Porto 3-1 Sporting: Porto more compact without the ball and more efficient with their attacking

October 28, 2013

The starting line-ups

This was first against second in Portugal – champions Porto won, extending the gap to five points.

Paulo Fonseca selected Silvestre Varela on the left, with Lica on the bench – otherwise, his side was as expected.

Sporting coach Leonardo Jardim played Ivan Piris in an unfamiliar left-back role, in the absence of Jefferson Nascimento.

Porto were the dominant force for the majority of this match, and deserved the victory.

Porto dominant down left

The first notable feature of the game was Porto’s dominance down the left flank. Varela started extremely strongly, twice beating Sporting right-back Cedric Soares within the opening ten minutes, the youngster seemingly troubled by Varela’s ability to go down the line onto his left foot, or cut inside onto his right.

Varela’s delivery was inconsistent, but he started to receive support from behind, in the shape of left-back Alex Sandro. Perhaps Porto’s greatest area of strength is the attacking ability of their full-backs, and Sandro’s burst forward into the box drew a clumsy foul from Mauricio, allowing Josue to convert from the spot.

Midfield battle

Porto attacked less relentlessly at 1-0 up, and once the game settled down into a pattern, the midfield battle became particularly important. Throughout the pitch, there were obvious battles – wingers against full-backs, lone striker against two centre-backs, and three obvious one-against-one clashes in the middle of the pitch.

There was a great contrast in the format of the midfields, however. Porto have changed their system and are playing with a 4-2-3-1 this season rather than the 4-3-3 we’ve become accustomed to, but their midfield is still capable of rotating to get around opposition pressure – here it wasn’t uncommon to see Fernando and Hector Herrera switching sides, or to see the Brazilian push forward in advance of the Mexican.

Sporting problems

Sporting’s situation was very different, and for long periods they were an utterly broken team. The two advanced central mdifielders, Andre Martins and Adrien Silva, pushed extremely high up the pitch in support of lone striker Fredy Montero, and with Porto keeping a high defensive line, Sporting often had five players high up the pitch.

But this left holding midfielder William Carvalho in an extremely difficult situation. He often received possession from the Porto defenders and found himself with no midfield colleagues within twenty yards, making the next pass almost impossible. The fact Porto pressed high up the pitch, with Lucho Gonzalez getting into his face quickly, furthered the problem.

It was even more of an issue when Sporting’s moves broke down – they sometimes left a huge amount of space in the centre of the pitch, and Lucho was able to take the ball forward on the break. Carvalho did reasonably well against him, but the space between the lines was increasingly exploited by Josue, darting inside from the right channel.

Sporting revival

But Sporting did have spells of pressure either side of half-time, a period where Porto’s pressing dropped. Handicapped by poor contributions from Silva and Martins – there was little creativity, and in central positions Sporting regularly attempted hopeful long-range shots – Sporting’s best moments came when Carvalho switched the ball from flank to flank, and the full-backs advanced to overload Porto’s full-backs.

Here, it seemed the home side haven’t yet learned to defend with two banks of four – the two wide players often stayed in advanced positions, as Piris and Cedric formed two-against-one situations in the Porto full-back zones. A substitution also helped – Diego Capel replaced Wilson Eduardo, who was lively but had struggled when Sandro attacked him. Capel played on the left, with Andre Carillo switching sides, and soon found oceans of space for a good cross onto Montero’s head.

Sporting got a goal back following a set-piece won out wide on the right, with Carvalho scoring a scrappy goal.

Porto’s second wave

But the 60th minute equaliser only encouraged Porto to up their game. Danilo got a goal back almost immediately with a great strike, cutting inside onto his left foot, before firing in off the crossbar – again, Porto’s strength comes from their attacking full-backs. Fonseca also introduced Lica for Josue, giving Porto more of a direct threat on the break.

And Porto eventually sealed the game with a direct three-man break on the left, with Varela starting the move and then providing a clever-knock down on Jackson Martinez’s cross, with Lucho storming forward to convert. V

arela and Lucho’s direct breaks had been threatening early on, but they really made the difference once Sporting were forced to attack and leave space in their own full-back zones.


Porto had the advantage in the centre of midfield throughout the game – Sporting were simply too disjointed, with Carvalho left isolated in front of the defence, which caused problems both defensively and offensively.

The balance of power out wide varied – Porto had a strong start and ended the game well, but in the middle section Sporting pushed their full-backs forward nicely and caused real problems.

Still, Porto’s full-backs made the true difference, with Sandro and Danilo’s bursts forward responsible for the first two Porto goals.

“The defeat was not just a question of defensive mistakes,” admitted Jardim. “We were not mobile and too static in attack.”

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