Sporting Champion of the Liga Portugal 23/24

Sporting crowned this past weekend the splendid 23/24 season with their twentieth title in the Portuguese League, after defeating Portimonense at home on Saturday by 3-0 and witnessing Benfica’s loss on Sunday against the modest Famalicão.

As mentioned above, it was a fantastic season, especially in the Portuguese League, which was led by the Lions from start to finish, demonstrating the strength and unity of a young yet very experienced and cohesive team.

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Sporting under Rúben Amorim and His Command

Since 2020, Sporting has had the young coach and former midfielder Rúben Amorim leading the Green and Whites. At that time, the former Braga coach was hired by Sporting after just 13 games as head coach for a whopping 10 million euros, making him the third-highest-paid coach in the world at the time. This move raised many questions and doubts from both the fans and the media.

However, nothing was by chance. After witnessing Amorim’s impressive start at Braga with 10 wins in 13 games, Sporting’s well-prepared management knew what they were doing and had a clear plan. They aimed to bring in someone young, dedicated, and knowledgeable about the game to build a competitive team while maintaining synergy between young talents from the academy and players from smaller clubs, along with experienced ones, to form a cohesive unit.

Initially, the plan didn’t seem entirely feasible, as upon his arrival, Sporting was in fourth place in the 2019/2020 Portuguese League, with few games left to secure a spot in the Champions League. While Sporting briefly climbed to third place, they ultimately slipped back to fourth in the final two rounds, securing only a Europa League berth.

At the start of the 2020/2021 season, Sporting released several players, brought in some new ones, and promoted youth players from the academy. From there, Rúben Amorim’s work began to flow more smoothly.

Though the beginning wasn’t easy, with a COVID-19 outbreak affecting much of the club early in the season and early exits from the Europa League and Portuguese Cup, Sporting found their stride in the league. They followed Amorim’s mantra of taking it one game at a time, accumulating points until no opponent could catch up.

Enter the famous 3-4-3 system, intense, expansive, combative, and vertical, showcased by the young Portuguese coach.

The 2020/2021 title was of immense importance; no team outside of Benfica or Porto had won the final for over 20 years, since Sporting themselves lifted the trophy in 2001.

In the following seasons, the Lions continued to refine and develop their unique identity. However, despite a strong showing in 2021/2022, where they finished as runners-up, and a decent campaign in 2022/2023, finishing fourth, they failed to clinch titles.

Despite finishing fourth and failing to qualify for the Champions League, Amorim continued his work with Sporting. What happened and is happening in the 2023/2024 season is fantastic. Let’s take a look:

Season 2023/2024 Sporting

Amid dissatisfaction from Sporting fans and constant skepticism from the Portuguese media that the Lions would have a tough season ahead and were not favorites to win anything, Rúben Amorim, his team, and the management started the year with determination to establish themselves as the top team in Portugal.

The strategy employed by Rúben, his coaching staff, and the management was to retain as much of the previous season’s team as possible and make relevant, targeted signings.

Two important players left the club. The first was the combative Uruguayan midfielder Ugarte, who was sold to PSG for 60 million euros. The excellent and promising right-back Pedro Porro also departed, joining Tottenham.

These departures were adequately replaced. Danish midfielder Morten Hjulmand was brought in directly from Lecce in Italy. The skillful, clever, and intense young player, along with the Japanese Morita, formed one of the best midfield partnerships in Portuguese football history. Together, they are the engine of Sporting, responsible for both breaking up plays and creating opportunities.

The replacement for Pedro Porro was Spanish full-back Iván Fresneda, who unfortunately suffered a serious injury early on, giving way to the young Mozambican winger Geny Catamo. Catamo, who had been at Sporting since 2020, wasn’t frequently used. After loan spells at Guimarães and Marítimo, the speedy and versatile youngster seized his opportunity at Sporting and cemented his place in the starting lineup, proving crucial in the latter stages of the season.

The most impactful signing of the season was a young Swedish forward who had enjoyed two excellent seasons at Coventry City in the English Championship, none other than Viktor Gyökeres. With his immense physical strength, intensity, precise finishing, quick cuts, sharp goal-scoring instincts, and unique mobility, Gyökeres was a perfect fit for Sporting.

Gyökeres is undoubtedly one of the top forwards in the game today, adored by Sporting fans and the final piece of the puzzle for the Lions’ success in the 23/24 season.

Foto: Sporting

Early on, it was evident that Rúben Amorim’s characteristic 3-4-3 system was maximizing the potential of his players, creating a fully synergized and cohesive team that rapidly produced attacking plays, using verticality to stretch the field and find gaps between the lines.

The core lineup for Sporting in this beautiful season consisted of Adán and Franco Israel in goal; Coates, Diomande, and Inácio in defense, with Matheus Reis and Quaresma also frequently utilized; Esgaio and Catamo on the right wing; Nuno Santos and Matheus Reis on the left wing; Daniel Bragança, Morita, Hjulmand, and Pedro Gonçalves in midfield, with Gonçalves often dropping deeper; in attack, Trincão, Pedro Gonçalves, Edwards, Paulinho, and Gyökeres were heavily involved.

As we can see, there is no undisputed starting lineup for the Lions. All the players mentioned above played at least 29 matches this season, with many being pleasant surprises, such as the academy product Quaresma, the winger Catamo, and Paulinho, who reinvented and improved his game by playing closer to the area due to the arrival of the Swedish goal-scorer.

In other words, it is a team that has understood its coach’s system very well and executes it excellently. This is evident through the following characteristics: the combative nature, intensity, and excellent ball distribution of the two central midfielders, Hjulmand and Morita, as well as Pedro Gonçalves, who adapted well to the midfield to initiate attacks; a solid defense led by the green and white idol Coates in the center, supported by Inácio, Matheus Reis, and Quaresma’s energy and determination.

