With a new manager and a whole load of new players, it was always going to be a slow start to the season for Sporting CP. They began their Superliga campaign with two draws against lowly Beira-Mar and Olhanense, scoring one goal in the process, and also drew the first leg of their Europa League qualifier against Nordsjaelland from Denmark. This post will focus on their performance in the second leg of that qualifier.
Sporting made three changes from the first leg, with Rinaudo, Jeffren (injured) and Rodriguez being replaced by Capel, Carrico and Izmailov. This represented a slight change in philosophy from manager Domingos Paciencia, with 2 attackers and 1 defender in for 2 defensive players and 1 attacker.
The diagram on the right-hand side shows roughly how they lined up to begin with, as Andre Santos sat as the deepest-lying midfielder, with Schaars playing as the number ‘6’ and Yannick playing as a second striker to Postiga with Capel and Izmailov supporting from the wings. The tactics seemed to be working in the first half as Sporting created chance after chance, with Nordsjaelland seemingly unable to get out of their own half. Captain Daniel Carrico missed the best chance of the half in his first start of the season after some great work by Postiga. Capel and Izmailov were tormenting the opposing full-backs, but Hansen in the opposition goal was standing firm. Andre Santos looked a very decent player in the holding role and has the added ability of being able to pick out a pass (unlike, say John Obi Mikel). There was an all too familiar problem, however, and that was that Sporting were dominating possession (like they have done in all their games so far) but some poor decision making and a lack of incisiveness in the final third really let them down. I saw less than half of the first half so I can’t really comment on it fully.
The second half began much as the first half had ended, with Sporting dominating in every area of the game. Paciencia had instructed Capel and Izmailov to keep swapping wings and to play as ‘inverted’ wingers. This seemed to have the desired effect as Capel cut inside on numerous occasions, either linking with Yannick or Postiga, or going for goal himself. He forced Hansen into tipping the ball over the bar after another good move. In fact, although they were supposed to be playing on opposite wings, Capel and Izmailov often found themselves near each other, and linked well on two occasions to put good crosses into the box. Yannick forced another good save from Hansen with a great header just before being substituted. Yannick is a player who received a lot of criticism last year while playing as a right-winger, mainly due to his lack of a final ball and some poor decision making. Much like Alexis Sanchez last year though, he seems to have found his position as a second striker, linking well with Helder Postiga on a few occasions. It remains to be seen whether he will continue in this role after the return of Matias Fernandez, or whether he will be moved out to the wing (unlikely) or to the bench (most likely).
Valeri Bojinov, who had replaced Yannick, made a big impact and missed a great headed chance moments after coming on. His all-round play as a striker means he will often be found on the wings or dropping into midfield, and it was he who provided Andre Santos with the assist for the first goal. Another Capel cross was not fully cleared and Bojinov gave Santos an opportunity he could not miss. It was Capel who set up Evaldo for the second goal with a great corner, and I’m not sure Evaldo knew too much about it before it bounced off his thigh and into the net.
Once again Sporting showed how strong they are in the midfield this season, dominating possession and creating countless chances (they had had 26 shots already with half an hour to go) for their attackers. Capel in particular looks like a bargain buy and it begs the question of why on earth Sevilla let him go. In the first half they failed to capitalise on these chances, but in the second they were more incisive and deserved their victory. They will be disappointed with the way in which they let in the goal in injury time as a result of a defensive mix-up.
Overall, it was a decent performance from the ‘Lions,’ going through to the group stages (the draw for which is taking place as I write) with relative ease. Once they are faced with higher quality opposition they really will need to take their chances when they come and I’m this is something Paciencia has been working on since the start of the season. Perhaps replacing Postiga with Ricky van Wolfswinkel or Diego Rubio would help solve the problem, although Paciencia has no doubt already considered this.