After a shaky start to season three with Vitória we then went on a 10 match unbeaten run in all competitions which took us into the Europa League qualifying spots in the league and into the knockout round of that competition this season.
We’re in pole position to qualify for the Taca da Liga semi final for the third season running and have a Taca de Portugal 5th round tie to negotiate in the coming month. Read on to see what happened over the festive period of the season.
The month started with the board increasing the transfer budget from £1.7m to £5.25m, a nice surprise. Our TV deal, Europa League prize money so far and my shrewd financial management means we’ve got a bank balance of £21.5m. I’ve been focusing so much on the short term results of the first team that I haven’t even considered dipping my toe into the transfer market next month yet. We might need a few fresh faces in a few positions just to keep the fight for the first team squad competitive.
The chequebooks are starting to open elsewhere though as I can see that a lot of our talent is wanted. Grønli is being watched by Fiorentina, Lazio and Marseille. Rafa Soares by Benfica, Sampdoria and Crystal Palace. Frederico Venâncio by Lazio and Sevilla. Cardozo by Benfica and Inter. Mário Ferreira by Inter and Man City. It’s going to be a tough January.
Onto results, and there’s another entry onto the “matches we should’ve won” list. I’m still reeling from the early season defeats to newly promoted sides Chaves and Feirense, there’s a 1-1 away draw against bottom of the table Pacos Ferreira to add now too. We should have been a couple up at least by half time but let them come back into it in the second half. Thankfully we followed it up with an important, solid win against high flying Maritimo. The clean sheet pleased me after our 4-3 win over them last month in the Taca de Portugal.
Milan’s reserves squeeze past our rotated side in the final Europa League group stage match. If you missed the last post, we’re through and we’ve been drawn against Schalke in the 1st knockout round. A tough tie and we’ll do well to progress in that one.
Santa Clara were swept aside, we were 4-0 up within 13 minutes, in the Taca de Portugal 5th round while Kelvin hit a second half hattrick to down Portimonense after they were 1-0 up at half time. That leaves us sitting 4th in the table at the turn of the year, which I’m delighted about.
Sporting hand us our second defeat of the month but luckily it’s only by a single goal, which isn’t enough to see them overtake us to progress into the Taca da Liga semi final. We’ve been drawn against Estoril which is a huge chance for us to progress to our first final in my time at the club. If, and it’s a big if, we do win that the final will be next month too and either Porto or Benfica will be waiting for us.
Unfortunately Grønli didn’t pick up the European Golden Boy award, it went to RBLeipzig’s German wonderkid, Fiete Arp. He’ll have other opportunities to pick up personal accolades, potentially at the end of this season as at the halfway point he’s played 19, scored five and laid on a whopping 17 assists. All of our set piece practice in training is certainly paying off…
After reviewing the squad, my number one target for the transfer window is a defensive midfielder so naturally I made moves for a striker and an attacking midfielder.
Nando Cardozo picked up an injury in our 3-1 victory over Tondela to start the month’s action, so in comes promising young English striker, Mason Greenwood, on loan from Manchester United for the rest of the season. He’s quite similar in profile to Cardozo so should cover well for the Paraguayan.
I really want to keep a strong Portuguese contingent at the club, so when the opportunity presented itself to snap up a talented player, I couldn’t pass it up. Hopefully the fans don’t mind that he’s arriving from Braga…
Xadas has hardly had a look in over the last few seasons at our rivals and AVB didn’t seem to fancy him at all. He was languishing in their B team and he crossed the Minhoto derby divide for £1.1m, a bargain fee I feel.
I’m really keen to promote from within as much as I can to foster that pathway to the first team for talented younger players at the club. Instead of going out and buying a defensive midfielder, I looked to our B team, who are flying high in LigaPro, and promoted one of the top performers.
He isn’t an immediate upgrade on either Wakaso or Celis but he’s an able back up when required. He’s got a great personality and, like I said, he fits that bill of being another Portuguese member of our first team squad. He isn’t a homegrown Vitória player however, he was snapped up on a free transfer at the beginning of last season from Oliveirense. A relatively quiet window in terms of incomings as our business was done early on to focus on results.
