With champions league football returning this week, Real Madrid face a potentially tricky tie against last year’s Primeira Liga runner ups Sporting CP. Although we should be relatively comfortable in topping a Group F which also consists of Borussia Dortmund and Legia Warszawa (there are no certainties in football, of course), getting off to as strong a start as possible against Sporting will be imperative.
Here’s a look at their season so far.
Sporting CP currently hold an early lead in Portugal's Primeira Liga, having managed to maintain a perfect start to their campaign with four wins from four, scoring eight and only conceding a solitary goal in the process. After last season coming right down to the wire, with Benfica just edging them to the league title by 88 points to 86 (though with a far superior GD), Sporting will no doubt be hoping for a stronger domestic campaign this season.
Real Madrid host Sporting on the back of their 3-0 weekend victory over last year's 12th placed Moreirense, with goals from Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell, new signing Bas Dost and bright 21 year old winger Gelson Martins, and with a somewhat rested defence keeping a clean sheet.
Notably, one of Sporting's 4 victories came in the form of a 2-1 victory against fellow title contenders (and Iker Casillas's new home) FC Porto just before the international break, a testament to the strong form Sporting are taking with them to the Bernabau.
No doubt, just four matches into the season is still very early to draw too many conclusions, nevertheless Sporting have had an impressive start thus far.
Ones to watch
After notable summer departures of João Mário (Inter Milan), and last season's club top scorer Islam Slimani (who finished the season with 27 league goals) now at Leicester City, the club has had some rebuilding to do.
Young winger Gelson Martins (#77) is undoubtedly one to keep an eye on during this game, after a breakthrough seasons last year having scored 7 goals and with 4 assists, he has started this season very brightly with 2 goals and 3 assists in 4 appearances.
Veteran manager Jorge Jesus has been lining up Sporting in a flat 4-4-2 formation this season, with the following XI likely to start:
Expect to see loanee wingers Joel Campbell (Arsenal) and Lazar Markovic (Liverpool) make an appearance at some stage during the match, specially if Sporting find themselves trailing.
Extras to note
1. This match hosts the return of our star Cristiano Ronaldo to former club Sporting, a club he has faced before whilst at Manchester United, scoring one goal in each leg of the group stage fixtures for the 2007/08 Champions League (a competition he went on to win that season).
2. Real Madrid last met Sporting CP all the way back in the 2000/01 group stage of the Champions League, winning 4-0 at home and drawing 2-2 away.
3. Madrid players James Rodríguez, Pepe, Casemiro, Danilo (Porto), Fábio Coentrão (Benfica) and of course Ronaldo (Sporting) have all played in the Portugese Liga Nos at some stage of their career.
4. Both sides enter the match with a 100% league record.
Certainly a winnable game for a Madrid side in high spirits, what are your score predictions for our opening Champions League game of the season?