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FC Porto Tactical Preview: How will Julen Lopetegui’s side set-up in the 2014/15 season?

As we move into the new club football season, Outside of the Boot will be publishing regular Tactical Previews of the sides from across Europe’s top seven leagues. The third one in a long list is of Portuguese side, FC Porto led by Julen Lopetegui. Firat Aktav takes a look at their basic formation, analyses their tactics, key player and their potential key young player of the 2014/15 season.

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After a disappointing 2013-14 season, FC Porto are looking to send a message and re-establish their dominance in Liga Sagres once again. The big three of Primeira Liga have been dominant since the 1999-2000 season but Porto have been by far the most dominant of the three clubs, starting with José Mourinho’s spell. Since “The Special One” left the club in the beginning of the 2004-05 season, Porto failed to win the league only three times, with the most recent being the previous season, as Benfica were victorious like in the two other occasions.

Porto’s last season was extremely disappointing, as they only managed to win the Supertaça in the beginning of the season, while the club exited the Champions League at the group stage and the Europa League after the trashing against Sevilla in the quarter-finals. Paulo Fonseca could not see the end of the season as he was sacked midway, while the caretaker Luís Castro only saw till the end of the season.

Formation | How will they set-up?

Porto started to move away from the traditional 4-3-3 which they used perfectly under André Villas-Boas and later with Vítor Pereira. Paulo Fonseca was more fond of using 4-2-3-1, which proved to be rather successful in the beginning of the previous season, but was not as effective as thought later on in the season. The new coach Julen Lopetegui did not seem to move away from the system, so it is quite possible that Porto will continue with 4-2-3-1 again.

Porto Tactics 2014-15

Analysis | What can we expect from them tactically?

Porto were a rather static team, especially in the midfield area and they lack creativity due to too many central midfielders being deployed. Width comes from two excellent full-backs, as both Danilo and Alex Sandro are quite possibly the most offensive minded full-backs we can see in club level, while the wingers try drifting into the pockets of space created by the excellent Jackson Martinez, who plays the lone forward role up front.

Coming into this season, Porto will be without their main keeper Helton due to injury, so quite possibly Fabiano will be the man between the posts until Helton makes a healthy return. The back four now looks solid with the introduction of Martins Indi while Maicon being his partner at center backs; Danilo and Alex Sandro will maintain their full-back roles. Casemiro and Herrera will be the likely midfield duo, with Tello and Brahimi being the likely options on the wings. It is not clear yet whether it will be Oliver Torres or Quintero in the number 10 role of the 4-2-3-1, but for sure it will be Jackson as the lone striker.

Burden On Martinez: Jackson plays the lone forward role brilliantly, however throughout last season, he seemed to be way too isolated from his teammates, as Porto had their triangle quite close to their defensive line. Wingers were either too wide or too narrow and we witnessed that Porto left oceans of space between the lines for their opponents, who managed to build play from their central area and took the game to them. Despite this, Jackson Martinez managed to score a total of 29 goals in 51 competitive matches, with 20 of these goals coming in the league, where he finished the season as the top-scorer.

Rebuilding and Transfers: This does not come as a surprise anymore that Porto has a bizarre circulation of players every transfer window. Porto brought in a total of 13 players this season with 3 of them being on loan, while the same number of players left the club, 7 of them on loan.  Bruno Martins Indi was signed from Feyenoord to replace Elaquim Mangala, who completed his transfer to English giants Manchester City. Adrian Lopez and Oliver Torres joined from Atlético Madrid, with the latter being on loan and Cristian Tello was loaned from Barcelona, as all three players are looking for a bit more playing time this season. Another key player who has been with the team for a few seasons also departed, as Fernando moved to Manchester City, while Casemiro was loaned from Real Madrid to replace him. Another rising star of the world cup, Yacine Brahimi is also signed to add to the squad depth, as he can provide to be a reliable option either in the number 10 role, or can be used on either flank as a winger.

Creativity Problems: The main problem for Porto last season was the lack of creativity up front. Porto did dominate possession in many of the games, however quite often in deep positions. Lack of movement off the ball up front was one problem as wingers did not really cut in that often to make space for the full-backs to advance, while the players who occupied the number 10 position never really seemed to fit the strategy. The high work-rate of Hector Herrera and calm distribution of Fernando did help to some extent, but the third central midfielder did not prove to be that effective as Fonseca thought and this eventually costed him his job.

