The tail end of the season is here. My Vitória side goes in to the last few months sitting in 3rd spot. There’s no hope of a late title challenge, but there’s still plenty of work to do to seal a top five spot to make sure European football comes to Guimarães next season.
After they’d put us out of the Taca de Portugal in January I was really keen to put Nacional in their place. We didn’t exactly do that, though I felt on the balance of play we more than deserved the three points. Estupiñán hadn’t scored since the 20th of December and finally ended the drought with a last minute header. He followed that up with an equaliser against Maritimo after they’d opened the scoring two minutes in. The side seems really settled at the moment, and there’s plenty of players struggling to work their way into my thinking for a start. Tozé being one of those players, but he rounded off that Maritimo win with a cracking finish after coming on as a sub.
The highlight of a drab draw in the Clássico Vitoriano against Setúbal was Mário Ferreira getting his first goal for the club. I’ve got a conundrum of I’m not quite sure what position to slot him into. Is he a second striker? Does he play behind the forwards? Do I change things and introduce some wide men? I still feel like he won’t be with us for much longer, he’s still attracting interest from clubs much bigger than us.
It’s said that attack is the best form of defence, but what about the other way around? With our forward line ineffectual against stubborn Chaves at home, it was left to three of our defenders to seal the win. Dodô and Pará both popping up at their respective back posts to fire into the back of the net, while Pedro Henrique powered home a header from a corner.
It was a month of breaking goal droughts. Welthon’s double kept Boavista in relegation trouble and they were his first goals in over ten hours (since he ended his last goal drought at the start of February). A very good month against five teams I expect us to be beating and we’re sitting in 3rd place going in to the final four matches of the season. We’ve got a far superior goal difference and sit three points ahead of Sporting, who we’ll play on matchday 31. Porto and Benfica are still battling it out for the title, with Benfica still unbeaten but Porto four points ahead of them at the top.
Our 80% win ratio got me 3rd place in the Manager of the Month award to add to a 2nd place from February. I’m looking forward to eventually winning one. Talking of awards it was announced that Rafa Soares was up for Primeira Liga Young Player of the Year while Douglas was in the three for Best Goalkeeper. Douglas’ form and experience has led me to backtrack on my decision from the previous post and offer him a new one year deal, which he accepted on reduced wages too. He’ll provide back up for the incoming summer signing, Jori. My vote for Player of the Year went to Yacine Brahimi, Young Player went to Rúben Dias and Iker Casillas has been ridiculous between the sticks for Porto.
In contract news my young Norwegians have both signed new contracts tying them up until 2021 with an optional year extension too. Geelmuyden has 10 goals in 19 youth matches while Grønli’s got six goals and six assists. 18-year-old midfielder, André Almeida also signed a similar new deal. I really like the look of him and he’s had a great season for the youth sides. I’ll be keeping a close eye on him next season.
A brilliant 3-0 win against Sporting started the home stretch of the season, with Pará fully capitalising on an injury to Rafa Soares to make it three goals in three matches for the left wing back. That win on matchday 31, coupled with Sporting’s win over Belenenses on matchday 32 ahead of our contest with Aves saw this message dropping into my feed.
Our top five place is secured and we’ve qualified for the Europa League. Exactly what I set out to at the beginning of the season. Now we’ve got three more matches to make sure we finish in 3rd and qualify directly for the group stage next season. Unfortunately we couldn’t follow up the good news with three points away against Aves. We were 2-0 up, with Mário Ferreira scoring his second in two matches, and third overall across just 372 minutes of action. We peppered their goal with 22 shots, but Aves blocked eight of them with their keeper saving a further nine. It should’ve been a win.
I was keen to put Braga in their place in the third Minhoto derby of the season, the first against their new manager, André Villas-Boas. Braga had emerged victorious in the league meeting in that horrific January we had, but we’d won the Taca da Liga match at the beginning of the season. This one ended in a draw, but only after a great second half comeback from us after some stern halftime words. Braga had gone two up just before the break but Welthon and substitute, Mattheus Oliveira, leveled the score. We had another couple of glorious opportunities across the second half, including two sitters from young Ferreira. That result meant we still had work to do going in to the final league match of the season. The title was going down to the last day of the season too, with Portimonense securing their place in the Europa League next season by beating Porto on matchday 33.
Rafa Soares was restored to the starting line up to end the season, despite not being fully match fit, and he delivered another cracking performance. He assisted both of Welthon’s goals and helped himself to two of his own to make it 4-0 at half time. Belenenses were always going to score a second half goal, but I enjoyed it that we scored another to make it 5-1, that doesn’t usually happen. It pleased me that the team kept their concentration up to secure that 3rd spot in the league and a passage into the group stage of the Europa League next season. Our unbeaten month sees me bag another second place in the Premeira Liga Manager of the Month award. One day…
Here’s how the league table finished up.
Porto smashed Nacional 5-0 away from home to secure the title and despite losing just once all season, Benfica could only draw with Maritimo handing the title to their rivals. It was already confirmed that Sporting would join us in the Europa League, along with Portimonense (Porto beat Benfica in the Taca de Portugal final) who had a great season as a newly promoted side. Boavista survive on the last day with a 1-0 win over already relegated Feirense. Despite away wins against Sporting and ourselves, Santa Clara couldn’t sustain those performances and go down to LigaPro.
I’d say looking at the table our 3rd place finish was well deserved. We finished 3rd in the goalscoring table and our 31 goals conceded was the 3rd best defensive record in the league. Our points total is a new record for the club too. A great season overall, and especially so in my first season at the club. In a way it puts the pressure on for next season to try and replicate or better it, but Porto and Benfica will be tough to overhaul, and I expect Sporting will be resurgent too.
Next time I’ll be going through some player and team stats, plus a general look at the club off the pitch in my final post on season one. Thanks again for reading!