Benfica title defence to be tested by new Porto
Lisbon: An improved Porto beat Benfica in the Super Cup last week to send a message to the free-scoring Portuguese League champions that this season might be tighter than expected when it gets underway this weekend.
Porto`s new young coach Andre Villas Boas, a former assistant to Jose Mourinho, signalled he can handle the pressure at a club used to success by guiding his team to a 2-0 win over the champions in the Super Cup on Saturday.
"We played with responsibility, inspiration and want to keep winning. We want to end the season with the title in our hands," said Villas Boas, 32, who replaced Jesualdo Ferreira in May.
The defeat, however, has not diminished confidence at Benfica, who under attack-minded coach Jorge Jesus scored 78 goals to lift their first championship in five years.
"There is the same confidence, maybe more. The players know the process. We have various tactical options, we varied in the pre-season and in the Super Cup we went back to Plan A," Jesus said.
But that "Plan A" -- a 4-3-3 formation used last season -- was heavily reliant on Argentina winger Angel di Maria, who has since left for Real Madrid and not been suitably replaced.
In midfield, too, Benfica looked weak and missed Brazil international Ramires, who is on his way to Chelsea.
His compatriot Airton was overwhelmed by Porto`s midfield led by Joao Moutinho, snatched from Sporting this summer, and the powerful attacking trio of speedy winger Silvestre Varela, Brazilian forward Hulk and Colombian striker Radamel Falcao.
By selling charismatic central defender Bruno Alves to Zenit St Petersburg last week, Porto have also created a gap which may be hard to fill. Villas Boas has also said they may yet sell midfielder Raul Meireles and Uruguay defender Jorge Fucile.
While Villas Boas tries to follow in Mourinho`s successful first steps at Porto, another young coach, Braga`s Domingos Paciencia, will seek to build on last season`s feat, when he led his unfancied side to second place.
Though no longer able to apply the surprise factor, Braga remain a dangerous side despite selling a couple of key players, as they demonstrated by eliminating Celtic from the Champions League third qualifying round last week.
One of the players to leave Braga was left back Evaldo, who joined a Sporting side seeking to recover from a poor season in which they ended fourth.
Their pre-season form under new coach Paulo Sergio has been positive, with Maniche arriving to add experience to the midfield and striker Helder Postiga looking sharp again ahead of their opening match away to Pacos de Ferreira on Saturday.
Benfica host Academica on Sunday, while Porto travel to Naval on Saturday and Braga are at home to Portimonense on Friday.