For the past 14 seasons, Portugal’s Primeira Liga has been won by either Benfica and Porto, as the pair have monopolised the country’s top flight throughout that period.
Whilst in the 11 years from 2002-2003 to 2012-2013, Porto were crowned champions of Portugal nine times, the Dragoes dominant spell in the Primeira Liga was interrupted twice by Benfica, who have won the division for the last three successive years.
In two of those three years, runners-up to Aguias were Sporting Lisbon, with the club being the last team other than either Benfica or Porto to win the Primeira Liga. That was back in season 2001-2002, when under the guidance of the Romanian Laszlo Boloni, Sporting won the title for the 18th time by ending the campaign five points ahead of Boavista.
Subsequently Leoes have been unable to secure a 19th league championship title despite being runners-up on six occasions, including last season as they finished just two points adrift of Benfica.
When the two sides met on 5 March in the Derby de Lisboa at Estadio Jose Alvalade, Sporting were one point ahead of their city rivals. However Benfica won the game 1-0 to assume top spot, which they retained by winning each of their remaining nine league games, whilst Sporting also achieved that same feat.
As such throughout the course of last season the two Lisbon clubs engaged in an enthralling battle, with there being the distinct potential for them to do so again this year, as Sporting will launch another endeavour to end Benfica and Porto’s monopolisation of the Primeira Liga.
At present Jorge Jesus’ side seem to be relatively well equipped to achieve that, since not only have Sporting kept their best players – several of whom starred at Euro 2016 for Portugal – but they have also strengthened their squad by supplementing that with several quality new recruits.
In addition to retaining the services of goalkeeper Rui Patricio and the influential midfield trio of William Carvalho, Joao Mario, Adrien Silva, who were each key members of Portugal’s Euro 2016 winning team, Jesus has overseen some astute business in the transfer market.
Specifically the 62-year-old manager has been authorised to sign the Argentinean striker Alan Ruiz, along with the defensive midfield duo of Bruno Paulista, who is Brazilian and Radosav Petrovic of Serbia, whilst the Costa Rican winger Joel Campbell has also joined Sporting on a season – long loan deal from Arsenal.
Each of Jesus’ new recruits have the potential to help Sporting build as strong a title challenge as the one which the club mounted last season, as Leoes seek to win the Primeira Liga for the first time in 15 years and bring to an end Benfica and Porto’s recent dominance of the division.
Ultimately although that constitutes an extremely difficult challenge for Sporting, it is nevertheless one which they will embrace, in order to overcome the disappointment of so narrowly missing out on a 19th league title last season.