Five biggest reasons why Benfica are Portuguese Liga champions again
Benfica clinched the 2016-17 Portuguese Liga title in style Saturday afternoon by thrashing Vitoria Guimaraes 5-0. The visitors came into the match in sparkling form -- having won their previous seven games -- but were blown away by a brilliant first-half display from the Lisbon giants, who romped into a 4-0 lead at the interval thanks to goals by Franco Cervi, Raul Jimenez, Pizzi and Jonas.
Jonas completed the rout with a second-half penalty to trigger wild celebrations throughout the Portuguese capital. It is the first time in Benfica's illustrious history that the club has won four-straight championship titles. How did they do it? Here are five reasons explaining Benfica's tetra-championship triumph.
Happy blend of youth and experience
Benfica have made several big-money sales in recent years thanks to homegrown or imported youngsters whose skills have been honed at their highly renowned academy in Sexial, located across the River Tagus from Lisbon. And this season's team included a crop of highly impressive up-and-coming talents -- notably goalkeeper Ederson, full-backs Nelson Semedo and Alex Grimaldo, and centre-back Victor Lindelof -- who are sure to be either sold or the subject of intense transfer rumours throughout the summer.
But in veteran captain Luisao, central midfielders Ljubomir Fejsa and Pizzi, and strike partners Jonas and Kostas Mitroglou, Benfica could count on players with a wealth of experience to provide a healthy counterbalance to their exciting and zestful younger teammates.
In contrast to last season, when both Benfica and Sporting CP frequently produced mesmerising football in a titanic title race, this year the quality on display has not hit the same heights, even from the title winners.
Benfica are deserving champions, but Sporting and Porto made it easier for the Eagles. A series of poor performances and bad results ruled Benfica's Lisbon neighbours out of the running by the halfway stage, while Porto faltered at the crucial time, drawing five of their last seven matches just as Benfica started to drop points and show signs that the pressure was getting to them. Had the Dragons converted just two of those draws into wins they would have headed into the penultimate round of matches on top of the table.
The main reason Benfica achieved a greater level of consistency as their two main rivals vacillated is due to the stability throughout the club. Porto have gone through five managers (excluding caretaker coaches) since the start of their last title-winning season in 2012-13, while in the same time period Sporting have had six. Benfica have had just two men in the dugout the past five seasons.
Moments after Benfica clinched the title a gigantic banner was unfurled in the stadium depicting the title-winning squad, with the five faces at the top showing the five footballers who had played in each of Benfica's championship-winning sides over the past four seasons. Less than half a team remaining for four years might not seem like much, but given the revolving door policy of Portugal's top clubs -- where players who thrive are quickly sold and those who struggle are soon discarded -- such constancy in the playing staff represents a rare degree of stability.
There was little separation between the starting XI of Portugal's traditional Big Three. Sporting had the top scorer, the prolific Bas Dost, and top assist provider, wing sensation Gelson Martins, while Porto had the best centre-back partnership and arguably the most talented individual player in the guise of Algerian dribbler extraordinaire Yacine Brahimi.
Benfica's squad was without equal in terms of depth, though. It proved especially useful as an endless raft of injuries severely disrupted the team during the first half of the season -- including the absence of Jonas for months. Benfica rode through those injuries thanks to their depth, with practically their entire squad of players stepping up when called upon.
The crowd of 64,591 packed into the Estadio da Luz on Saturday was just shy of capacity, and as so often has been the case in recent seasons, the spectators created a deafening atmosphere. Fans have flocked to the stadium, making it an intimidating venue to visit for opposition teams and reaffirming its historical moniker of the "Inferno da Luz." Benfica did not lose a single home game in the league, scoring 49 goals in 14 victories and three draws.
Tom Kundert covers Portuguese football for ESPN FC. Twitter: @PortuGoal1.