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Goal machine Pedro Goncalves will be crucial to Sporting’s chances of progressing into the Champions League knockout rounds
Goal machine Pedro Goncalves will be crucial to Sporting’s chances of progressing into the Champions League knockout rounds

Sporting finally ended their 19-year title drought last season by winning Portugal’s Primeira Liga — five points ahead of Porto in second.

They only lost one game all season and went on a staggering 32-match unbeaten run.

That title charge was built on the back of a solid defence that conceded just 20 goals all season after being outscored by both Porto and Benfica across the campaign.

Sporting's Champions League group

Group C: Sporting, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax, Besiktas

European history

Sporting only have one major European trophy to their name — the 1963-64 European Cup Winners’ Cup.

They have struggled in Europe in recent years and even failed to reach the Europa League group stage last season after losing 4-1 to Austrian side LASK in the qualifying play-off round.

The last time they were in the Champions League in the 2017-18 season, they finished third in their group — beating Olympiakos twice and drawing with Juventus.

The furthest they have reached since the start of the Champions League era was the round of 16 in 2009.

Sporting’s fortunes have been transformed under the leadership of manager Ruben Amorim
Sporting’s fortunes have been transformed under the leadership of manager Ruben Amorim

Expectations

As Sporting have only got out of the group stage once before, not many will expect them to progress to the latter stages this year.

In fact, in the one season when they did reach the round of 16, they were comprehensively beaten by Bayern Munich — losing 12-1 on aggregate.

But from Andres Villas Boas to Jose Mourinho, Portuguese managers in the past have defied expectations in European competitions.

And with Leoes boss Ruben Amorim looking like he is on a similar trajectory, Sporting have the potential to surprise a few people.

Star man: Pedro Gonclaves

Pedro Goncalves has been a goalscoring revelation for Sporting since signing from Famalicao
Pedro Goncalves has been a goalscoring revelation for Sporting since signing from Famalicao

Pedro Gonclaves was the top scorer in the Primeira Liga last season with 23 goals.

The midfielder joined Sporting from Famalicao in the summer of 2020 for £5.5million — effectively replacing the recently departed Bruno Fernandes.

His impressive performances in an attacking role led to a call-up for Euro 2020 and he made his debut for Portugal in a warm-up game against Spain.

Gonclaves started his senior career at Wolves but failed to break into the side and returned to his homeland.

But the men from Molineux might now be regretting losing the 23-year-old, as his performances last season have seen him linked with a big-money move to both Liverpool and Juventus.

One to watch: Nuno Mendes

Teenage sensation Nuno Mendes is a wanted man after starring for Sporting in 2020-21
Teenage sensation Nuno Mendes is a wanted man after starring for Sporting in 2020-21

Left-back Nuno Mendes is also attracting the attention of some of Europe’s biggest clubs.

Sporting have valued the 19-year-old at over £40m and with four years left on his contract, they are unlikely to settle for much less.

The Portugal international broke into the Leoes first team in 2020 and has since kept hold of his spot ever since.

He made his national team debut in March last year and was in the Portugal squad for Euro 2020, although the teenager did not manage to get on the pitch once the tournament kicked off.

The boss: Ruben Amorim

Portugal seems to be a hotbed for managerial talent and Amorim could be the latest off the club’s production line.

The 36-year-old former Portuguese international started his managerial career in the country’s lower leagues in 2018 but quickly worked his way up to coach Braga in the Primeira Liga the following year.

Two months later, he won the Taca da Liga and was poached by Sporting for £8.5m. 

That was the fourth most expensive fee ever paid for a manager and more than they paid for star midfielder Gonclaves that summer.

In his first full season — despite taking over a team that had recently lost star players like Fernandes, Raphinha, and Bas Dost — he led Sporting to their first league title in almost two decades, and also added another Taca da Liga to his ever-growing list of accomplishments.

All information correct as of 10am, September 8, 2021

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