Football

How many of Porto's starting eleven from last season are left?

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Winston Churchill once said 'to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often'.

Improving is the challenge set out to managers annually as clubs bid to enhance, or for the lucky ones, maintain their form from the previous season. 

Maybe the team is lacking a clinical finisher. Or maybe their leaky defence needs reinforcing. The requirements may differ team to team, but desired outcome is the same: be better.

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FC Porto's Julen Lopetegui is no different. He guided his side to second in the Portuguese league last season and caused sleepless nights in Bavaria when a 3-1 first leg win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final put the German side perilously close to elimination. The Portuguese side were then efficiently crushed 6-1 in the second-leg but the Spaniard's troops had by then gained the attention of Europe.

How did Porto manage to ruffle a European superpower? The short answer is by having an evenly balanced, hungry team bearing the fruit of several years of calculated work. In Danilo and Alex Sandro, Lopetegui had two of the most sought-after full-backs outside of the elite clubs. In Jackson Martinez, a prolific striker that led the domestic top scorer charts for multiple seasons. And then there was the dainty irrelevance of Ricardo Quaresma.

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And that's Porto's biggest problem. All those players have now left the club, leaving behind a jumbo-sized hole in a previously stable starting eleven. Danilo moved to Real Madrid, Martinez joined cross-city rivals Atletico Madrid and Alex Sandro signed for Juventus after failing to renew his contract due to expire next summer.

But the exodus didn't end there. Goalkeeper Fabiano left for Turkey alongside Quaresma and midfielder Casemiro returned to the Bernabeu. The much-travelled route to Madrid was also taken by on-loan creative Oliver who headed back to link up with Diego Simeone's squad for the new season.

That makes seven players that started in the win against Bayern that are no longer at the club.

Lopetegui's rebuilding challenge is immense. Last season's squad, described by Porto President Pinto da Costa as one of the best in their history, ended the season silverware-less, scant reward for the talent on offer. Just some added pressure if the precarious rebuild job wasn't difficult enough.

Porto are famed for bringing in young South American talent which they can valorise on the back of league championships and visible European performances. But that's time that Porto seemingly don't have anymore. In a change of tact, they brought in Iker Casillas on a barrier-busting contract and midfielder Giannelli Imbula from Marseille for €20m.

The latest slip-up, a 1-1 league draw at Maritimo, may encourage the club back into the transfer market. But spending big doesn't guarantee success. Liverpool and Spurs both reinvested large sales into the squad with underwhelming results. For Lopetegui, failure to deliver may just have more immediate consequences.

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Topics:
Football
Alex Sandro
Iker Casillas

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