Marcus Edwards took off on the right, with that change of speed guided by the mixture between stopping and accelerating that makes him so strong in one-on-one. The Englishman passed in the direction of Pedro Gonçalves, but the Portuguese let the ball go to Pablo Sarabia. The Spaniard played first in Pote, who had the ball inside the area again.
Meanwhile, Sarabia had moved away from the Portuguese, not towards the goal, but parallel to it. With that move, when receiving the definitive assistance from Pote, Pablo was isolated, with all this dancing transforming an attack in numerical inferiority in a situation of isolated player against the goalkeeper. Sarabia, with the quality that defines him, scored.
The 33rd minute dance allowed Sporting to make it 2-0, constituting an important step in the 3-1 victory in Tondela. But, more than that, it was the best aesthetic example of some national champions who, playing without a striker from scratch, presented some of the best attacking combinations of the season, particularly in a first half filled with quality.
Had Sporting left Tondela without the win, the absence of a classic number nine would certainly have been pointed out as the cause of failure. In football, there is a long habit of taking data that seem new and transforming them into sources of virtues or problems, without thinking much about whether, in fact, we are in the presence of a true causal relationship. However, without Slimani — out for disciplinary reasons — nor Paulinho — who did not leave the bench —, the mobility, technique and refinement of the new PES trio (Pote, Edwards, Sarabia) even produced PlayStation moves.
The only bitterness in the mouth for Rúben Amorim was the yellow card seen by Matheus Reis, who will miss the derby against Benfica. Ugarte and Pedro Gonçalves, also at risk, will have an open path for the next round’s clash, in an issue that may justify the non-use of Paulinho, who also had four yellow cards.
With the aforementioned attack with Pablo Sarabia, Marcus Edwards and Pedro Gonçalves, Sporting’s start was not very authoritative. In the first minutes, the dominance of the midfield shown by Ugarte, very strong in pressure and transport, was the dominant note, and the Uruguayan was even the first dangerous move, in a shot from outside the area.
And it would even be from a distance that Sporting would reach 1-0. In the 29′, an excellent shot by Gonçalo Inácio, a first-rate shot, gave the visitors the lead, packing them into minutes of high-caliber football.
Sarabia, given his recent past as a false nine in the Spain national team, could be the most obvious candidate to occupy this role, but the truth is that Sporting’s attack was truly a carousel of positional exchanges between the Spaniard, Pote and Edwards. . Any of the three appeared in different areas of the field, managing to read the free spaces to unmark themselves or get closer to enter into a dialogue between them – which, in the football dictionary of people with this quality, almost always means making tables.
At 33′, the score was 2-0, in the best move the trio played. Until half-time Pedro Gonçalves, Sarabia and Coates, twice, were very close to extending the advantage of the national champions. A difference of two goals was, at rest, short for such superiority.
Tondela arrived at the match packed with a good start with Nuno Campos, the result of four points conquered in two rounds, which, even so, are far from giving tranquility to the third-ranked player in the championship. At the start of the second half, Sarabia, served by Porro, and Pote, in a new action led by Edwards, were close to 3-0 and it seemed that a complementary stage similar to the opening one was in store, but that was not what we saw.
At 50′, Matheus Reis saw the yellow card that took him out of the derby against Benfica and Sporting experienced its worst phase of the game. Perhaps with their heads in the next match, perhaps conditioned by the increasing aggressiveness of Tondela, the national champions lost much of the fluidity of the previous minutes.
Rafael Barbosa, at 60′, couldn’t beat Adán when he got in the face of the Spanish goalkeeper. The locals forced the re-entry into the discussion of the match, but the talent of Sporting’s attackers returned to weigh.
Marcus Edwards appeared to be the most comfortable footballer for the lions in this tactical arrangement. With freedom of movement, alternating positions more on the wing with others more interior, the Englishman was able to receive, rotate, lead and assist. At 69′, Sarabia served, with the Spaniard’s shot being intercepted by João Pedro’s arm. The referee considered a penalty and, in the transformation, the player loaned by PSG reached 17 goals with the Sporting shirt in the season.
Soon after, Manu Hernando, with a header typical of a great striker, made it 3-1. Until the end, and with the national champions activating the management mode — at 72′ Tabata, Esgaio and Vinagre came in for Pote, Porro and Vinagre — there was still time for yet another demonstration of Edwards’ talent, with Tabata failing to beat Trigueira after the umpteenth move in which the former Vitória carried the ball, fixed a rival and released it at the right moment.
Speaking of talent, in added time there was time for the debut in the I Liga of Rodrigo Ribeiro, the 16-year-old forward who had already played for Sporting against Manchester City in the Champions League. In the last move of the match, the teenager received between several rivals, withstood the pressure, rotated and oxygenated the game for the wing. A quality brushstroke in the form of the promise of heaven that always exists when a young aspiring ace steps on a lawn anywhere in the world. Clinging to talent, Sporting continues to cling to the fight for the title.