Benfica are on track to claim their fourth successive Primeira Liga title this season, having opened up a two-point gap over city rivals Sporting Clube de Portugal. The Eagles have lost just once with a third of the campaign played and have both the best attack and meanest defence in the division.

The Lisbon club’s Seixal youth academy has produced some stellar players in recent years, many of whom, such as Bernardo Silva, Renato Sanches and Andre Gomes, now ply their trade elsewhere having been sold on for substantial sums.

Manager Rui Vitoria was a youth coach with Benfica’s academy from 2004 to 2006, so he understands the level of talent being consistently churned out by the Encarnados.

Since being appointed to replace Jorge Jesus in the top Job at the Estadio da Luz in 2015 following a successful spell in charge of Vitoria Guimaraes, the 46-year-old coach has leaned heavily on the latest crop of potential superstars to have progressed through the ranks.

This season, the Benfica starting XI boast an array of high-quality young players, some scouted and signed from elsewhere, some nurtured from within.

Alex Grimaldo – Left-back

Spanish full-back Alex Grimaldo was signed from the Barcelona B team in December 2015 for just €1.5 million.

The 21-year-old has since gone on to become regarded as possibly the most exciting defensive prospect on the continent, thanks to his well-rounded skillset. Adept and getting forward to support the attack with his pace, precise dribbling, excellent delivery and eye for a goal, Grimaldo is very much in the mould of a modern full-back.

But the youngster is also cognisant of his defensive duties and is seldom caught out thanks to his remarkably mature positional sense and clean tackling technique.

So highly thought of is Grimaldo that Benfica inserted a €60 million release clause into his contract. That doesn’t appear to have put Manchester City off the idea of making a move for the Valencia-born youngster, however, as Pep Guardiola’s side are rumoured to be weighing up a January bid.

Nelson Semedo – Right-back

Lisbon-born Nelson Semedo has been with Benfica since his late teens and turned out regularly for the club’s B team before making his senior bow in 2015.

This season, the athletic right-back has established himself as a first-team regular having started all of Benfica’s league games to date.

In that time, the 23-year-old has scored once, registered one assist and maintained an impressive 80 percent pass completion rate. Defensively, he averages 2.4 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per game – a healthy return for a player still relatively inexperienced at the highest level.

And in his third Champions League appearance of the season – a thrilling 3-3 draw with Besiktas – Semedo netted a spectacular left-footed strike, picking out the top corner from 25-yards.

The young right-back’s emergence has led to him being linked with a potential big-money move to Manchester United.

Victor Lindelof – Centre-back

Another young Benfica defender linked with a move to Old Trafford is Swedish centre-back Victor Lindelof.

The 6ft 2ins 22-year-old joined Benfica from Vasteras SK in his homeland in 2011 and made 97 appearances for the Eagle’s second string before becoming a regular feature of the first-team over the last 18 months.

Lindelof’s uncompromising physical style is reminiscent of former Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic, while his superb passing skills should not be overlooked.

This season, Lindelof is maintaining a highly impressive pass completion average of 89.3 percent, while also making 3.5 clearances, 1.7 interceptions and 0.9 tackles per game.

When questioned about rumours of a potential January move to the Red Devils for his client, Lindelof’s agent replied: “There’s no smoke without fire.”

Andre Horta – Midfield

Portuguese under-21 international Andre Horta is capable of playing as a number 10 or in a deeper central midfield role and has shown his ability to affect play from both positions for Benfica this season.

Horta is a the definition of a tidy operator. Careful in possession, the 20-year-old is finding a team-mate with 86.9 percent of his passes in the Liga NOS this term, while managing and even better return of 91.3 percent in the Champions League.

Despite his tender years, Horta has also shown his willingness to involve himself in the play as much as possible, averaging 41.4 passes per game – the only Benfica midfielders able to better that figure are Serbian anchor Lubomir Fejsa and playmaker Pizzi.

Horta’s creativity is also beginning to blossom, as he completes 1.4 key passes and 1.1 dribbles per game, and has scored once and assisted once.

Goncalo Guedes – Attacking midfield

Young attacker Goncalo Guedes has appeared, either as a starter or substitute, in all of Benfica’s Primeira Liga and Champions League games so far this season.

