Sporting 1-1 Porto | A match that was predicted to be close was exactly that, with two teams splitting the points at Alvalde. Porto handed the first 30 minutes on a platter to Sporting, who took full advantage of their opponents’ poor first half. The second 45 minutes saw the northerners turn the game around and tie the proceedings, ultimately failing to grab a late win.
Sporting: Rui Patrício; Cédric, Maurício, Sarr, Jonathan; William Carvalho, Adrien (Montero 78’), João Mário; Carrillo (Capel 65’), Nani, Slimani (Carlos Mané 78’).
Porto: Fabiano; Danilo, Indi, Marcano, Alex Sandro; Casemiro (Reyes 60’), Rúben Neves (Óliver Torres 45’), Herrera; Quaresma (Tello 45’), Brahimi, Jackson Martínez.
Goals: Jonathan 2’; Naby Sarr (og) 56’
Sporting’s eleven was unsurprising on paper, the only unexpected name that of Jonathan Silva starting ahead of Jefferson, and what a good surprise that turned out to be for the home outfit. On the field the difference was bigger though, particularly with the movement of Nani who looked for central areas when the team was defending, something that immensely helped the high pressure Sporting exercised on Porto’s first phase of construction.
This match saw Porto once again make changes in their starting lineup, with Marcano replacing the suspended Maicon and Quaresma starting the match on the day of his birthday. The change at the back meant Martins Indi played on the right side of the central defense, with Marcano on his left; this small tweak, coupled with the little experience the pair have playing alongside, was one of the reasons for the Dragões difficult start of the game.
Porto’s false start with Sporting pressing high up
The match practically started with a goal. Nani, whose central positioning was key for Sporting’s superiority in the first half, intercepted a Rúben Neves pass which enabled a quick counter by the home side. This caught Porto badly positioned and unable to react properly and ultimately concede Jonathan Silva goal with only two minutes played.
This only galvanized Sporting and further destabilized Porto, with Danilo and Alex Sandro never coping with Nani and Carrillo on the wings, and the midfield battle being won by the omnipresent William Carvalho and the help of Adrien and João Mário, the latter showing great predisposition to create scoring chances for himself, forcing Fabiano with a shot from outside the box once and almost finishing a Carrillo cross with a header that flew inches away of the post.
Meanwhile, Porto didn’t seem to have any answers for Sporting’s high pressure, which put them in trouble whenever they tried to play
their game of possession, short-pass based construction. The positioning of Neves mostly closer to Casemiro with Herrera in front of them meant that Porto lacked people going forward, and Porto rarely got the ball in dangerous enough areas for the trio upfront. Jackson so little of the ball in the first 45 minutes, Brahimi was unsurprisingly heavily marked after his stellar start of the season, and Quaresma has an uninspired evening, eventually being substituted at half-time.
A tale of two halves
Porto’s introduction of Óliver Torres and Cristian Tello at half time ushered a turning point in the game. They replaced Neves and Quaresma respectively, but Torres in particular had a heavy impact on the way Porto’s midfield conducted the ball when they had it and how intensely they looked to take it when they didn’t. Porto’s midfield triangle got modified, with Casemiro (and then Diego Reyes) in a more lone holding role, and Herrera with Torres filling the spaces in front of him. Another big help was the leaning of Brahimi to more central areas than what he had done in the first half, with Tello staying wider on whichever wing the Algerian wasn’t. This immediately had an impact, with a central through pass from Brahimi to Jackson early in the second half that saw the striker miss his chance with only Patrício to beat.
Sporting’s high intensity pressing was obviously reduced in the second half, and that allowed a better organized Porto to grab control of the match, with Danilo and Alex Sandro now with the upper hand over Sporting’s wingers. That greater freedom allowed the right-back to raid forward unlike what had happened in the first half, and one of those raids culminated in Porto’s equalizer, an unfortunate Naby Sarr own goal.
Sporting tried to refresh the wings by bringing Capel on, but at that point the midfield was being won by Porto, the danger of Torres and the industrious Herrera giving much more trouble to William, who wasn’t getting a lot of help from Adrien and João Mário.
The introduction of Montero and Mané with only ten minutes to go didn’t change things enough for Sporting, who still saw Capel strike the bar following a free-kick by Nani. Nevertheless it was Porto who looked the closest to untying the game, with Herrera’s first from outside of the box being denied by Rui Patrício’s save of the match, and then at the very end Tello solo effort missing the goal by a few inches when he had Brahimi and Jackson alone in the box.
Sporting with a perfect first half
The high pressure approach Sporting showed in the first half guaranteed them what was perhaps their best performance of the season considering the opposition. William Carvalho was the man of the match (Óliver shared the spotlight in the second half), and if him and Nani can keep up these performances, the Leões may well have finally found their feet. Their dip in efficiency in the second half tells us that they’re not quite there yet, but going toe-to-toe with Porto should be enough for the fans to feel hopeful for the long road still ahead.
Porto forced to adapt
This match could be seen as the first real challenge for Lopetegui’s boys, and for a great deal of it they weren’t up for it. The adjustments made at half-time by the new manager greatly improved the side though, but Porto were fortunate that by that point it wasn’t too late. The constant rotation has its pros but games such as this require a well-oiled, consistent team, and Porto still haven’t found that. Perhaps the changes during the summer were too many for the machine to be already perfectly tuned at this point, but their fans will be hoping that it happens sooner rather than later.
Where does this leave them?
The biggest beneficiaries of the result at Alvalade were leaders Benfica, who won their match on Saturday and are now four and six points clear of Porto and Sporting respectively. With only six games played no one would call it a done deal, but no one could anticipate that the champions would have such an advantage over their biggest rivals so early on.
Written by Filipe Ribeiro