Tom Kundert has been lounging around the press box at Estadio José Alvalade for many moons and is well placed to answer some pivotal questions ahead of City's Europa League tie in Lisbon:
1) HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP SPORTING’S SEASON SO FAR?
A summer revolution at the club promised a bright new dawn, but unfortunately it’s been as disastrous as the last two desperately poor seasons. This is particularly painful for Sporting fans after a new president, a new coach who had enjoyed remarkable success over two years at Braga, and practically a whole new squad appeared to signal that Sporting where back in the big time.
After a sketchy opening spell, things started falling into place as Domingos Paciência oversaw a run of ten straight victories. “Sporting are truly back. We are no longer the laughing stock of the três grandes!” Sporting’s long suffering supporters, myself included, felt with warmth in our hearts. We were wrong. Some key injuries and an incomprehensible loss of form and confidence led to a horrible run of results in the New Year. Only two wins in ten games led to the shock sacking of Domingos, supposedly the most integral part of a long-term project – less than 24 hours after president Godinho Lopes had categorically told reporters Domingos was at the Alvalade to stay. What was that I said about being a laughing stock…
2) OF THE 18 SUMMER RECRUITS, HAS ANYBODY MANAGED TO GEL?
Several of the new players have shone to varying degrees and at various times – but the crux of the matter is in the question. Bar the aforementioned purple patch in September and October the TEAM has not gelled. Giant centre-back Oguchi Onyewu, left-back Insúa, central midfielders Schaars and Rinaudo, wingers Capel and Carrillo and striker Wolfswinkel have all looked like excellent players on occasion, but only sporadically and rarely in unison.
3) SÁ PINTO? THE RIGHT MAN OR A STOPGAP?
It was a huge gamble bringing in the man better known for punching the national team coach Artur Jorge after failing to make the squad and punching team-mate Liedson than for his commendable career as a fully committed attacking midfielder and Sporting icon. Pinto’s only previous coaching experience was with Sporting’s youth team. The players seem to have taken to him, but the jury still very much out. If pressed, few in Portugal would bet on him seeing out his 18-month contract.
4) THE BOARD – DO THEY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING?
5) THE SUPPORT – STILL STAUNCH OR BEGINNING TO FRAGMENT?
This is perhaps the saddest part of a broken season. The wave of enthusiasm that heralded what was supposed to be a new chapter in the club’s history completely enveloped the club’s fans. The sheer numbers turning up and the unstinting support at the Alvalade during the first four months of the season was at complete odds with the flat, unhealthily tense or utterly unbelieving atmosphere more conducive to aiding the opposition than the hosts in recent seasons. Alas, still several months from the end of the season and this optimism has all but dissipated.
6) PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR?
Spanish winger Diego Capel is full of willing running, albeit often choosing strange diagonals, and a fine crosser of the ball. Young Peruvian winger André Carrillo has shown flashes of genuine brilliance, although at 20 years of age he is still very raw. Dutch striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel couldn’t stop scoring during Sporting’s good spell. A chronic lack of confidence has blurred his sights, but the feeling remains there is a big talent there. If fit, the all-action Argentine midfielder Fito Rinaudo will make sure the Manchester City midfielders do not have it all their own way.
7) WHERE CAN SPORTING DO SOME DAMAGE?
Out wide on either flank. Both Diego Capel and André Carrillo have the ability to trouble the best defences on their day.
8) WHERE CAN CITY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
A big worry for Sporting will be that they are simply outmuscled. City showed their physical power against FC Porto (probably Portugal’s most physically robust team) in the last round, especially at the Dragão. Particularly if Rinaudo does not play, the Lions will find hard to live up to their nickname.
9) EUROPA LEAGUE CAMPAIGN SO FAR?
A record of 5 wins, 2 defeats and 1 draw does not sound bad on the face of it. However, Lazio is the only team of any standing Sporting faced, having got the better of the might of FC Zurich, Vaslui and Legia Warsaw in their other matches. On the plus side for Sporting, the thrilling 2-1 win over the Italians at the Alvalade is without doubt the high point of their season. Perhaps the occasion will inspire a repeat. Sporting can also draw a measure of confidence from a run of 13 matches unbeaten at home in Europe. The last two teams to beat them in Lisbon were Bayern Munich and Barcelona in 2008/09 (both of whom scored five times).
Football is a funny old game they say. Football matches are unpredictable they say. Not that funny and not that unpredictable. Sporting 0-2 Manchester City.
Read all about Sporting and the world of Portuguese football at the excellent Portugoal.net site