The versatile forward, who is able to play out wide, centrally as a number 10 or further forward as a second striker, has been regarded as a prospect of some note for several years having represented Portugal at under-15, -16, -17, -18, -19, and -21 level before making his full international debut as an 18-year-old in November 2015.

Although still young and developing, the 5ft 10ins player is already capable of holding his own physically and demonstrates superb technique and vision in the final third.

With four goals and two assists this season, as well as a pass accuracy comfortably above 80 percent, Guedes is already a potent attacking force. Having been voted the 2014-15 Segunda Liga Breakthrough Player of the Season while playing for the B team, he is now taking the Portuguese top-flight by storm.

About the author- Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midland’s based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


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This time last year Adam Nagy hadn’t made a senior appearance for club or country. Roll on twelve months and he’s now a key member of the Hungarian side that impressed during the group stages of Euro 2016. This was evident in Hungary’s last group game against Portugal. Bernd Storck decided not to risk him as he was carrying a yellow card and faced suspension for the last sixteen tie against Belgium.

His impressive performances in midfield caught the eye at the Euros were he played as a deep-lying midfielder in front of the defence. Nagy comes from a fustal background and his technical ability, intelligence and reading of the game makes this an ideal role for him. Even though he is predominantly right footed, he is also comfortable using his left foot and is developing a reputation for being two-footed.

Those that have been following his progress since he made his debut for Hungarian giants Ferencváros in July 2015 won’t be surprised that he’s suddenly shot to prominence. After all Bernd Storck gave him his debut for Hungary only 43 days after making his club debut. This didn’t come in a friendly game but a key Euro 2016 qualifier against Northern Ireland.

Since making his debut for Hungary he hasn’t looked back as he’s cemented his place in the team. In a crucial Euro 2016 play-off against Norway, Nagy put in a man of the match performance which many observers have said was his coming-of-age game. This led to the Hungarian media claiming that he’s one of the best young talents the country has produced since the Mighty Magyars of the 1950s.

Before Euro 2016 it was reported that Marseille had reached an agreement with the player but Ferencváros wanted to hold off any potential transfer until after the tournament because they wanted to see if they could drum up more interest in his services. It seems like they made the right decision because his value has now soared. Southampton and Benfica have now entered the equation and it looks like one of Hungary’s best players will be playing in a top European league for the 2016/17 season.





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Reschedule everything you have planned for this weekend; it has some of the best matches of this season so far. Germany, Italy, England and Portugal, all of those countries are giving us the perfect reason to sit back on our couches and enjoy some titanic clashes amongst great footballing rivals. But which teams are we talking about exactly? To answer that, let me take you on a quick tour around Europe.

Let’s make our first stop at the Signal Iduna Park, in Dortmund. Well, when the league leaders go up against second place, it has all the makings of a match to remembered for a long time to come. When the clubs involved are Dortmund and Bayern Munich, all eyes will be on those decisive 90 minutes, where a top-form Borussia will clash against a solid leader in Bayern. The current champions are still trying to understand how they managed to lose at home in their last fixture against a much inferior 1. FSV Mainz 05. The two teams are separated by a very thin margin of 5 points, which can be decisive for Dortmund: if they win, the title is still in their grasp; if they lose, or even draw, they are practically giving the Bayern players their championship medals. The Signal Iduna Park will be full of supporters awaiting to see if Thomas Tuchel’s pupils can defeat the fierce and well-organized Die Roten. It’s truly the one rivalry that will ultimately decide everything.            

Next stop takes us to the Italian capital and former center of the world, Rome. Although it isn’t a match with the same level of decisiveness as Dortmund vs. Bayern, the AS Roma vs. Fiorentina may be the match that throws one of those teams off track from conquering the Scudetto. Although Roma are in third place, Fiorentina are hot in their pursuit, shadowing their every move – both teams have 53 points. The winner will almost guarantee their place on the podium along with a chance of keeping their title dreams alive and access to the Champions League playoffs. For the losing team, the Scudetto becomes almost impossible. You have my promise of a very intense game, in a word… Italian. What else?

On what should make our Saturday a lot more enjoyable, we now move on to what should be a thrilling North-London derby. In my opinion, the real clash will happen on the bench: two world-class managers, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsène Wenger, will be face to face in one of the most nerve-racking games of the season. Spurs are only 3 points ahead of The Gunners, and Wenger will surely encourage his team to play offensive and quick football, with the certainty that it will be different from the last fixture against Swansea, which ended up with a disappointing defeat. But with the match being played at White Hart Lane, Tottenham will have the advantage. A win is the one result that matters for both teams, and the hope that Watford surprise Leicester is the only thing both teams have in common. Two great and ambitious sides collide: who will be able to catch Leicester at the top of the league?

