After a hiatus last season, PortugalFutbol returns with our yearly Season Previews for the largest clubs in Portugal. This season, we’ve expanded to include Vitória Guimarães and Braga, who finished 4th and 5th in the league last season, respectively. First up is Braga, whose preview was completed by Justino Flores. Follow him @LordEder7 to see more of his work, and keep your eyes peeled for the Vitória Guimarães preview (from @futebolfactory) tomorrow.
Last season was a bit tumultuous for Braga, cycling through three coaches before
settling on promoted B-team manager Abel Ferreira near the end of the season. What’s your take on Abel? Is he the right man for the job?
In all honesty, I am very anxious to see what Abel can do with Braga. A native of Northern Portugal, Abel will certainly convey excitement and passion in his position as Braga manager. It is difficult to know what he will bring tactically as he is young and inexperienced as a head coach at this level. Nonetheless, even though he never broke into the Portuguese national team, he was often relied on for his vision, experience and leadership during his club career. He deserves a full shot at this managerial position, and could become an exciting young coach in Portugal. Braga is a big job, however, and a string of bad results could mean his termination. If Braga is patient, Abel could prove to be a worthy manager that becomes sought after by Portugal’s big three in years to come.
Is Braga in Europe this season? How do you feel they will fare?
Last season’s European campaign for Braga was a disappointing one. They did not qualify for the knockout round of the Europa league despite having a weak group. They are currently in the middle of the qualifying rounds, with the second leg against AIK from Sweden upcoming. They looked very strong in the first leg, and I cannot see them getting knocked out at home this week. At the very minimum, Braga needs to get out of the group stage in Europa if Abel wants to impress on that stage. After that it all comes down to their draw. With teams like Milan and Arsenal in the competition, anything after the group stage is a bonus for Braga.
What can we expect from Braga tactically? How will Abel line up the team?
Abel gives the impression he is favoring a 4-4-2 style formation this preseason. In the end, when they line up it looks as more like a 4-1-3-2. Braga appears as if they are going to play pretty conservatively, but with a dangerous and dynamic front 5. With 2 strikers, an attacking midfielder, and quick wingers, Braga should boast a dangerous attack this season. I think they should have no problem tallying upward of 55 goals by season’s end.
This offseason saw Braga retain most of their starting eleven, while picking up a few promising players. Can you run us through Braga’s transfer dealings this offseason?
Braga had a great offseason. They were able to keep two key players in Pedro Santos and Wilson Eduardo, but maybe most importantly were able to officially sign Ricardo Horta to a permanent deal. New faces to the club include an exciting new midfield duo; Fransérgio and Danilo. Danilo returns to the club after being on loan last season and Fransérgio joins Braga from Maritimo. The pair should play well together, as Danilo looks to have a bright future as a defensive midfielder. This could be a breakthrough year for the 21 year-old.
Other new acquisitions include fullbacks Ricardo Esgaio and Jefferson. Jefferson comes to Braga on loan from Sporting for the season and should earn a large role as the left back. Esgaio also comes from Sporting and will play on the opposite right side. Solidifying the back line is newcomer Raul Silva. A strong center back with a nose for goal on set pieces, Silva could prove to be a crucial singing for Braga.
With the transfer window open for another month, is there a chance Braga could dip further into the market? Are there any positions in which Braga needs additional depth?
With the need to play competitive Europa league matches in July, Braga was forced to complete the majority of their summer dealings early in the window. They enjoy some quality depth at nearly every position, but could always look for a striker on loan if one becomes available. Rui Fonte was Braga’s leading goal scorer last season, with eleven tallies to his name. While he is a serviceable striker, Braga would surely jump at the opportunity to add another 10-15 goal player on loan this season if possible.
Braga president Antonio Salvador has lauded 19 year-old Bruno Xadas as the next talent to come through Braga’s ranks. Do you think he’ll make an impact this season? Do we have another Rafa-esque player to watch for?
Portuguese supporters should be really excited about young Bruno Xadas. Even though the midfield is congested with talent on the senior national team, there is no reason Xadas cannot force his name into the conversation in a couple of years. His performances this summer for the Portugal U20 team were tremendous, scoring two key goals in the Round of 16 match against South Korea. I believe that Abel is going to see what he has this season with Xadas and bring him to the senior squad. I see Xadas being relied on more and more as the season progresses, and I hope he makes significant progress this season. He is thrilling at times, and with a little more development he can really become a force in Braga’s midfield by next season.
Last season, Braga’s B team enjoyed a successful campaign in the Segunda Liga. Are
any of those players, or youth players, candidates for a first team role this season?
Of course, I think Xadas will be fully promoted to the senior squad this season and play an important role. Besides him, other young players I am excited about seeing this season include Bruno Jordão and Pedro Neto. Jordão is an impressive young midfielder who turns 19 during this campaign. While he will have tough competition for playing time in the senior squad, he has the vision and energy to make an impact this season. It might still be a bit early for Pedro Neto, who is only 17 years old. The young forward has all the elements necessary to net goals for Braga. He will most likely stay with Braga B early in the season, but I am excited to monitor his progress.
Work us through a potential starting eleven for Braga.
There could be a fierce competition for the goalkeeper spot this season. Matheus, Marafona and Andre Moreira are all capable goalkeepers. I expect Abel to go with veteran Marafona most of the season once he is healthy. The back four should really step up for Braga this campaign. They will need a few games to get used to playing together, but Jefferson, Raul Silva, Rosic and Esgaio should be able to shut down most of the league’s attackers.
In the midfield, there is quality depth to help them navigate the season. Pedro Santos, Danilo, Fransérgio, and Ricardo Horta should be the starters, but there are still several other players to provide support. Once Wilson Eduardo is fully fit he should play a huge role in the team this year as well. Up top to start the season should be Nikola Stojiljković and Rui Fonte.
Potential Player of the Season.
A player that has real capability to gain the attention of the big three this season is Ricardo Horta. The young winger has not yet really cracked into the Portuguese national squad, but is an exciting prospect. At 22 years-old, he could have a breakout year for Braga and contribute plenty of goals and assists.
Final league prediction.
Braga certainly has a strong squad. I do not think they will shock the country and compete for the title this season, but they should do well in their quest to finish 4th . The top three sides this year all look really strong, but if Braga can keep pace with them during the season, even ending up in 4th would be considered a success. A lot has to do with how well Abel gets the team playing together. They will need to be consistent all year, with Rio Ave, Maritimo and Chaves all looking strong heading into the season. After a disappointing year last season, look for Braga to overtake those rivals and reclaim their title as the fourth best club in Portugal.
Taça de Portugal: Quarter-Finals
Europa League: Round of 16