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New season, new look for Liga giants

Seven of last season's Portuguese Liga top nine, including FC Porto and Sporting Clube de Portugal, have new coaches while champions SL Benfica have also radically rebuilt.

Benfica coach Jorge Jesus has been rebuilding over the summer
Benfica coach Jorge Jesus has been rebuilding over the summer ©Getty Images

Will Jorge Jesus be able to rebuild SL Benfica after losing half of his title-winning starting XI from last season? Will a reshuffled FC Porto with a distinct Spanish accent make up for their 2013/14 disappointment? Will Sporting Clube de Portugal confirm their improvement? UEFA.com looks ahead to the Portuguese Liga campaign that begins this weekend.

Much has changed in the dugouts this summer with ten of the 18 coaches new to their teams, including seven of last term's top nine – only champions Benfica and CD Nacional start with the same man at the helm. With their main rivals having new coaches, Julen Lopetegui at Porto and Marco Silva at Sporting, Jorge Jesus probably faces his most difficult task since arriving at Benfica: having to build a new side.

There are expectations elsewhere: former Portuguese international Petit, 37, a 2001 champion with Boavista FC, is back in his first top-flight coaching role. Paulo Fonseca returns to FC Paços de Ferreira after falling short last season at Porto and Domingos Paciência is also back after two and a half years abroad to lead Vitória FC.

Marco Silva
Marco Silva©Getty Images

Silva has a new challenge with Sporting after guiding Estoril Praia to a club-best fourth spot in 2013/14 and two successive campaigns in Europe. Sérgio Conceição is out to impress at SC Braga, whose ninth-placed finish last term was their worst in 11 years. "We hope to finish in the top four," said striker Éder.

After scooping all four domestic trophies in 2014, including the Super Cup on penalties against Rio Ave FC on Sunday, Benfica – who reached the last two UEFA Europa League finals – must do without at least five players from last season's starting XI. Goalkeeper Jan Oblak, defender Ezequiel Garay, full-back Guilherme Siqueira and forwards Rodrigo and Lazar Marković have left along with promising midfielder André Gomes and prolific forward Óscar Cardozo, the best foreign goalscorer in their history with 172 strikes in 295 matches over seven years.

Enzo Pérez
Enzo Pérez©Sportsfile

With Benfica trying to keep Argentina midfielder Enzo Pérez, voted 2013/14 Liga player of the year, 60-year-old coach Jesus may have his toughest Benfica assignment yet. "In five years [at Benfica] I have won it all but I want more," said Jesus. "We certainly need more options to balance and strengthen the squad." Defenders Lisandro López, rejoining after a year-long loan at Getafe CF, Eliseu and Loris Benito, midfielder Anderson Talisca and forward Bebé are the new arrivals so far.

Second last term, their highest placing in five years, Sporting lost coach Leonardo Jardim to AS Monaco FC and defender Eric Dier to Tottenham Hotspur FC. New boss Silva, however, is confident. "Wanting to be champions is a natural thing for Sporting," he said. To that end they have recruited nine players including France's 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup winner Naby Sarr, with talent also coming through from their famous academy including João Mário, restored from a season's loan at Vitória Setúbal.

They also hope to hold onto Marcos Rojo and Islam Slimani who impressed at the FIFA World Cup along with Portugal's Rui Patrício and William Carvalho. Sporting are renowned for nurturing wide players like Paulo Futre, Simão Sabrosa, Luís Figo, Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo; this time it is central midfielder Carvalho who is catching the eye, while Scottish prospect Ryan Gauld will evolve in the B team in the second division.

Julen Lopetegui
Julen Lopetegui©Getty Images

Porto lost influential defender Eliaquim Mangala and midfielder Fernando to English champions Manchester City FC but wasted no time restructuring their squad after a disappointing campaign that yielded third place – 13 points off their main Lisbon rivals. New man Lopetegui, who coached Spain to 2012 UEFA European Under-19 Championship and 2013 UEFA European U21 Championship glory, has brought in 13 new players, including six Spaniards in goalkeeper Andrés Fernández, full-back José Angél, defender Iván Marcano, midfielder Óliver Torres and forwards Cristian Tello and Adrián López, with Bruno Martins Indi and Yacine Brahimi also in after good World Cup showings with the Netherlands and Algeria.

Lopetegui said: "Favourites? We have zero points, like the rest. To build a good team it's not enough to have good players, we have to think as a team. We must continue to grow. We are taking steps forward but it's still not enough because we have to go further. We are going to start a new competition and we are a completely new team with many youngsters. We are still in construction."

The Liga has expanded from 16 to 18 clubs due to a court decision to readmit Boavista after six years outside the premier division. The other two newcomers are Moreirense and FC Penafiel. Back after an eight-year absence, Penafiel are in the spotlight because of their almost 100% Portuguese squad, Congolese striker Davi M'Bala the sole foreigner.

Artificial turf
The reintroduction of Boavista also means that for the first time there will be top-flight matches played on artificial turf – the first team to try the pitch, at Estádio do Bessa in Porto, will be champions Benfica on 24 August.

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