Last, but not least, there’s the oldest and most famous Portuguese derby of all time: Sporting Lisbon vs. SL Benfica. Being Portuguese myself, it’s easy to say that this will be the match that I’ll watch more closely, for a simple reason: this clash between the two eternal rivals is the one that will decide the 2015/2016 Portuguese champions. A single point divides the two teams, and Sporting will fight with all of their strength to increase that gap to 4 points. On the other side, we have a motivated SL Benfica, anxious to get their revenge for the 3 defeats they have suffered so far in derbies and jump ahead of their rivals at the top of the league. A tough match, for all teams (including the referees), and the answer is really in who will want it more.

Four of the most interesting derbies mark this weekend, and all of them are crucial. This weekend may determine champions and runner-ups, and we, as football lovers from all around the world, must be sure to not miss a bit of them. What a weekend it will be so let’s sit back and enjoy.

About the author – Luis Costa

Luis has a great passion for football and has been playing Soccer Manager for 5 years. He played semi-professional for 13 years and is currently a regional referee in Madeira’s football association.


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The Portuguese league is full of wonderkids, and many of those are already being pursued by several European sharks.

It’s a major priority amongst Portuguese football clubs to develop these youngsters, especially with the growing financial cuts in buying foreign players. And it’s not only the smaller clubs who have increased the investment in the youth teams: former league champions such as Porto and Sporting keep a very keen eye on home grown talents.

Here are two of the brightest Portuguese talents to recently emerge and capture admiring glances from some of Europe’s elite

Renato Júnior Luz Sanches “The Torpedo”: Carrying SL Benfica on his back.

One of those youngsters is the 18 years-old Renato Sanches. There’s no way he can be seen as an ordinary player: his dreadlocks remind us of a young Edgar Davids – and let’s be honest, he was a real “Pitbull”. Sanches is no Davids for now, but surely assembles him in features. Side by side with Fejsa or Samaris as Central or even as Defensive Midfielder, Renato Sanches is in the perfect position to do the same thing as Matic and Ramires did in the Benfica’s Midfield: stand out. And boy, he has done that with perfection!

Highlighted by Rui Vitoria (Benfica’s head coach), Sanches has at present scored two very impressive goals, both from outside the box, and the last one managed to save Benfica from a disappointing draw. Gifted with a mighty torpedo that astonishes any of the opponent teams’ goalkeepers, in addition to an amazing passing ability and an irreverence that simply excites the supporters, Sanches is one most promising Portuguese Prospects for the future.

And Benfica recognises the talent: Sanches is protected with a release clause of (hold on to your seats) near €80 Million (about £60 Million). And United have already begun scouting the player. Will they be able to sign this wonderkid, paying Benfica an exorbitant amount for Sanches? Right now, it’s craziness. In a few years, it’s a bargain.

My evaluation:

Stamina Level: 6/10

Shooting: 7/10

Pace: 6,5/10

Heading: 5/10

Tackling: 5,5/10

Teamwork: 6/10

Overall: 6/10

Potential: 9/10

Rúben Diogo da Silva Neves “The Panzer”: Icing the midfield.

There is only one player in FC Porto that truly knows how it feels to be a real Porto supporter: the 18 years-old homemade prospect Rúben Neves. It was a surprise for all the football lovers when a totally unknown kid showed up in the starting eleven against Arouca in September.

A personal bet of the sacked Julen Lopetegui that really paid off – and the kid rose to break Rafael Van der Vaart’s record in the Champions League, becoming the youngest captain in this competition, with only 18 years and 221 days of age.

In his own words: ‘I was many times a ball boy in Estadio do Dragão, and now to be on the other side.. It’s a dream. It’s truly a goal to anyone from the youth teams.” But what does this wonderkid have that the other youngsters don’t?

Well, besides being a true supporter, he is an aggregation of passing and tackling, making him a valuable asset in Porto’s first team. Delegating the defensive tasks to Danilo Pereira, Neves could stand out as the playmaker that Porto really needed.

