Porto 1-0 Braga: Porto win Europa League
Falcao’s trademark header just before half time gave Porto the UEFA Cup trophy.
Andre Villas Boas named the side which could reasonably considered his first choice XI for this season, with one exception – Freddy Guarin started on the right of the midfield trio, when Fernando Belluschi has seen plenty of playing time in that position.
Domingos Pacienca also had a decision to make about his right-sided central midfielder – Custodio got the nod. At the back, Silvio (comfortable on either side) played at left-back.
As Villas Boas acknowledged after the match, the game was not a particularly good spectacle. None of the attacking players showed their true quality, and chances tended to come from defensive errors rather than good creative play. Considering that Porto are simply a much better side than Braga – they’ve just finished 38 points ahead of them in a 30 game season – the game was more even that one might have expected.
The game started nervously. It was a slow, patient first few minutes, with Porto dominating possession of the ball and Braga reasonably content to sit back and let them play, although Pacienca did instruct his side to hold a a reasonably high defensive line.
Porto were organised in their usual 4-1-2-3 shape, with Fernando sitting very deep in midfield. Villas Boas told his full-backs to push on whenever possible – especially Alvaro Pereira down the left. To aid this, and with Fernando having no specific player to pick up for most of the game, he sometimes dropped into the back to switch Porto to 3-4-3, allowing the full-backs more freedom.
Braga’s shape was 4-2-1-3ish, though Hugo Viana played to the left of the pitch and often came deep, meaning Braga were arguably just a 4-3-3, or 4-1-2-3 themselves, with Vandinho sitting ahead of his defence, like Fernando. Those two were the free midfielders, with the other two doing battle with each other in the centre of the pitch.
In this zone, each side had what the other lacked. Porto’s movement from the front players was excellent – Villas Boas had clearly worked on some set patterns in the build-up to the match. Their classic movement on the right (which has been noted before in the huge wins against Benfica and Villarreal) created space for Guarin to move forward into, and he provided the cross for Falcao’s header just before half time. There was also good play on the left by Silvestre Varela to play reasonably narrow and open up space for Pereira, whilst Moutinho also played in an advanced role at points, on one occasion trying to break over the top for a through ball when Falcao dropped deep.
Indeed, part of the effect of Braga’s highish line was that the gap between Porto’s midfielders and attacks was small, and it was easy for the two ‘bands’ to combine off the ball. Porto lacked good quality passing from the centre of the pitch to exploit the runners, however.
For Braga, it was the opposite story – Vandinho played well and hit some nice passes into wide positions, but Braga frequently miscontrolled and wasted opportunities to get crosses in. Silvio was one of the biggest offenders here – a surprise, since he is a very good footballer – but he found it difficult to cross from the left, and the whole Braga side looked nervous throughout the game. Combine Vandinho’s passing with Porto’s movement, and you would have had a complete team.
That’s maybe slightly harsh on Fernando, as he did hit a lovely crossfield pass out to Hulk, who beat two players and hit a shot just wide. But even then – that was all about Hulk. He still had to dribble past two players – the initial pass was hardly penetrative.
Brief Hulk threat
Hulk v Silvio looked like being the key clash in the first half, but Hulk’s contribution after the half hour mark was minimal. Silvio was outpaced comfortably by the Brazilian- the downside of the Braga defence pushing up – and also committed a poor, needless tackle on him that summed up his frustration. It was strange that Hulk didn’t test Silvio further, considering he had the benefit of more pace, and the knowledge that Silvio was another foul away from being dismissed.
Pacienca made two changes at half time. Kaka replaced Alberto Rodriguez, who had been a fitness doubt, and had been caught in possession for the goal. Viana was also sacrificed, with the more energetic Mossoro coming in and helping Braga to press higher up the pitch.
It almost worked instantly. Fernando had spent the first half with plenty of time on the ball – but 40 seconds into the second, Mossoro closed him down quickly, won the ball, and was through on goal. Unfortunately, this was his first action of the match and he didn’t look sharp – he couldn’t get the ball out from under his feet with his first two touches, and his third was a fairly weak shot at Helton.
Porto were more defensive having taken the lead. Moutinho no longer tried to break forward and instead sat alongside Fernando, whilst Guarin was replaced by Belluschi.
Braga’s third change also worked reasonably well – Lima was replaced with Albert Meyong, who played a hold-up / false nine role and allowed midfield runners to play off him. And yet, despite the improvement in positioning and movement from the front players, Braga still created nothing of note in the second period, as Porto were disciplined and resilient without ever looking completely comfortable, and without needing to vary their tactics much aside from like-for-like changes.
The two key moments both game from defensive mistakes – Falcao’s goal, and Mossoro’s chance at the start of the second half. The game lacked a true creator, someone who who was going to play the killer pass and provide for the attacking trios – Falcao created the goal and Mossoro ‘created’ his own chance with the tackle, which sums up the type of game it was – these are physical and energetic players rather than silky ones.
Pacienca used the bench well to vary his tactics and his attacking approach (after the game he said that he was happy with the way his substitutions reshaped the game) but Braga let themselves down with poor control in the final third of the pitch. Their failings here were not tactical.
Villas Boas made a big deal of Porto’s mental strength in this game, praising his players for “making the transfer into the environment of the final, which is very difficult” and commenting that they were “able to concentrate in the game and perform their tasks” – this was the major difference between the sides – sadly, Braga looked tentative throughout and were poor in the attacking third as a result.