Top of the table in Portugal, FC Porto face a stern challenge from SL Benfica as they bid to win a third successive title, but they have one accolade that their Lisbon rivals cannot take away from them.
Last week, the Dragons completed a calendar year unbeaten in the Liga, having gone 30 domestic league games without defeat (25 wins and five draws) since a 3-1 reverse at Gil Vicente FC on 29 January 2012 – a result that left them five points adrift of Benfica at the summit, and ended a 55-game unbeaten top-flight run. Had they avoided defeat, Porto would have matched Benfica's national record of 56 without a loss.
That 56-game target is on the horizon once more, with Porto showing their now customary ruthlessness at the weekend, rattling in four without reply at Vitória SC. The club have long since dispelled any doubts as to how they would prosper without striker Hulk, who left for FC Zenit St Petersburg in the summer, with his replacement – Colombian striker Jackson Martínez – scoring his first league treble in Guimaraes.
"The team is playing a brand of football that, besides being beautiful, has something else I appreciate," said Porto coach Vítor Pereira. "It is rare that we give opponents the opportunity to score. I don't like games that end 5-4 or 4-3, because that means that the team was not organised defensively. I like to dominate and impose our game. It took time but now the team is exactly how I like."
For all of Hulk's star quality, Porto have flourished without him, with Fernando, Lucho González and João Moutinho imperious in midfield and their defence much improved – tellingly they have conceded just once at home in the Liga all season. Winger James Rodríguez initially took all the plaudits for his work up front, but fellow Colombian Martínez – a summer signing from Mexican side Jaguares de Chiapas FC – is now the main man. His strike rate of 18 goals from 17 games has drawn comparisons with another celebrated Porto predecessor – and compatriot – Falcao.
"I'm very, very happy," the 26-year-old said. "As a striker, I always want to do my best to help the team and score, and fortunately everything is going very well and I scored my first hat-trick in Portugal. The team is showing great quality and we will not get complacent as we want more and more."
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