The last time I left you was at the end of January. At that time we were sitting at the summit of the table but only a mere 5 points ahead of Porto and struggling to find the back of the net very often. During the January market we negotiated the signings of former Atléti forward Luciano Vietto from Tottenham and the signing of Barcelona prospect Carlés Alena with a view to solving our goalscoring woes. During the first 14 games of the season we only scored a mere 29 goals, and while 2 goals a game can be seen as a strong factor to our games, I had higher expectations of my squad and I was keen to improve on that side of things. Attack, attack, attack.
Vietto came in during the January window and rounded off the season for us in sublime fashion, scoring 22 goals in 23 starts. Luciano was cold as ice in front of goal and could finish from any angle, he was deadly all over the pitch and added a whole new dimension to our game, a dimension that saw our goalscoring rise to 64 goals in the remaining 20 matches meaning we averaged over 3 goals a game between January and May.
But how did he compare to our other Strikers?
On paper all of our Strikers were very strong throughout the season, with none of them scoring less than 16 times. In terms of appearances Luciano Vietto actually made the least which makes it all the more impressive that he found the back of the net than anyone, with Jovic coming closest with 20 goals from his 39 appearances (that’s 11 more than Vietto). All four of our strikers also chipped in with the occasional assist with Zapata possessing the lowest amount in comparison to games played while Andone managed 7 assists in only 27 appearances which likely would have resulted in a higher assist/game ratio than Luka Jovic who assistsed 9 times in 39 games in his first full season.
It could be seen that statistically Duvan Zapata was our least productive striker despite chipping in with his fair share of goals and assists. Going forward I think it’s likely he will be the first to leave out of the 4, but that’s a story for another day. I’m delighted with all four, but Vietto clearly gave the attacking unit something new, a confidence boost.
Surprisingly it wasn’t Vietto, but forgotten man Florin Andone who almost netted a double hat-trick at home to Chaves, only for Pizzi to take the responsibility away from him. A gutting moment, and one that left me furious on the sidelines!
We finished the domestic season as Champions of Portugal for the third successive season, notching 93 goals while only conceding 14 in our 34 matches. While 88 points is not our highest tally to date, the performances throughout the year were fantastic and I’m delighted to have retained the title once more, we really are asserting a strong dominance over Portugal in recent years.
I thought I’d include the image to show you all how dominant we were towards the last 1/3 of the season. A couple of 7-0 and 5-0 results showed just how much quality we have in the final third, and while we lost two matches in the season, I’m delighted with the performances.
The Taca da Liga was a competition we usually fared well in, and despite not winning it last season I was confident of our chances of winning back a trophy that was once inside our own cabinet. Every trophy counts in my career as a manager.
In the end it proved to be a comfortable trophy for us to get our hands on. We didn’t concede a single goal throughout the 5 match run and after beating Porto on penalties were able to easily push aside our affiliated club Belenenses, who were competing in their first ever Taca da Liga Final.
The Taca de Portugal on the other hand has been a nightmare for us in the last year or two. Last season we fell in the Final at the hands of Porto and this season was no different, another “so close yet so far” moment for us. This really has become a bogey competition during my time.
Similarly to the Taca da Liga, we managed to keep clean sheets in every single one of our fixtures up until the point of the Final where we simply didn’t perform on the day. Goals from Neilton and Layun were enough to crush our hopes of a Domestic Quadruple despite our domination on the night.
The big competition, the UEFA Champions League has been extremely generous to us this year. After fighting through our seemingly easy group, we were drawn against one of the “lesser” sides A.C. Milan in the Quarter-Finals, a side I felt we could beat as we went on our search for European glory.
Oh boy, where do we begin? A.C. Milan proved to be no match for us and following an astonishing 5-2 victory away at the San Siro we were able to cruise through to the Quarter-Finals where we drew French side AS Monaco. The French side proved to be no challenge for us ans were demolished 8-0 on aggregate over the two legs, a much less contested tie than our previous ones against the Ligue 1 Runners-Up.
Paris Saint-Germain awaited us in the Semi-Finals and having won the league weeks prior to playing us, the complacency was apparent as we managed a 3-0 win at the Estadio da Luz before finishing the job away in the French capital. We’ve booked our place in the Final! I can’t believe it! While this was completely unexpected, I have to say that our run to this stage has not been the most difficult of paths and we’ve taken full advantage of the ‘friendly draws’, all we have to do is win one more game.
It’s been a strange path to the Final for all of the teams involved, many of the favourites in Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona and Arsenal fell early on while Real Madrid and Manchester City failed to qualify from their respective groups. We on the other hand have had a straightforward path to the Final bar the challenge of PSG, but even with them included it’s been a fairly straight forward procedure for us. The Final will be played at Old Trafford against Italian giants Juventus, who finished 3rd in the Serie A this season.
During the January update I began to speak a little bit about some of the quality we have in our youth and reserve squads while continuing to add to the high potential of the squads over time. It’s fair to say both sides have performed adequately in the past 12 months.
Both our Under 19s and our B-Side managed to win their respective leagues with the B side dethroning the three year dominance of the FCP B-Side to claim the Segunda League title. The Under 19 squad on the other hand have won the title three seasons in a row and also went on to win the U19s Cup, an absolute treat for the future of this fine club.
With the performances being this dominant, I think it’s clear to see that some of the Under 19’s will be moving into the B side while some of the B-Side will respectively be moving into my first-team, so let’s get to the players who will be moving into the first-team.
Miroslav Arsic (STC), Paulo Wilson (CB) and Javier Prieto (LB) have all been moved to the first-team squad following impressive performance throughout the past 12 months. While there are other high performing players in the youth sides, our current first-team is full of quality and only possesses so many gaps for the youth to fill, with these positions being the ones we need the most. The pre-season will be a good chance for these lads to prove their worth, and stake a claim for a place in the squad.
During the next blog update I’ll be making a one-off post for 2019 UEFA Champions League Final. Expect that to be posted soon!