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European Football Weekend Round-Up & Power Rankings By Zach Lowy

Each Monday, I’ll be writing a weekly round-up on this season’s action at BET Central, including the managers on the hot seat and the coaches who are delivering the goods for their clubs, the young prospects who are putting themselves in the spotlight, and the players and teams who are making the headlines or flying under the radar in the 2021/22 season.

European Football Round-Up

The second week of March saw plenty of European action for Portuguese clubs – Braga won the first leg of their UEFA Europa League round of 16 tie with Monaco 2-0, whilst Porto fell to defeat for the first time since December and lost 0-1 to Lyon thanks to a goal from Lucas Paquetà. Sporting went out of the Champions League with a 0-0 draw at the Etihad after losing 5-0 in Lisbon, whilst Benfica will take on Ajax on Tuesday in the second leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie after drawing the first leg 2-2 in Lisbon.

Gil Edge Past Braga

Braga took on Gil Vicente on Sunday night at home in a battle between fourth and fifth: their manager Carlos Carvalhal had a wealth of options on the bench including Fabiano, Abel Ruíz, André Horta and Lucas Mineiro, the latter of which had arrived on a permanent deal following a successful loan spell at Gil the previous season. Gil, meanwhile, were deprived of 23-year-old right-back Zé Carlos, who has emerged as one of the league’s breakthrough sensations at his position after arriving on loan from Braga and who was unable to play against his parent club. Ricardo Soares elected Ghanaian defender Emmanuel Hackman to replace him alongside Rúben Fernandes, Lucas Cunha and Talocha in the back four.

Both sides missed a flurry of chances with Gil’s Brazilian winger Samuel Lino guilty on multiple occasions, with Braga and Gil recording 12 shots each and 52/48% possession. It was 0-0 up until the 88th minute when Hackman came off for Henrique Gomes, who upon seconds of coming on drove past Lucas Mineiro and fired a shot past Matheus and into the near post. With eight matches left in the 2021/22 season, Gil Vicente are fifth in the table and one point behind Braga. Fourth place secures qualification to the Europa League group stage on one occasion: if Porto or Sporting defeat their opponent in the Taça de Portugal Final: second-tier Mafra or 16th-placed Tondela. Fifth and sixth place would secure qualification to the Europa Conference League instead.

Whilst Braga will have to juggle two competitions, for the time being, Gil Vicente are focused on one objective: the Primeira Liga. They host Vasco Seabra’s Marítimo on Sunday before travelling to Arouca and hosting Moreirense, both of whom are fighting relegation, before facing off against middle-of-the-pack Famalicão and Paços de Ferreira. The Roosters will pay a visit to Rúben Amorim’s Sporting on April 30 and host relegation battlers Tondela before closing out their season in an away clash against Vitória de Guimarães.

Pedrinho’s Fantastic Week

There are eight matches left of a historic campaign that will likely be the final one in Barcelos for many – Zé Carlos will return to Braga following an impressive loan spell, whilst Samuel Lino has been linked with a summer move to Atlético Madrid. Fran Navarro has been one of the league’s breakout sensations with 13 goals in 26 matches after arriving in the summer, and he too will find himself the object of interest from many clubs in the summer. Whilst 22-year-old Japanese midfielder Kanya Fujimoto, on loan from Tokyo Verdy, has also been the object of interest from many clubs, one player who is staying put in Barcelos is Pedrinho.

Born in Cristelo, Portugal, Pedrinho enjoyed spells at lower-tier Cristelo and Freamunde before joining Paços de Ferreira in 2016. Pedrinho racked up 13 goals and 15 assists in 146 games for The Beavers but never quite managed to establish himself as a star before heading abroad for the first time in his career in July 2020 and joining Latvian side Riga FC where he would last just seven months before heading back to Portugal and joining Gil Vicente on an 18-month loan deal. He finished the season with one goal and two assists in 19 appearances and helped Gil to climb from 15th place to 11th.

This season, Pedrinho has taken on new importance following Mineiro’s departure to Braga and become the midfield talisman for Gil Vicente at 29 years of age. This week, Pedrinho won the league’s Best Midfielder and Best Player award, renewed his contract at Gil until 2025 and announced he will be a father again, and he capped it off with a crucial victory in the race for fourth place.