We played really well against Rio Ave but could only squeeze past them thanks to a Mário Ferreira penalty. Grønli put in a masterclass in the Clássico Vitoriano derby against second tier Setúbal with two goals and an assist for Luiz Phellype, before we let them come back into the game to make it a nervy ending. That win takes us into another Taca de Portugal semi final where we’ll face Porto. Another two Grønli assists, his 19th and 20th of the season, led to us cruising past Boavista for a fifth straight league win. Kelvin also hit his 10th goal in just 1,047 minutes of action, a goal every 104 minutes. He’s performing brilliantly in that IF(A) role on the left hand side.
Talking of semi finals, it was time to face Estoril in the Taca da Liga. We’ve fallen at this stage for two seasons in a row, could we go one further this time round in what is a favourable draw?
When it mattered most we pulled out the best performance and result of my time at the club so far. We were magnificent and hit three quick-fire goals between the 13th and 19th minute which all but killed the match. Estoril contributed to their own downfall with an own goal on the stroke of half time which was a cracking finish, to be fair. We go on to the final to face the might of Benfica. You don’t have to wait long to find out what happened as it was three days later.
It’s the club’s first Taca da Liga final in our 99 year history. A full day of recovery following the Estoril semi final saw the majority of my proposed starting 11 return to mid-90% condition, Luiz Phellype aside, who picked up a knock. Mason Greenwood would come in for his first Vitória start with Herman Geelmuyden taking his place on the bench.
We’d beaten Benfica 2-0 earlier on in the season and had played defensively for the entirety. I started the same way this time round but with the score still level at half time, I opened us up and went to my usual balanced mentality. Benfica had only just hit the post when Mason Greenwood popped up at the back post after a deep Rafa Soares cross to make it 1-0. What a moment for the youngster!
We traded hits of the woodwork as the clock ticked down. With four minutes left of normal time, a Dani Olmo free kick rebounded off the post and into the back of the net off a Benfica body. Luckily VAR gave it as offside, phew. By this point, I’d brought on the pace and fresh legs of Jhon Murillo. We went straight up the pitch to be given a VAR-awarded penalty after Murillo was fouled. Kelvin stepped up to make it two, before Murillo marvelously finished the match off with a third just before the full time whistle. What. A. Win.
The matches were coming thick and fast, with Porto visiting the D. Afonso Henriques just days after our cup win. This was 3rd versus 2nd in the league with just two points separating us with Porto having played a game more. It looked as though Porto would be sending us crashing back down to earth, sitting comfortably 2-0 up with 10 minutes to play. We aren’t for backing down at the moment though it seems. Mário Ferreira hit his 13th of the season and Víctor García scored this 35 yard monster in the 93rd minute to equalise. We’ll certainly take it.
Form this month has been brilliant and we rounded it off by completely blowing away a Chaves side massively overachieving in 5th to complete an unbeaten month. Mason Greenwood followed up his Taca da Liga final goal with a double, and missed a penalty for his hattrick. There was a landmark first Vitória goal for young left back, Edgar Branco, too.
I’d almost forgotten it was the transfer window as our incoming business was done early on and the focus switched back to our run of form. We survived the window without any of our first team moving on, despite numerous bids for Borevkovic and Venâncio, who looks likely to be leaving at the end of the season. The only senior outgoings this month were left back Pará, one of my first signings for the club who found himself down the pecking order thanks to Edgar Branco’s emergence, and Oscar Estupiñán, who was never good enough to break into the first team. A decent window.
Our excellent month was rounded off by Mário Ferreira winning the Player of the Month award (four goals in four league matches with a 7.78 average rating) and me taking home my second Manager of the Month award of the season. Going into the last four months of the season it could be said that we’re in a title race…
Maybe not a title race, it’ll take some doing to catch Benfica and hope that both they and Porto drop enough points over the remainder of the season, but what a season we’re having. If we win our game in hand against Sporting, which kicks off February’s matches, we’ll go 2nd in the table and will have only lost twice all season, against both newly promoted sides. Mad. The next post which will be going through the final months of my third season at Vitória. Can’t wait!
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