We go into the business end of the season with a trophy in the cabinet and on our best run of form since I took over at the club. In the last update we won the Taca de Liga (my first trophy at the club, and the club’s first ever time winning this cup) and went unbeaten in January.
We currently sit 3rd in the league, not far behind Os Dois Grandes, Porto and Benfica. A title race was mentioned last time round, we surely couldn’t win the league, could we?
We start February with our game in hand, welcoming Sporting to Guimarães. They probably wish they hadn’t bothered. Our January form continued and we hit five past them, with the below a clip of Kelvin scoring the third of his hattrick. What a hit. He’s now the top scorer in the league with 12 goals, except he’s only made 11 appearances, scoring every 65.67 minutes.
That win sees us flying in the heady heights of 2nd place in the Primeira Liga. Never mind that though, a comfortable 3-0 win over Braga in the Minhoto derby would see us occupying top spot, only for a couple of hours though.
The Europa League 1st knockout round tie against Schalke would see us crash out of the competition 3-1 on aggregate. We played marginally better than them in the first leg but ultimately couldn’t do enough and they bossed the second leg in Gelsenkirchen. We fall at the same hurdle we did last season.
Comfortable league wins against Feirense and Belenenses took us to five straight league wins without conceding. The month ended on a negative though. Another Kelvin goal, his eighth goal in five league matches this month (on his way to the Player of the Month award), put us ahead early on against Estoril only to see them miss a penalty but score from the resulting corner and then secure the win in the second half. After Benfica beat Porto 1-0 on the same matchday we stay 2nd, a point ahead of Porto but five behind Benfica now. 10 matches left and we’re keeping pace, just.
Aves are the filling in a Porto sandwich this month as we take two trips to face Jogi Löw’s reigning champions.
First up was the Taca de Portugal semi final 1st leg. Benfica cruelly defeated us at this stage last season after we’d brilliantly beaten them in the 1st leg. We found ourselves 2-0 down at the break thanks to a Miguel Layún assist masterclass. Jhon Murillo played a one-two off the post from a penalty to spark the comeback before Filipe Soares fired in with six minutes left to take two away goals back to Guimarães next month.
Aves were defeated 2-0 in a match we were never troubled in, while Porto could only muster a draw away at Moreirense which puts them three points behind us going into our league match to round off the month, could we go six points ahead of them with eight matches to play?
An excellent away performance from back to front sees us come away with a 2-1 win for only our second win against Porto in the save so far. Mason Greenwood got his first goal since the start of February before a tale of two penalties. Jhon Murillo scored our one, while Jori saved from Lewis Baker which would’ve leveled the score. Kelvin is ineligible to play against his parent club as part of his loan deal so those results this month are all the more impressive seeing as we did it without our top scorer and dangerman.
The gap between 1st placed Benfica and us in 2nd is six points going into April and the first match to kick off the month is a top of the table clash in Guimarães. It looks as though we are in a title race after all…
In what was a brilliant match with both teams going for it we’ve managed to come out on top and I’m taking full credit after some inspired substitutions. Jhon Murillo and Fernando Cardozo both came on in the 72nd minute but it took until the final five for them to make the impact. Cardozo’s had a few niggling injuries that have kept him out for most of 2021 so far but he’s back to full fitness now and finished into the bottom corner to make it 2-1. Almost straight from the restart Murillo broke down the right after a Benfica attack had broken down. He squared for Cardozo who held it up in the six yard box and waited for the oncoming Kelvin to smash home. What a result and the gap is halved to three points.
In our two huge matches this month against the two best teams in the country we’ve managed to come out on top. We went into the Taca de Portugal semi final 2nd leg with two away goals but taking nothing for granted after what happened last season. What followed was crazy.
It was end-to-end at times and a brilliant match to watch again. Héctor Herrera had nullified our away goals after 22 minutes with two bullet headers but we fought back both times to then come out firing in the second half. Aboubakar superbly chipped Jori to give Porto a lifeline but a Nando Cardozo double sealed our progression to the Taca de Portugal final against Benfica at the end of the season.
Between those two matches we managed to reach five league wins in a row by defeating Moreirense, who were sitting 6th, and Nacional, who are fighting to stay in the league. With two leagues games left this month, and five overall, we sit atop the Primeira Liga on head-to-head after 5th placed Maritimo beat Benfica 1-0. Madness.
Before we rounded off the month and moved into the proper big business end of the season the shortlists for the end of season awards were announced. I was only able to vote for Sébastien Corchia for Primeira Liga Player of the Year as the other two up for it are Kelvin and Sigurd Grønli. For Primeira Liga Young Player of the Year I had to vote for Diogo Brás, who has been good for Moreirense to be fair on loan from Sporting, as Grønli and Mário Ferreira are the other two up for the award. Jori is competing with Odysseas Vlachodimos and José Sá for Best Goalkeeper too. Awesome to see after a great season so far.
April was going so well until we crashed back down to earth with a uncharacteristically horrific display against Maritimo in Funchal. We’d been on fire but their stubborn 4-4-2 was difficult for us to create anything against and they brilliantly took their chances when they came. That result gave Benfica a huge chance to go top again with just three league games left which they took with a 2-0 win at Portimonense. They’re three points ahead now.
Benfica should really go on to win the title from this point, although they do face a Lisbon derby on the final day of the season against Sporting, who’ve managed to climb back into the continental qualification spots. We could still slide to a third consecutive 3rd place finish but if we finish level on points with them, the league is ours on account of our superior record in our matches against them this season (two wins).
I was going to end this post on a cliffhanger and deal with the last three matches of the league season in a separate post but…
We followed that shock thumping against Maritimo with another shock 3-1 reverse at home versus Tondela. Benfica professionally strode their way to the title, securing it on the Friday night of matchday 33 ahead of our away match against Portimonense the following day.
Looking back over the season, it’s been a rollercoaster. I spat my dummy out of the pram earlier on in the season after losing to both newly promoted sides and now, after a Grønli double earnt us a draw against Portimonense and Nando Cardozo and Mason Greenwood goals saw us comfortably beat Rio Ave on the final day, we’ve managed to finish 2nd in the league. I couldn’t have predicted that after the first few months of the campaign.
The league table doesn’t change much at all from the end of April. Benfica finish six points ahead of us, defences clearly do win titles as we outscore them by five goals but they concede just 0.47 goals a game. It’s our best ever finish to a league season and will take some topping next time out. It takes us straight into the Champions League group stage next season which will have a huge impact on our finances.
The season wasn’t over though, we still have the Taca de Liga final to play against the new league champions. We’ve won our last three matches against them now, it would take something special to make it four.
We dominated the early proceedings and managed to go ahead with Kelvin finishing brilliantly at the back post, as he has done so often, with his 27th goal of the season. Benfica hit back before half time though, scoring their first shot on goal, Palacios scoring from 25 yards. Mário Ferreira restored our lead with 20 minutes to go, again finishing brilliantly at the back post before Sigurd Grønli fittingly wrapped up season three with another ridiculous free kick finish. What a boy.
We’ve done the domestic cup double and finished 2nd in the league, what an outrageous season and it could have been even better if we hadn’t fallen apart over a two game spell in the last few matches of the season. I’m fully expecting Benfica to get even stronger and Porto to come out fighting again next season, maybe Sporting might even finally do something? Next time it’s the stats special from season three. Thanks for following along!
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