Much was said about Sporting’s Champions League campaign and how well they played against the 3 other sides in their group. Home and away against Maribor, Chelsea and Schalke they performed very well and gave a fantastic account of themselves in each game. Their games were very entertaining, too, as you weren’t far away from a bundle of goals and even some controversy. They really were a breath of fresh air in the group stages of the Champions League and they showed that they can perform on the big stage.
You could say that Sporting were unfortunate to drop down to the Europa League following their exploits in the Champions League. Some may even go as far as saying that they are the side that deserved to go through to the last 16 rather than Schalke. Sporting managed 12 goals in the entire group stage, scoring 7 of those goals against Schalke. Although, they may see the 1st group game away at Maribor as the missed opportunity, after having taken the lead through Nani to then concede late on through a defensive error. The players, supporters and club as a whole know they should have won that game.
Also, in the away game against Schalke they would have felt very hard done by, following an incorrect penalty decision going against Sporting, which inevitably cost them at least a point. So, they will feel as if the officials had a big say in deciding their fate.
Going into their first Europa League tie, they have been drawn against impressive German Bundesliga side VfL Wolfsburg. A side that are currently impressing domestically and have had strong matches in the Europa League group stages. Sporting domestically are rather different in comparison. They have struggled to maintain any real form in the Premiera Liga. They see to draw a lot of games, with a 1-1 draw being a familiar score line so far this season. They also struggle to finish off their chances, so manager Marco Silva needs to work on how his attacking players can become far more clinical to kill off games.
Looking at how Sporting have been playing in European competition this season, they can take great confidence from their performances and they will feel that they have a very good chance of winning the Europa League. In the Champions League, they have shown that they can match the big teams and their performances, also they were able to match the level of intensity, albeit not for the entire game.
But, when you look at the game against Chelsea at the Alvalade, although Sporting lost the game, their performance was fantastic. They were able to maintain the level of intensity for a long period of the game. They recovered from going 1-0 down very well and they remained threatening on the break. This performance showed that the players were growing more and more, not only in that game, but in the competition as a whole.
When looking at that performance and their group stage as a whole, I believe that, although they will be given a tough test by Wolfsburg, they will make it through to the last 16 of the Europa League. I believe they have the quality in their side to beat the German side over the two legs. Also, I believe that, should they make it past Wolfsburg, they will have a fantastic chance of winning the competition. They will, however, face tough competition from the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, amongst others.
The main area where their downfall may occur is in defence, as it is quite young and inexperienced in European competition. So, the players will have to stay strong at the back and they will need goalkeeper Rui Patricio and the likes of Joao Mario and William Carvalho to protect them well. But, with Carlos Mane improving game by game, Adrien Silva continuing to impress and Nani being at his dazzling best, you can guarantee that they will score goals and will be a constant threat in attack.
I see no reason why the club cannot give this competition a real go and I feel they have a huge chance of winning it. It will give them extra incentive, especially when you consider their league form, knowing that of they were to win it, they would be granted a direct route to next season’s Champions League.