Porto 3-2 Braga: Hulk dominates the game
A great encounter with some terrific goals – Porto narrowly recorded an important victory.
Porto lined up as expected, 4-3-3 with Fernando dropping deep ahead of his own defence, and Hulk and Silvestre Varela switching wings upfront.
Braga used a counter-attacking 4-2-3-1 shape, with Domingos Pacienca leaving out Matheus, instead using Paulo Cesar on the left and Lima the the main striker, with close support from Luis Aguiar.
The game had a slightly cagey start, with Porto generally happy to knock the ball around casually in midfield and defence with relatively little attempt to get it towards their creative players in order to penetrate the Braga defence. Of course, with Braga looking to play on the break, this meant there were few opportunities for them to attack either, since Porto weren’t leaving gaps at the back – both sets of full-backs were relatively conservative.
Braga were basically matching Porto in midfield – Aguiar was near Fernando, whilst Joao Moutinho and Fernando Belluschi were watched by and Vandinho and Leandro Salino.
Early midfield stand-off
Because Porto were playing without a designated playmaker in a fairly static midfield three, Braga’s two holding players moved high up the pitch (considering Braga were looking to sit back). This meant there was a gap between Braga’s midfield and forwards, and both Falcao and Hulk looked to drop into this zone. Falcao was tracked closely by Alberto Rodriguez, opening up space in the centre of the Braga defence.
Braga’s holding players got themselves involved in play, taking it in turns to link with the front four. Vandinho’s dart forward won him a free-kick, that was dispatched into the net from 30 yards by Aguiar.
Porto looked sluggish, and part of the problem was the appalling distribution from Helton. He clearly wanted to get the ball forward quickly, but too often simply punted it 60 yards towards a Braga defender, and possession was lost immediately.
Hulk takes over
Hulk was the game’s main man, and Braga simply couldn’t cope with his movement off the ball, nor his tricky on it. He went close with a free-kick from a ludicrous angle, then blasted wide from that space in front of the defence that Braga were having difficulties with. It was no surprise when he created the first goal, ghosting past Elderson Echiejile and crossing for Varela, who had motored into the six yard box from the opposite flank.
Porto increasingly tried knocking quick, direct balls for Hulk to take on the defenders, and he nearly scored a wonderful goal after turning three times on a run in from the right wing. However, it was Braga who went 1-2 up – Fernando stood off Lima, and the Brazilian launched an unstoppable shot past Helton.
Hulk hit back straight away – picking up the ball wide on the flank, drifting inside, exchanging passes with Alvaro Pereira, and after Vandinho completely switched off and Echiejile slipped, Hulk launched a powerful shot into the top of the net, to make it 2-2. The game had almost come down to one factor – Hulk. Braga couldn’t stop him, even when they doubled up on him, and the midfield battle became relatively irrelevant as Porto simply looked to move the ball to the right quickly.
Braga were slightly guilty of committing too many men forward at 2-2, and Varela put Porto ahead for the first time with a thunderous drive into the top corner from a narrow angle. Braga were unable to construct any meaningful goalscoring chances, and Porto kept the ball well towards the end of the game.
This was arguably the first major clash of the season in Europe – with champions Benfica getting off to an incredibly bad start (three defeats in four games) these two might well end up being the main two title challengers. Porto now have a four-point lead at the top of the table, a five-point lead over Braga and Sporting, and a nine-point lead over Benfica – after just four games.
In truth, they don’t yet look a cohesive unit – the midfield hasn’t quite clicked, with Moutinho being withdrawn midway through the second half, having not made any particular impact on the game, and there wasn’t enough interplay between the midfield trio and the forward trident.
That said, when the ball did get to the forwards, they were absolutely superb. Hulk was almost unplayable on the right, Falcao increasingly dropped deep and drew the defenders out of position, whilst Varela used the ball well and scored two goals. Just as Porto’s midfield and attack seemed disconnected, the gap between Braga’s defenders and midfielders was too large, and despite having a fairly standard 4 v 3 at the back, Hulk’s trickery meant that Braga needed more defensive support from their midfielders.Porto 3-2 Braga: Hulk dominates the game