In the second installment of our five-part Season Preview series, Rui Miguel Martins (@futebolfactory) assesses Vitória Guimarães for the upcoming season. To see more of Rui Miguel Martins’ work, go to his website futebolfactory.com.
Last season, Vitória S.C. enjoyed a fantastic season, finishing fourth in the league and reaching the final of the Taça de Portugal. Can you quickly recap how the season unfolded?
In Pedro Martins’ first season at Cidade Berço, the club began with a 1-0 loss to fierce rivals Sporting Braga but went on a role after that, earning points in eight of the next nine. Striker Moussa Marega and Tiquinho Soares, led the way with plenty of goals. The club lost Tiquinho to Porto in January but still managed to go on a run of 11 matches in the second half without a loss. And they certainly made it difficult for Benfica in the Portuguese Cup final.
This season, Pedro Martins is in charge after managing a successful Vitória side last season. Who is Martins? Is he destined to manage bigger clubs in the future?
Pedro Martins has enjoyed a steady rise in the domestic game. He had success at Maritimo and Rio Ave before moving to a bigger stage at perennial overachievers Vitória Guimarães, who he played for. Martins’ teams are always well-organized. He has a reputation for developing young players which is always a good indicator of a manager’s pedigree. I believe he will get a chance to manage one of Portugal’s Big Three one day.
What tactics will Pedro Martins employ this season?
It is always difficult to tell before the season begins but my guess is he will stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation. Last year, Vitória were very good at attacking through the flanks.
Work us through Vitória’s transfer dealings this off-season. Did any big names leave or arrive?
The club relied a lot on loaned players last season. Their leading-scorer Marega has returned to his parent club Porto, as has winger Hernani. Ghanaian winger Bernard Mensah has also returned to Atlético Madrid, although he did not make as big an impact last season as he did in his first season with the club two-years ago. In addition, right-back Bruno Gaspar has moved onto bigger things with Fiorentina and he will be hard to replace. The club did sign winger Paolo Hurtado and midfielder Guillermo Celis to permanent deals after successful loans last season at the club. They also signed promising midfielder Francisco Ramos from Porto.
Vitória has reinvented themselves as a team following financial problems in the 2012/2013 season, most notably by taking a youth-first policy. How do you assess this policy, and will Vitória continue in the same fashion this season?
The club has an excellent scouting and development system. Last year, Ivorian left-back Konan began the season in the B squad and ended it playing against Benfica in the Portuguese Cup final. Konan and Gaspar (a former academy graduate) gave the club one of the best full-back pairings in the league. The aforementioned Mensah was also signed directly from his club in Ghana for pennies before moving to Atlético Madrid.
In the same vein, are there any young players, be it from the B team or the U-19 team, who will make the step up this season?
This season, I have a good feeling about Brazilian winger Raphinha. He did well in a limited capacity last season but with Mensah and Hernani now gone, I think he could really establish himself. I also really liked watching Alexandre (Xande) Silva at the U20 World Cup for Portugal. He was primarily used as a striker but he is a hard-working and industrious winger. João Vigário has done well this pre-season as well. Young goalkeeper João Miguel played second-fiddle to Douglas last season but he looks very promising.
The transfer window is still open for almost another month. Do you see any areas in which Vitória need to strengthen? Are there any players they are linked to?
I do not believe the club will lose many more players, although it is worth mentioning that Konan has attracted plenty attention in the transfer window. Replacing Gaspar and Marega should be a priority for Pedro Martins. They signed Rafael Martins (no relation) in January to replace Tiquinho. The Brazilian was a prolific goalscorer in the past with Vitória Setúbal and Moreirense. He is an obvious choice at the striker position but what if he does not deliver? He did not play a lot last season.
Work us through a potential starting eleven for Vitória.
Douglas; Aurélio, Josué Sá, Pedro Henrique, Konan; Zungu, Rafael Miranda, Raphinha, Celis, Hurtado; Rafael Martins.
Potential Player of the Season.
Raphinha. Again, he impressed a year ago in a role as a super-sub. He is young but supremely-skilled. This year, the path is clear for him to take that next step.
Final league prediction.
As things stand, it will be very difficult for Vitória to top or even equal their fourth-place finish from last season. I expect Braga to improve and overtake them. Still, Vitória should compete for a Europa League position once again. And considering the strength of the field outside the top four in Portugal these days, they should only slip a few places at most. They will be an exciting team to watch again for sure.