Yes, it’s true that Neves doesn’t have the irreverence and “flames” that Renato Sanches has: Rúben Neves is much more “ice”, a “Panzer” that manages to control the pace of the game whenever and however he wants.

Porto are indeed very grateful to have a player that controls the game and gives the strikers much needed freedom. He may not score, but his passing it’s a delight to watch.

And let’s be honest: a team that has the Sanches’ torpedo and the “Panzer” is a team to be feared. And apparently there is only one team that might have them both in the future: The Portuguese national team. So watch out for them.

€40 Million (£30,5 Million): that’s the price that FC Porto asks for this wonderkid. But that’s no obstacle to English sharks: Arsenal simply love him, and reports say that Wenger has ordered an approach of €31,5 Million to sign him. It seems though that that’s a small amount to pay for the winner of the Portuguese Youngster of the Year (2015).

FC Porto will be reluctant to sell their most promising player: however, Porto’s chairman Pinto da Costa has confirmed that if the right offer arrives, there will be no other option but to let the youngster go. The question now is: how far are Arsenal willing to go to sign the “Panzer”?

My Evaluation

Stamina Level: 8/10

Shooting: 5/10

Pace: 6/10

Heading: 6/10

Tackling: 7,5/10

Teamwork: 7,5/10

Overall (with bonus for captaincy): 7/10

Potential: 9,5/10″

About the author – Luis Costa

Luis has a great passion for football and has been playing Soccer Manager for 5 years. He played semi-professional football for 13 years and is currently a regional referee in Madeira’s football association.



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With all 32 teams in the tournament having already played three times, the Champions League group stage enters its second half this week. All of Europe’s major sides are in action – from Barcelona to Bayern Munich, Manchester United to Real Madrid – but it is some of the continent’s second-tier outfits who could be most worth watching.

Indeed, Wolfsburg, Zenit St Petersburg and Porto are among the teams sitting pretty at the top of their respective groups at the midway point, with all three sides attempting to either qualify with two matches to spare or take a big step in that direction this midweek.

A win for Wolfsburg against PSV Eindhoven would be their third of the campaign and put them at least four points clear of third place. Group B’s German representatives lost key players in Kevin De Bruyne and Ivan Perisic in the summer, but have recovered well both domestically and in the Champions League.

Marquee signing Julian Draxler has been vital for last season’s Bundesliga runners-up, with Ricardo Rodriguez, Daniel Caliguiri, Max Kruse, Naldo and Luiz Gustavo also impressing. While a trip to the Netherlands to face PSV will not be easy, Wolfsburg will be confident of their chances of picking up another three points on Tuesday.

Zenit St Petersburg will also be eyeing another triumph when they travel to Lyon. Three wins from three means Andre Villas-Boas’ charges are the only team in this year’s edition of Europe’s foremost continental club competition with maximum points; overcoming Lyon would guarantee their spot in the round of 16, though a point would be enough if Valencia defeat Gent.

Zenit have had a mixed bag when it comes to getting out of their group in recent years: the Russians advanced in 2011/12 and 2013/14 but were knocked out at the first hurdle in 2012/13 and last term. With Villas-Boas already having announced he will step aside at the end of the current campaign, the former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur boss will be desperate to lead Zenit into their first ever quarter-final – something that, theoretically, would be more achievable were they to finish top of Group H.

Benfica made the last eight as recently as 2011/12, when they were eliminated by eventual winners Chelsea. A positive start – Rui Vitoria’s men were beaten by Galatasaray last time out but had previously  defeated Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon and won at home to Astana – in this season’s tournament has lifted the 34-time Portuguese champions to the summit of Group C.

Nico Gaitan has been one of the standout performers in the competition so far, with the winger netting three goals in Benfica’s first three encounters. The Primeira Liga side take on Galatasaray at the Estadio da Luz on Tuesday knowing that a victory would all but secure their passage into the knockout round.

While the quality of football on display in the latter stages is arguably higher than anything else in history, the Champions League has become rather predictable over the last few years: Chelsea are the only side to have broken the Bayern Munich-Barcelona-Real Madrid oligopoly since 2010, and even that success had a fair amount of good fortune to it.

The group stage of the current campaign has been enjoyable so far, though, with the likes of Wolfsburg, Zenit and Benfica impressing in the first three matches. No member of the trio will win the tournamentindeed, it would be a huge shock if they even made it to the last four – but they have plenty to be pleased about in their showings up to now.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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