The wingers are constantly used as outlets to stretch the opposition and provide width, demonstrating unique intensity throughout the game, and the attacking trio, which always consists of two secondary forwards slightly wider to receive passes between the lines, like Trincão, Paulinho, and Pedro Gonçalves, or with a focus on speed and dribbling in one-on-one situations, like Edwards.

To top it off, a complete center forward who drops deep to receive the ball, creates space, and serves his teammates, breaks lines with short and long dribbles, destabilizes the opposing defense, and does excellent pivot work, all while being a natural goal-scorer and possessing a unique presence in the penalty area, coupled with his explosive strength and finishing ability.

With such dedication, synergy, and both collective and individual brilliance, Sporting dominated the Portuguese League from start to finish, taking the lead in the seventh round and only relinquishing it after losing to Benfica on matchday 11, in a painful match where the Lions were leading until stoppage time despite being down to 10 men since the 50th minute. However, this defeat was important in toughening them up.

Their second and final defeat in the competition came against Vitória de Guimarães. Despite the loss, they remained at the top and solidified their position in the next round after defeating Porto at Alvalade, showing no mercy to their rivals and winning comfortably 2-0, with goals from Gyökeres and Pedro Gonçalves.

One must also mention the most crucial victory of the championship, against Benfica at Alvalade on matchday 28. The Lions were only one point ahead of their Lisbon rivals but had a game in hand, making this match of utmost importance. A brilliant performance by the Mozambican Geny Catamo, who scored both goals, secured the Green and White victory, giving them a four-point lead over the second-placed team with one game in hand.

Photo: X Sporting

Although Sporting had an impeccable campaign overall, it was at this moment that the trophy drew nearer and became a reality, which, as we know, came after four matchdays with a 3-0 victory over Portimonense and Benfica’s defeat to Famalicão the following day.

The incredible numbers Sporting achieved this season are worth mentioning. In 30 games, they accumulated 84 points, with 27 wins, 2 losses, and only 1 draw, scoring 92 goals and conceding just 29, boasting the best defense and attack in the league.

In all competitions up to this point, they have scored 131 goals in 51 games. Sporting hadn’t scored so many goals in a season since 1946/1947 during the era of the “Five Violins,” when they were unquestionably Portugal’s best, scoring a staggering 161 goals.

They currently have a 100% home record, with 16 wins in 16 games, turning the Estádio José Alvalade into a Green and White fortress, refuting the taunts from their rivals and the insinuations from part of the Portuguese press that they only won the 2020/2021 title because there were no fans in Portuguese football due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Portugal Painted Green and White for the Twentieth Time

Matchday 32 Sporting 3-0 Portimonense

Sporting hosted Portimonense at the Estádio José Alvalade, with the visitors desperate to earn points to climb out of 16th place and avoid relegation playoffs, while the Lions were solely focused on victory to move closer to their 20th title.

Despite expectations of a closely contested match due to Portimonense’s precarious situation, what ensued was a display of dominance, security, and well-played, vertical football from the Green and Whites.

In this game, Sporting demonstrated why they had swept the Portuguese League. They showcased various attacking moves, always seeking to attack with speed through the middle and wings, a rock-solid and dominant defense, and the enhancement of their players’ abilities. If not for the spectacular performance of goalkeeper Nakamura, we would have witnessed a historic rout.

The first goal for the Lions came in the 13th minute. Nuno Santos found space on the left flank (a recurring theme throughout the game), attacked with pace, and received a perfect pass. He crossed low into the middle for Paulinho, who hit a firm first-time shot low to the ground, leaving the goalkeeper no chance and opening the scoring, capping off a brilliant season playing in a new position.

The second goal came in the 69th minute after a beautiful sequence. Nuno Santos received the ball on the left, turned towards his own goal, spotted Paulinho making a run towards the byline, and played a great backheel pass to the forward. Paulinho then crossed low back across the box, finding Trincão at the top of the area, who finished beautifully with his left foot to double the lead and fill the hearts of Sporting fans with excitement.

The final goal in the title-winning game had to be his. In the 91st minute, almost at the end of the game, Daniel Bragança received a lovely long ball from the defense, chested the ball down inside the opponent’s box, delicately flicked it over the onrushing goalkeeper for Gyökeres to arrive with power, determination, and speed to tap the ball in almost on the goal line, scoring his 27th goal in the Portuguese League and 41st in the season.

Photo: Sporting

With Gyökeres’ goal, Sporting defeated Portimonense 3-0, sending the fans into raptures and chanting from the depths of their souls for their team. However, as we know, nothing was decided yet. The Lions still needed Benfica not to win their game against Famalicão away from home.

Sunday arrived, and Sporting fans around the world were watching Benfica’s game. Benfica didn’t perform well and ended up losing 2-0 to the modest Famalicão, confirming Sporting Clube de Portugal’s 20th Portuguese title.

The celebration was immediate. Thousands of Sporting fans gathered in the traditional Marquês de Pombal square to celebrate the undisputed title of one of the most enjoyable teams to watch in football today.

Now, Sporting can improve their statistics in the last two league games and also try to bring home the Taça da Liga against Porto on May 26th.

Next season is fraught with uncertainties. After all, Rúben Amorim is being courted daily by various clubs worldwide, as is Gyökeres.

In the opinion of the author, both should stay at Sporting, along with many other standout players from this season, to make the next one even more victorious and special, perhaps even challenging for the Champions League title.

One thing is certain: the Green and Whites showcased a top-notch, unforgettable brand of football in 23/24 for the whole world to see.

Photo: Sporting

Written by João Felipe Miller

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Tags: Exclusives, International Football

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