Guimaraes and Nacional, who finished fifth and sixth respectively, while the two teams consigned to relegation to the Liga de Honra were Portimonense SC and Naval.