One of the most brilliant talents of all time Ricardo Quaresma was summoned to the club during last year’s winter transfer window and he looked rather better than expected, having signed with Al-Ahli and playing only in 10 matches, plus spending the first half of last season without a club. This season Quaresma should look rather better due to his fitness level increasing, however his style relies on individual brilliance rather than more effective team play.

Key Player | Who will be the stand-out player for the system?

Jackson Martinez became the main striker for Porto after the departure of fellow Colombian superstar Falcao and has proved to be effective so far.  Jackson has been deployed in the traditional lone striker role both in 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 in recent years.

He has played in a total of 91 competitive matches with his club and has scored 60 goals in that time. The Colombian international has been the main goal scoring option for Porto, replacing Falcao in the process. Jackson proved to be highly effective, as he established himself with his clever movement up front. Despite being isolated quite often, Jackson can hold the ball up well to bring his team into the game, he can make dangerous runs, he does not refrain from moving to the flanks to open up space for wingers or the central midfielders to make runs into the box.

He proved to be excellent in the 2012-13 season when he was a part of Porto’s traditional 4-3-3 with fellow Colombian James Rodriguez and quite often Silvestre Varela on the opposite flank, while João Moutinho’s creative play and box runs made him show more of his capabilities. This season the Mexican midfielder Hector Herrera and the young Colombian star Juan Fernando Quintero can benefit from Jackson’s off ball movement to charge towards the box, while wingers Cristian Tello and Brahimi will certainly enjoy the space opened up by Jackson, as this will lead to good crossing opportunities for Danilo and Alex Sandro.

Talent Radar | Who will be the key young player this season?

This season will prove to be rather interesting in the case of youth for Porto, as they do not possess too many players we can include in this category.

Juan Quintero: Juan Fernando Quintero was quickly signed by Porto after the U-20 World Cup 2013 in Turkey. The acquisition seemed to be one of the smartest moves of last season’s transfer window, however Quintero was rather underused, as he “was not fit enough” for that level of competition, according to Paulo Fonseca. Quintero however proved to be quite effective when he came from the bench for Colombia in the world cup, while showing an excellent display against Ivory Coast. The young Colombian could solve the creativity problems up-front, as he positions himself excellently off the ball, drops deep to collect passes from his teammates, delivers accurate passes and spreads the play to the flanks and moves towards the flanks to create overloads to form passing triangles. Provided that he is fit, he should be a major game-changer for Porto this season. // Scout Report on Juan Quintero

Oliver Torres: Having already established himself at youth level, the 19 year-old Oliver Torres has an excellent future ahead of him, provided that he does not suffer career threatening injuries. Oliver was brought to the main squad of Atlético Madrid by Diego Simeone, who made him by-pass the reserve team and included him in his main squad. Oliver made his Champions League debut against none other than Porto last season and was later loaned to Villareal for more playing time, when the championship race became intense. Oliver played a total of 22 games (15 for Atlético Madrid) last season and managed to score one goal. His creativity could prove to be useful for Porto, as they suffered from lack of it last season. The Spanish U-21 international can be also deployed on the flanks or even in the center of midfield, a fact which could increase the Spaniard’s playing time this season. // Scout Report on Oliver Torres

Ricardo Pereira: The 20 year-old Portuguese winger Ricardo Pereira is one of the few gains of the last season for Porto. Pereira was used in the early stages of the season as a substitute quite often and was later sent to FC Porto B for more playing time. Pereira played a total of 33 matches last season with only 12 appearances for FC Porto B. The Portuguese U-21 international played 6 full 90 minutes and 5 of these were consecutive appearances in the last weeks of the season, as Porto were out of the championship race already. Pereira will look to gain more minutes this season and his promising performances late last season with his early showings in the pre-season promise that he could easily become one of the first choice wingers for his club.

Conclusion | Final comments

Porto is again rebuilding and will look to bounce back from their position. This has now happened twice in the past decade and they will look forward to assert their dominance yet again to Liga Sagres. They will need to get past through Lille in the Champions League play-off round to reach the group stages and if Julen Lopetegui manages to get things right, at least national glory is not that far away from Porto.

You can read all our 2014/15 Tactical Previews, and all articles in our Rest of the World blog.

Firat Aktav

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