One of the most successful Portuguese coaches of recent seasons, Manuel Machado led Guimarães to victory against one of his former clubs. Ben Shave has the story, and the all the action from Round 3 of the Liga ZON Sagres.
He might look like my Year 8 chemistry teacher (if you're reading this Mr Sanders, I hope that you're well), but since 2001 Manuel Machado has built up an impressive resume, despite not managing at any of Portugal's Três Grandes. He first came to prominence in 2002/3, where, having led tiny Moreirense to back to back promotions, he secured a wholly unexpected 12th place finish in their debut top-flight season. Despite having a number of suitors for his services, he stayed loyal to the provincial Northern side, and continued to defy the odds the following season, leading the team to 9th. Having achieved all that he could on such a limited budget, Machado returned to the place where he cut his managerial teeth as a youth team coach- the Estádio D. Afonso Henriques, home to Vitória Guimarães. A 5th place finish there, and Machado was on the move again, for the first of two spells at Nacional. Having led the team to European qualification in 2005/6, Machado embarked on what were (by his own high standards) a pair of unsuccessful tenures at Académica and Sporting Braga. Having returned to Nacional for the 2008/9 season, Machado experienced his high point as a manager, leading the islanders to their equal highest ever finish of 4th place. In a league where all but the biggest teams' budgets can accurately be described as shoestring, and all roads for top players lead to Lisbon or Porto, such an achievement is rare indeed.
Just as it appeared that Machado was beginning to build something special with the islanders, disaster struck. In December of last year, news emerged that the manager was in an induced coma, having experienced severe side-effects from what was supposed to be a routine operation. Initial reports speculated that his life was in danger, but as the weeks passed, the news continued to improve. Incredibly, Machado was back on the touchline by the end of January. However, the episode had derailed his project at Nacional. Caretaker manager Predrag Jokanovic had won the support of the board, and as the team finished last season in 7th, Machado saw the writing on the wall. Thankfully, his beloved Guimarães were more than willing to have him back, and this summer he began his fourth tenure at the club.
In one of the more eye-catching early season fixtures, Machado returned to Madeira this past weekend. Nacional were riding high, having disposed of Benfica in Round 2, and were also buoyed by historical determinism- Guimarães had never beaten Nacional on Madeiran soil. However, Machado's men produced a performance that belied their sluggish start to 2010/11, and overran the home side, eventually running out 3-1 winners. Brazilian Toscano (signed from Paraná Clube over the summer) scored all three, and looks to be a solid addition to a previously misfiring front line. After the match, Machado spoke of the “respect and gratitude” he felt towards Nacional, but also pointedly referred to those who were less than supportive during his time of need last season. It is this steely determination combined with a slight chip on the shoulder that has made him one of Portugal's most consistently successful top-flight managers.
Where Machado and Guimarães go from here remains to be seen. The emphatic nature of Saturday's victory should not serve to gloss over some of the deficiencies in the squad, not least the absence of a goal threat. The arrival (and swift departure) of Bébé may have boosted the club coffers, but during their goalless draw at Olhanense in Round 1, I found myself wondering if he would be doing better than Edgar Silva, who looked to be sorely lacking in cutting edge. Whilst Toscano has made an immediate impact, it is too soon to tell if he can produce the goals required to ensure that Guimarães find themselves in the European spots come season's end. A repeat of 2009/10's 7th place finish will not be tolerated, and unless Machado comes up trumps, his nomadic existence could well continue. But such is the nature of Portuguese football, and for much of his career, the unassuming Guimarães native has shown himself to be more than up to the challenge.
Round 3 Talking Points
Someone else who rose to the challenge this weekend was Roberto, the goalkeeper who has provoked more column inches than any other player since the season began. Having been demoted to the bench for Benfica's home fixture with Vitória Setúbal, the Spaniard nevertheless ended up playing a crucial role it what eventually turned out to be a routine 3-0 victory for the Eagles. With Cardozo having headed Benfica into the lead after just four minutes, everything looked set up for a procession. However, Maxi Pereira's woeful back pass let Zeca in, and reserve keeper Julio Cesar was forced to bring him down in the six yard box. Out came on the red card, and on came Roberto. At this point, the hearts of Benfiquistas must surely have sunk, but the man who had been roundly booed last week in Madeira pulled off the save from Hugo Leal's (admittedly weak) spot-kick. The Luz erupted, and from then on Benfica had the game won. Luisão and Aimar added further goals, and the pressure on the players eased visibly. Setúbal were poor, and Benfica's overall play remains some distance below that of last season, but at least they enter the international break with points on the board.
Points on the board appear to be the order of the day at FC Porto, who cruised to a 2-0 victory over a determined but outclassed Rio Ave. Although the Dragons benefited from some questionable refereeing decisions, or lack thereof (replays showed that Falcao took out Felgueiras as he dived to reach Hulk's low, curling shot for the first goal), André Villas Boas will surely be a contented man heading into the two-week break. Whilst Jorge Jesus has struggled to get Benfica off and running, his younger rival has ushered two potent symbols of the Jesualdo Ferreira era (Bruno Alves and the recently departed Raul Meireles) out the door, got through the Europa League playoff round in some style, and has yet to see his side concede a goal in three league games. It's a bit premature to break out those José Mourinho comparisons, but the thirty-three year old could not have wished for a better start to his tenure at the Dragão.
Paulo Sérgio can also reflect on a good week, after Sporting's underwhelming opening fixture against Paços. A hard-fought victory against Marítimo at the Alvalade last Sunday contained little of note, but their midweek performance in the Europa League was as heartening as it was surprising. Having been comprehensively outplayed by Brøndby in the first leg, the Lions travelled to Denmark needing to overturn a 2-0 deficit. Although it took them some time to establish a foothold in the game, Evaldo's header on the stroke of half time provided the platform for a strong second half performance, despite the occasional threat from their opponents. Nuno Coelho's long-range shot was inexplicably not dealt with by Anderson, who instead allowed the ball to slip through his grasp and into the net. That saw the tie level after seventy-five minutes, and set up a frenetic finish- long on intensity but short on quality. That is, until Yannick's delicious last-minute lob over the hapless keeper, set up by a delicately placed through ball from Liédson. 3-2 on aggregate, and the Lions were into the Europa League draw. Sporting made it three wins in eight days on Monday evening, with a tougher than it sounds 3-1 victory away at Naval. Like Porto, Paulo Sérgio's men were aided by some baffling officiating- Liédson was clearly offside and interfering with play as Matiás played the ball through for the first goal, whilst the naturalised Brazilian made the most of a clumsy but innocuous challenge from Lupéde to win a penalty- but like Porto, they showed enough to merit the victory, albeit with significantly less panache.
Round 3 results:
Nacional 1-3 Vitória Guimarães, Benfica 3-0 Vitória Setúbal, Paços de Ferreira 2-2 Portimonense, Beira Mar 2-1 Académica, Sporting Braga 1-0 Marítimo, Olhanense 1-0 UD Leiria, Rio Ave 0-2 FC Porto, Naval 1-3 Sporting CP.
No Liga ZON Sagres fixtures next weekend due to the international break, but here's the lineup for the weekend of the 11th/12th September:
Vitória Setúbal-Beira Mar, Marítimo-Paços de Ferreira, Vitória Guimarães-Benfica, UD Leiria-Nacional, Académica-Naval, FC Porto-Sporting Braga, Portimonense-Rio Ave, Sporting CP-Olhanense.
Ben writes regularly for IBWM, but if you would like to read more from him please visit cahiers du sport.