Like it or not, Porto coach Andre Villas-Boas will remain twinned with Jose Mourinho as long as they both continue to rack up titles and accolades. They share too much history and too many similarities – Portuguese descent, a lack of a noteworthy playing career, success at FC Porto, a strict 4-3-3 formation – to make comparison inevitable. Where the two differ is in their approach. Mourinho announced his arrival by sprinting down the touchline to celebrate a goal at Old Trafford ahead of proclaiming his greatness when unveiled as Chelsea manager. Villas-Boas, on the other hand, has already stated that he only intends to manage for 10 years, bowing out before the job consumes him. If his first 20 months in management are anything to go by, he may well leave behind a legacy every bit as glittering as his former mentor.
Villas-Boas was responsible for scouting the opposition for Mourinho between 2002 and 2009, encompassing Porto, Chelsea and Inter, before taking the reigns at Academica and suitably impressing Porto enough for them to install him as manager last summer. Having finished third last season, Villas-Boas has turbo-charged Porto’s fortunes this term, winning the league with five games remaining, unbeaten, breaking records for most consecutive wins, most points and Mourinho’s record for most matches unbeaten in all competitions.
Having already won the Portuguese Supercup and Primeira Liga, Porto are two games away from a remarkable quadruple, facing Vitoria Guimaraes in the Portuguese Cup final on Saturday and Braga in tonight’s Europa League final. Braga are fundamentally a counter attacking side and will certainly have their work cut out trying to contain a prolific Porto attack that has plundered 115 goals in 47 games, failing to score on only two occasions. To reach the final, Porto scored five in both legs of their quarter-final with Spartak Moscow, chalking up a further eight in two semi-final ties with Vilarreal.
Falcao has excelled in the competition with 16 goals in 13 games, a new competition record, in tandem with Varela to his left and Hulk, who has 23 goals overall, drifting in from the right flank to support ‘El Tigre’. The pairing of Joao Moutinho and Fernando Belluschi in central midfield maintains the tempo with rapid distribution to the flanks and defensive midfielder Fernando provides cover in front of the back four. The centre backs are comfortable in possession and able to pick a pass, the full backs are also encouraged to get forward in support of the midfield and wide attackers, allowing Porto to build from the back in a fluid manner that opposing sides have been struggling to deal with.
With Braga enjoying a memorable season and exceeding all expectations by reaching the final, the pressure is off and they will want a fitting send off for their departing manager Domingos Jose Paciencia Oliveira. They have provided evidence of their defensive steel in this competition by shutting out Liverpool in two legs and clinging on to victory and a clean sheet in the second leg of their semi-final with Benfica. However, having already beaten Braga twice in the league this season, one more win in Dublin tonight for Porto and a victory over Vitoria in the cup final will earn Andre Villas-Boas a place in the club’s folklore, it will also make him the most sought after manager since ‘The Special One’.