SC Braga and The Pursuit of the Top Three

When the curtain closed on the 2022/23 Primeira Liga season, it was a real cause for celebration for SC Braga. Os Arsenalistas finished in the top three for the first time since 2019/20, picked up a record 78 points from 34 matches and scored 75 goals – a club record for most goals in a Primeira Liga season. Their fantastic season also meant they qualified for the UEFA Champions League at the third qualifying round where they will face Serbian outfit FK TSC.

Artur Jorge’s side finished the season just seven points off Porto in second and nine points off league winners Benfica. The fact that Braga stayed within touching distance of the top two throughout the season represents significant improvement for the club, especially considering that the last time they finished in third (2019/20), they finished 17 points behind Benfica in second and a whopping 22 points behind the eventual winners Porto.

So, how do Braga continue to make forward strides? The objective is clear. Braga have to do something they have never done in their history and finish in the top three in consecutive seasons. On the three previous occasions that Braga have finished inside the top three, they have finished in fourth place the following season and this season the club will be hoping to put an end to that trend.

Próxima Jornada looks at why it’s never happened for Braga and what challenges they have to overcome in order to make history.

Braga’s history in the Primeira Liga is remarkably consistent, they’ve finished fourth in eight of the last 13 seasons and they have only finished outside of the top four on two occasions from the last 14 seasons. The difficulty in smashing through the proverbial glass ceiling lies in the strength of Os Três Grandes, Benfica, Porto and Sporting. Only on two occasions has a team from outside the big three won the league – Boavista in 2000/01 and Os Belenenses in 1945/46.

Braga’s consistent performances in the league as being ‘the best of the rest’ means they are usually on hand to capitalise when one of the giants slips up and has a sub-par season. In two of the three seasons that Braga finished in third it was at the expense of Sporting CP and in 2009/10 when Braga finished in second place, their best ever league position, they finished above both Porto and Sporting. The aforementioned big three do not expect to finish below third so when they do, it usually exacerbates a need for change and often leads to increased spending in the market – something Braga struggle to contend with due to the fact they generate less as a result of player sales and they have less financial power to begin with than the top three.

Take Sporting CP for example, Rúben Amorim’s side finished in fourth place last season, a disappointing drop off for The Lions – especially considering they had finished first and second in the previous two Primeira Liga seasons but they have quickly got to work to ensure it doesn’t happen again. After losing a key part of their midfield when Manuel Ugarte departed for Paris Saint-Germain the club have acted swiftly to reinvest back into the squad by breaking their transfer record by signing Coventry City striker Viktor Gyökeres in a deal that is reportedly worth around €24 million. The 25-year-old scored 21 goals and provided 10 assists for Coventry City and could be the solution for Sporting’s goalscoring woes. Benfica, the defending Primeira Liga champions, are looking to go from strength to strength this season and have already brought in Eredivisie Player of the Season Orkun Kökcü, 22-year-old defender David Jurasek and World Cup winner Ángel Di María. Finishing in the top three in consecutive seasons is a difficult challenge for the Minho club, but it is not impossible. If Braga are to push for a place in the top three, they have to be smart in the market and that is exactly what they have been so far.

Os Gverreiros got to work early in the transfer window, bringing in several quality players from home and abroad in order to improve their squad for the season ahead and ensure they are competitive both in European competition and also domestically. Brazilian midfielder Vitor Carvalho was brought to the club from Gil Vicente for €2.5 million and has a 30 million release clause. It’s a transfer which could prove to be a masterstroke if the defensive midfielder can transfer his Gil Vicente form into a Braga shirt.

Vitor Carvalho in action for Gil Vicente

With 92 Primeira Liga appearances to his name, Carvalho has great experience and arrives off the back of a good season for Gil Vicente. Last season in the Primeira Liga, only three players won more possession in midfield than Carvalho (126), he ranked seventh for overall possession won (212), ninth in the Primeira Liga for duels won with 196 and 10th for tackles won with 45. He also chipped in with five goals and one assist across all competitions for Gil Vicente. Talented forward Bruma arrived at Braga in January with a point to prove following a nightmare transfer to Turkish outfit Fenerbahçe. The 27-year-old was not registered for the Turkish league or UEFA Europa League squad and therefore was unable to play. Braga offered him a return to Portugal and a chance to find form – which is exactly what he did.

The winger made 16 appearances in the Primeira Liga (13 starts) but managed to provide six assists,  just two shy of Braga’s best creator Ricardo Horta despite playing 1590 minutes fewer. Bruma also chipped in with four goals, taking his goal contribution tally to 10 – an average of a goal contribution every 102.7 minutes. Braga have pulled the trigger on Bruma on a permanent deal, €6.5 million may seem a little steep for a club like Braga but if he can replicate his loan form over the full season it could prove to be a great deal.

Spanish defender Víctor Gómez has also been purchased on a permanent deal after an impressive loan spell that saw him make 23 appearances and provide six assists. Braga paid Espanyol €2.5m for the 23-year-old who has signed on a five-year contract. The signing of veteran defender José Fonte on a free transfer is another signing which could prove to be a smart one. The former Lille captain will bring experience to the Braga backline, particularly in European competition.

If Braga’s new signings can settle in quickly and build a good relationship with the influential figures already at the club, fans of the Minho club could well be in for another exciting season.

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