Coach Paulo Sérgio once felt compelled to tell reporters that Sporting Clube de Portugal were not a different side in European competition, but with their Liga form now starting to match their UEFA Europa League heroics the Lions may soon be roaring on all fronts.
Sporting travel to KAA Gent in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday as the group stage's 12-goal top scorers, supported by three Group C wins. Given they nearly missed out on this phase of the tournament – losing 2-0 at home to Brøndby IF in the play-offs before progressing with a 3-0 win in Copenhagen secured by Yannick Djaló's added-time strike – it seems Sporting have been born again in Europe. Their domestic results, however, have lagged behind.
Having beaten Gent 5-1 in Lisbon three days earlier, Sporting went into their 24 October Liga game against Rio Ave FC sitting tenth in the table. They won that match and the subsequent one at UD Leiria to go fourth, albeit ten points behind leaders FC Porto. "We are not a different side in Europe," Paulo Sérgio said. "We have had no luck in the Liga, as our performances have been no different from in the Europa League. The results, yes."
However, if Sporting have appeared unbeatable in Group C, that impression is not yet shared by the players, who have shown wise caution in the run-up to the Gent rematch where victory would put them in the round of 32. Striker Carlos Saleiro said: "We played well at home to Gent but they can play better than they did at the Alvalade. The win gave us a lift but also showed we have to continue in the same way. We want to secure qualification in Belgium."
Few have enjoyed Sporting's European nights as much as forward Hélder Postiga. The 28-year-old Portuguese international has scored in all three Group C games, in stark contrast to his league form; he has netted just once in Portugal's top division since the start of the 2009/10 season. "We are doing a very good job in the Europa League," he said. "We know what we want to achieve – to win this match and get as far we can in the competition."
Paulo Sérgio said after Gent's Matchday 3 visit: "We are still improving. We have three matches left and will look to win them all. I don't care about the points we already have." Now, with Sporting's league form revived, he is starting to have a similar can-do attitude to domestic fixtures. "We can recover," he said. "Porto will drop points. Our performances haven't been so bad as to merit the amount of points we have dropped. We have to look forward and make up for lost time."