The new Porto boss has had a summer to adjust to his surroundings now and things look to be turning a corner. After finishing 5th last season, their lowest in a number of years, Porto were forced to qualify for the Europa League. After beating Swedish side Hammarby IF in the last round they must now dispatch Rangers in order to reach the group stage.
The Porto board took the decision to look for a new coach at the end of the last campaign but there was little time to turn around the crisis. Results started poorly for the new manager but his sides performances grew better as the tactics adjusted. Now with a full preseason under his belt the side looks more settled. The first team look strong and just one defeat in friendlies, which came away to Bayern, is a good record by anyone’s measure.
Then came the first league match and by quirk of the fixture computer Porto were drawn away at their new managers former club, Leiria. Things started comfortably for the Dragões as they raced into a 2-0 lead before half time. The game then hit a lull as Leiria battled back and they looked the better side in the latter stages. After pulling one back from Joel Leal the home side were not able to find an equaliser and Porto’s season started with a win.
Porto are third favourites to take the title this season and they would have been hoping to do so with key man Jordvan Carvalho but could not turn down a £30 million offer from Manchester City. The club were immediately able to reinvest in what the media are describing as the next wonderkid from Brazil, Hugo Serpa. The 20 year olds determination and composure alone should translate into goals for Porto this season
Serpa has at the moment been second choice striker but his two goals against Hammarby has give the fans a taste of what he can do and it may not be long before he leads the line in the bigger games. Given the extra demand put on a side competing on four fronts the manager is looking at playing two squads this season, a senior side for the league games and a cup side for Europe and the two domestic competitions. There seems to be a split focus at the moment but the league must be Porto’s main aim and returning to the Champions League next season.
After some tactical tinkering over preseason the side will line up in a 4-2-3-1 for the majority of games. This is a step away from the narrow formations usually deployed by the boss in his time at Blackpool and Leiria. With the quality attacking talent on offer out wide he couldn’t ignore the need to change. Key to the tactic is Andrés Cubas in the deep role. The 27-year-old was wanted by Barcelona in the summer but chose to spend one more season at least in Portugal to try and fire them back to the top.
One key player who’s future is unclear is Afonso Sousa. One of the main goal scoring threats from last season now seems to be unsettled after his request for a new contract was turned down. According to sources Porto wouldn’t pay the £120k per week that the midfielder wants and with three seasons remaining on his contract the club are in no hurry to improve on their offer. The player has had his request to be transfer listed turned down.
Up next for Porto is the Rangers double header either side of a league game at home. The calendar looks comfortable which should make for a good start in the league before the first big test in early October and the visit of champions Benfica.