I should be happy heading into the last few months of the season top of the league. It’s a good position to be in but I know that Benfica have games in hand. I know Porto will come good at some point. I can see Sporting in 4th not far behind.
There’s a title race on. How will it end?
The first piece of February news is a contract extension for homegrown wonderkid, Igor Chaves.
There was a lot of interest and bids for him in January. He wanted to leave for the entirety of the first half of the season too, but then sensationally rejected a £15m move to Southampton and has now signed a new four-year deal with the club.
We started well with a 2-0 win away against Boavista but then limped to consecutive 1-1 draws against Tondela and then Braga in the Minhoto derby. We did everything but score a winner in that one, creating numerous chances and hitting the woodwork. Those two draws mean Benfica can go four points ahead of us at the top if they win their two games in hand.
When bottom-of-the-league Cova de Piedade went 1-0 up against us with their first shot on target in our next match, I wondered what the hell was happening. Luckily it was just the shot in the arm we needed. It was 4-1 by half time. The Portimonense win was hard-fought but deserved. They scored a peach of a free kick and a long range pearler, while our three goals were all well worked and Pedro Ferreira missed a penalty which would have made it 2-0 at the time.
February ends with us falling to our first league defeat in 12 matches. We edged Sporting on shots and possession, but it meant absolutely nothing, we were dreadful in a 2-0 defeat. Umaro Baldé, who’s apparently close to joining Rangers, tore us a new one with a goal and an assist. Benfica still have a game in hand and with a win they’ll go three points clear at the top.
That Sporting loss turned into three consecutive defeats for the first time since January 2019.
We lost only our second Minhoto derby in my time at the club, 2-1, in the first leg of the Taca de Portugal semi final. AVB finally got one over me but we’ve got the second leg next month to redeem ourselves and make the final. Estoril piled on the misery, grabbing a 2-0 win in Guimarães. Another case of playing fine but just not taking our chances when they did.
To stop the rot against struggling Belenenses I dropped to a defensive mentality to keep us tight, be even more cautious and to try to coax them out from their difficult to breach defensive set up. They’d surprised Porto with a 1-0 win at the end of last month but our tactics paid off with a drab 1-0 win of our own. Out of nowhere following our recent struggles, we played brilliantly and blew Porto away, winning 4-1. A few injuries on the right hand side saw me bring Joveljic in to play there, something I’ve done quite a few times this season. A goal and an assist, for one of Pedro Ferreira’s double, saw him win the man of the match award.
Maritimo gave us a late scare but we manage to finish the month strongly in contrast to how we started it. Lovro Majer celebrated a new contract extension, scaring off potential suitors, by scoring his 19th goal of the season. Sigurd Grønli scoring three goals in our four league matches this month quietly went under my radar until he picked up the March Player of the Month award.
Benfica dropped two points away at Sporting so the gap at the top is four points. April sees us play them in the league twice…massive.
Majer and Ferreira’s competition to see who’s going to finish top goalscorer rolls on as they fire us to victory against Feirense. Ferreira scored his 20th of the season while Majer snuck out infront with his 20th and 21st. It sets us up nicely for crunch match number one this month, at home in the league against Benfica. They sit four points ahead having only lost once in their 26 league matches.
But we cut the gap to one point with a massive statement of intent. Similarly to the Porto match last month, everything we seemed to hit went in and we were solid at the back. We played to our strengths well, with Grønli claiming two corner assists for both central defenders to score and Joveljic, again, impressing on the right hand side, scoring one and assisting another.
There’s twists and turns to come yet. We went top of the league after Benfica dropped points again, this time away against struggling Belenenses, but they followed it up with a convincing 3-1 win in O Clássico against Porto which took them back to the top as we couldn’t break down a stubborn Setúbal in the Clássico Vitoriano.
The title race is serious but before it can get to proper squeaky bum time we needed to overturn a 2-1 deficit in the Taca de Portugal semi final second leg against Braga. Mário Ferreira returned to the starting line up after Joveljic, who’d been keeping him out of the side on the right, twisted his ankle. He turned in an inspired performance, alongside our Norwegian supersub, Herman Geelmuyden, to fire us into another Taca de Portugal final. We’ll face Rio Ave at the end of the season for another shot at silverware.
Leonardo Fernández came in for Grønli, who picked up a slight knock, and scored the only goal in a nervy encounter against Moreirense. There’s one more match to play in April, and you’ll be able to read all about it in the next post…
It’s an absolute whopper against Benfica in the Estádio da Luz with the league table looking like this.
We’ve secured Champions League football next season, with the top two teams going straight into the group stage. The Primeira Liga title is still on the line though and the next match will go a long way to deciding where it ends up come the end of the season.
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