Another year of the Dragon
Porto’s majestic 2010/11 campaign, one in which they swept the board by winning the Portuguese league, Cup and Super Cup and the UEFA Europa League, came at a cost, as their young coach Andre Villas Boas was lured to Chelsea and star striker Radamel Falcao switched to Atletico Madrid.
The club opted for continuity by appointing assistant coach Vitor Pereira as Villas Boas’ replacement, the new man at the helm dispelling any fears of a hangover after the highs of last season by steering Os Dragões to a successful title defence.
Porto’s campaign was not without its blips, however. Pereira was called into question following their elimination from the Portuguese Cup and nor did the northerners prosper in Europe. It was in the championship where they stayed strong, finding the staying power to outlast their title rivals, most of their muscle being provided by Brazilian striker Hulk, scorer of several crucial goals in the season’s decisive meetings.
The title win was Porto’s 26th, taking them ever closer to the 32 claimed by Benfica, who took second behind their old adversaries, while Braga turned in another strong showing to complete the podium, holding off a fast-finishing Sporting Lisbon to clinch the final UEFA Champions League slot.
Signed from Santos last summer but only arriving at Porto in January after the Brazilian club had fulfilled their FIFA Club World Cup engagements, the 20-year-old full-back and FIFA U-20 World Cup winner settled in quickly. Though sidelined for several games after picking up an injury against Manchester City in the Europa League, he should be one of the players to watch next season.
The Rio de Janeiro-born Spain U-21 player wasted little time in convincing Benfica coach Jorge Jesus and the fans that he was a shrewd acquisition, scoring 16 goals in all competitions – nine of them in the league – and proving that he has what it takes at the highest level.
Ricky Van Wolfswinkel (Sporting)
Leaving his native Netherlands for the first time, the 23-year-old gave Sporting Lisbon the cutting edge they needed, scoring 14 goals in the league, five in the Portuguese Cup and six in the Europa League.
13 - The number of consecutive wins Braga strung together at one stage of the season, a stunning run that moved Os Arsenalistas back into title contention, though their hopes ultimately vanished when they came up against Porto and Benfica.
25 February 2012: Defeated 1-0 at Guimaraes a few days earlier, Benfica were held to a goalless draw by Academica at home, their five-point lead over Porto vanishing into thin air in the process.
2 March 2012: Worse was to follow one week later when As Águias hosted Porto at the Estadio da Luz, Os Dragões winning 3-2 to turn the title race around and move three points clear at the top.
7 April 2012: Visiting title challengers Braga five games from the end of the season, Porto secured a decisive win through a solitary Hulk goal to take another big step towards the championship.