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Know Thine Enemy: Atlético Madrid-Sporting CP Q&A with Tiago Estêvão

We consulted the Portuguese football analyst and writer to get the story on Sporting.

Sporting Lisbon v Viktoria Plzen - UEFA Europa League Round of 16: First Leg Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images

Into the Calderón: First of all: Sporting are known by a few different names — Sporting Club de Portugal, Sporting Lisbon and so on. What’s the correct way to reference them?

Tiago Estêvão: Sporting Clube de Portugal. Sporting CP. Just Sporting. Any of those can work. In international competitions Sporting became known as Sporting Lisbon but, since they don’t actually have Lisbon in the name, the fans prefer to see the club being called by its proper denomination.

ItC: How are Sporting doing this season? Better or worse than expected?

TE: Definitely worse than expected. The squad is very talented and, although the Champions League campaign was satisfactory and the League Cup was won by them, in the league the clear objective was to fight for the title and — at the moment — they seem bound to fight for third. This place won’t even get them Champions League football next season. Not only that, but the lack of the exciting play style from other seasons doesn’t help tone down the lesser results — or doesn’t help them get said results, and vice-versa.

ItC: Who are the danger men in this Sporting team? Is Gelson Martins the real deal? I often struggle to track him in FIFA.

TE: Yeah, Gelson is great. He’s very quick, he can make things happen both out wide and when he shows up in interior areas he is able to use his dribbling to beat players. Helps defensively as well. Bas Dost is another one to look out for, an amazing finisher who really doesn’t need many chances to make it count. William Carvalho is very important for the team both defensively and at the start of their buildup, and Rui Patrício is a big match goalkeeper who can be the difference maker.

ItC: Jorge Jesus vs. Diego Simeone. What might the Portuguese have up his sleeve in this tie?

TE: Well, while Sporting have been pretty poor against smaller sides, Jesus’s men were very impressive in a tough UCL group where they could play in a counter-attacking style and show off their defensive organization. Both Juventus and Barcelona had a lot of trouble creating against Sporting. Not only did they play deep with little space to play in between their lines, but Jesus also used Rodrigo Battaglia — an energetic ball-winner _ as a continuous man-marker to nullify Lionel Messi and Paulo Dybala. I believe something very similar will occur here, with Sporting offering possession to Atleti and Battaglia perhaps man-marking Antoine Griezmann continuously. Dost will be used for his hold up play, while guys like Gelson will be key on the counter into space.

ItC: Looking across both legs, can you see Sporting advancing to the semifinals?

TE: It will depend a lot on what the result from the first leg is. A positive result in Madrid would be essential, an away goal key. I believe Sporting have enough in them to take it as an open affair to Portugal next week, from then on anything can happen. But the match up is definitely ideal for Sporting, as opposed to an “easier” match up in which they’d have to take control of the game.

ItC: Finally: what’s your scoreline prediction for Thursday?

TE: Tough one to predict, but I’ll guess a 2-1 Atlético Madrid win in this week’s game.