The Portuguese Liga begins on Friday with champions FC Porto aiming for a fifth successive title. Jesualdo Ferreira's side once again start as favourites, but expectations are high that Lisbon rivals SL Benfica and Sporting Clube de Portugal could push them closer this time around.
Porto, who kick off their campaign at FC Paços de Ferreira on Sunday, have had a busy summer in the transfer market and much will depend on how they cope without key players Lisandro and Lucho, plus full-back Aly Cissokho, who have all moved to France. Porto made approximately €56m from their sales, but it remains to be seen how quickly their replacements Fernando Belluschi, Radamel Falcao García and Alvaro Pereira adapt to life at the Estádio do Dragão. "Pre-season was very good as it allowed us to test some new players," Ferreira said. "We will have the team we all want very shortly."
Porto have won six of the past seven titles, with only Benfica interrupting their dominance in 2004/05. The Eagles finished eleven points adrift of the champions in third last season and in a bid to close the gap have parted company with Spanish coach Quique Sánchez Flores, putting their faith in the local knowledge of Jorge Jesus instead. The 55-year-old former CF Os Belenenses coach took SC Braga into Europe last season and knows Portuguese football inside out, which has not always been true of some of the foreign coaches in the Estádio da Luz hotseat in recent times.
Unlike Porto, Benfica have held on to their most influential players and added some big names to the squad, such as forward Javier Saviola and midfielder Javi García from Real Madrid CF, with the arrival of Brazilian international Ramires further strengthening the midfield. In contrast with recent years, Benfica have also enjoyed a successful pre-season, inluding their triumph at the Amsterdam Tournament, where they beat both hosts AFC Ajax and Sunderland AFC. "I'm not surprised because we know what we want and where we're going," Jorge Jesus said. How far they can go remains to be seen and Jorge Jesus admits that more will be gleaned from how the Eagles fare in their opener at home to CS Marítimo on Sunday than from any friendly fixture. Keeping expectations in check, though, has not been easy. "I understand the supporters' euphoria but we have not won anything yet," he said.
Of the big three, Sporting were least active over the summer with stability the watchword at the Estádio José Alvalade. Attacking midfielder Matías Fernández and forward Felipe Caicedo, on loan from Manchester City FC, are the only signings as Paulo Bento keeps faith with the squad that finished four points behind Porto in second last term. Sporting have already overcome the first major hurdle in their path by seeing off FC Twente – courtesy of a last-minute own goal – in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League and, after kicking off their domestic campaign at CD Nacional on Saturday will have ACF Fiorentina to contend with as they strive to get back into the group stage.
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