A Final Ride In The Sunset For The Gil Vicente Players

It is Gil Vicente’s first victory in Braga since the 1992/93 campaign and the continuation of an 11-match unbeaten run, the highest in their Primeira history. They have accumulated 45 points from 26 games and lead Vitória de Guimarães by nine; their highest ever came in 1999/00 when they registered 53 points. It is rare that we have seen a non-Braga side outside the top three hold such a clear advantage ahead of the rest of the pack both in terms of results and performances on the pitch, and it is a testament to the work that Ricardo Soares has done at the club and what will surely earn him the attention of clubs such as Braga or Benfica this summer. Drink it in; these are the final weeks of a legendary season for a plucky 98-year-old, 12,000-capacity side from Barcelos, a final ride in the sunset for the Gil Vicente players before they go their separate ways in the summer.

Renne Humiliate Lyon

“After securing their first-ever Champions League berth, Rennes took a step back last season, although the mid-season coaching switch of Bruno Génésio for Julien Stéphan helped them secure the final European spot and finish sixth. Backed by sporting director Florian Maurice and billionaire owner François Pinault, Rennes have assembled a glamorous crop of players that should see them challenge on the domestic and European front.”

It has been six months since I put Rennes in my top 10 transfer windows of summer 2021, and it is fair to say that the hype has paid off. Whilst they fell to a 2-0 defeat to Leicester City in the first leg of their Europa Conference League tie, they bounced back to winning ways against Lyon.

For many on Rennes, the trip marked a homecoming. Bruno Génésio played at Lyon from 1983 to 1995 and managed them between 2015 and 2019 before taking charge of Rennes on March 4, 2021. Florian Maurice spent his youth at Lyon before joining PSG in 1997, and he returned in 2009 where he would spend the next 11 years scouting young, promising talent before selling them for hefty profits later on. Maurice left for Rennes within the first few weeks of the pandemic and signed a number of young prospects in his first window such as Jeremy Doku, Serhou Guirassy, Nayef Aguerd, Alfred Gomis and Martin Terrier, the latter of whom spent two years in Lyon before joining Rennes for €12 million.

Rennes took the lead within ten minutes on Sunday as Terrier managed to head a goal kick from Gomis comfortably into the path of Gaëtan Laborde, who took two touches before slotting through a pass to Benjamin Bourigeaud, who converted past Anthony Lopes. They doubled their lead two minutes later as Bourigeaud’s corner rebounded off Paquetá and into the path of a wide-open Baptiste Santamaria who converted from outside of the box. They added a third on the final play of the first half when Lopes under-hit a pass to teenage center back Castello Lukeba and allowed Laborde to find Bourigeaud who teed up Lovro Majer on the edge of the penalty area, with Majer making no mistake from mid-range.

Laborde and Majer combined shortly after halftime to set up Terrier who cut inside from 30 yards out before launching a shot past Lopes into the top left corner – Terrier refused to celebrate afterwards. Lyon opened their account 10 minutes later as Karl Toko Ekambi headed a corner kick across the box and towards Rennes captain Hamari Traoré who cleared it into his own net, and they doubled it in the 81st minute from Moussa Dembélé via the penalty spot, but they nevertheless fell to a humiliating defeat that sees them close out the week in 10th place with 41 points.

Rennes are eight points ahead of them in fourth and just a point behind Nice and Marseille. Paris Saint-Germain have been sent packing from the Champions League and Coupe de France, but they are nevertheless on track to reclaim their Ligue 1 title with a 15-point advantage and likely give Mauricio Pochettino a parting gift – the first title of his coaching career. PSG and the second-place side will qualify for the Champions League group stage whilst the third-place team will play in the Champions League third qualifying round, whilst the fourth-place side will play in the Europa League conference league. The fifth-place side, currently occupied by Strasbourg with a four-point lead on defending champions Lille, will earn qualification to the UEFA Europa Conference League play-off round.

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Zach Lowy is the co-creator of Breaking The Lines (@BTLVid) and a freelance soccer journalist for various websites such as BET Central, Soccer Laduma and Hudl Analysis. He is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and is the host of the Cortalinhas podcast, a weekly podcast that discusses Portuguese football. Zach has accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge in football and has written about various subjects for BET Central ranging from Barcelona's financial difficulties to the 'lost generation' of South Africa's Amajita class of 2009.

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