Portuguese Football: Porto rightly favourites for this year's title as Benfica struggle to hold on to players

Jorge Jesus has overseen a mass exodus at Benfica
Jorge Jesus has overseen a mass exodus at Benfica

Portuguese football expert Andy Brassell looks ahead to the Primeira Liga season and fears for Benfica amid an exodus of their best personnel...

"With World Cup stars Bruno Martins Indi and Yacine Brahimi also joining, plus a much-needed new goalkeeper in Andres Fernandez, nothing less than the title with do for Lopetegui and Porto."

Could the last person to leave the Estadio da Luz please turn the, er, light out? Rarely has a champion side been so brutally decimated as Benfica, changing the landscape of the Portuguese Liga as 2014-15 approaches. 
 
The exits of Ezequiel Garay, Rodrigo, Lazar Markovic, Guilherme Siqueira and Jan Oblak means almost half of last season's first-choice XI is already gone. Add to this the loss of the prolific Oscar Cardozo - no overseas player has scored more for Benfica than the 172 he hit in seven seasons - and midfield prospect Andre Gomes and they have a real personnel crisis on their hands. There is little time left to get the necessary reinforcements in and with a big debt to feed, there is every chance that last season's standout performer, Argentina's Enzo Perez, could join the exodus.

Little wonder, then, that Jorge Jesus said after the Emirates Cup humbling by Arsenal that it would be "impossible for this team to have the same capabilities as last season". It is thus perhaps the biggest test yet for the charismatic coach since his 2009 arrival. He has worked magic before, not just producing fine collective football but helping to transform individuals like Perez and Fabio Coentrao, but retaining the title is a tall order.

What makes this even more painful is that the reconstruction of deposed champions - and Benfica's bitter rivals - Porto continues apace under new coach Julen Lopetegui. What the newcomer lacks in club management experience, he makes up for in clout. Cristian Tello has already admitted it was Lopetegui's presence that made Porto his preferred choice when negotiating a loan exit from Barcelona. 

Likewise, Atletico Madrid pair Oliver Torres (loan) and Adrian Lopez (permanent deal) and Real Madrid's Casemiro (loan) have been attracted by the new man's winning record with Spain's Under-19 and Under-21 teams. 

With World Cup stars Bruno Martins Indi and Yacine Brahimi also joining, plus a much-needed new goalkeeper in Andres Fernandez, nothing less than the title with do for Lopetegui, plus a decent showing in the Champions League. He has the best squad in the country with which to do it, so they are value for the title at 2.1411/10.

Sporting (a generous 8.415/2) will again hope to challenge after last season's excellent runners-up finish, though they have lost coach Leonardo Jardim to Monaco. The good news is that they are keen to stick to the youth-focused approach that has sparked their revival under the presidency of Bruno de Carvalho. Signings include Scottish wonderkid Ryan Gauld and France Under-20 World Cup winner Naby Sarr. They've also held onto all their major players to date (including the coveted midfielder William Carvalho), so there's a strong sense of continuity. 

There is also the sense that Jardim's departure may even work out well. His replacement is 36-year-old Marco Silva, one of the most highly-rated coaches to work in Portugal in years. He worked miracles for three years just down the road at tiny Estoril, authoring promotion and successive European qualifications, and his work has attracted attention across the continent. 

Os tres grandes should again occupy the podium, but there could be a good scrap for European places below with some familiar names in coaching posts. Underachieving Braga now have Sergio Conceicao at the helm, with former Sporting and Hearts boss Paulo Sergio replacing Conceicao at Academica. The experienced Jose Couceiro has a tough job following Silva at Estoril, while former Braga boss Domingos Paciencia makes a welcome return at Vitoria Setubal. Paulo Fonseca retakes the reins at Pacos de Ferreira after his failed spell at Porto. Madeira's teams, Nacional and Maritimo, will be pushed to repeat their own heroics of last season after some key departures.

It's an 18-team Liga rather than one of 16 this season, due to the extraordinary comeback of Boavista, the city of Porto's second club. They were playing in the third tier last season but have been readmitted to the top flight after the administrative court decision to reverse their 2008 demotion for match-fixing. 

They are guided by a club legend (and former Portugal international midfielder) in coach Petit, but the unprecedented leap of divisions alone mean Os Axadrezados are big favourites to finish bottom, despite a sweeping recruitment drive which has seen more than 20 new players rock up at the Estadio do Bessa. Lisbon's lesser lights Belenenses are also likely to struggle, having missed the drop by a whisker last season and still attempting to get by on a meagre budget. The two promoted clubs, Moreirense and Penafiel, will be delighted if they can avoid going straight back down.  

One thing is always sure in Portugal - there will be more transfers to come, so feel free to hold fire on choosing your European qualifiers until the window shuts.

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