Can Braga topple the 'Big 3' and win the Primeira Liga?
Braga have well and truly cemented their place as the fourth-best team in Portuguese football in recent times, and last season's heroics to see them finish an incredible 21 points above fifth and just 13 points off first confirms that Braga are ready to compete with the big-hitters in the league for the foreseeable future.
It's been an incredible display of resilience and overachieving from Braga over the last decade, a side on a fraction of the budget of the 'Big Three' in Portuguese football (Porto, Benfica and Sporting), and the prospect of potentially going even further and winning the league title, while still something of a long-shot, is realistic enough to get fans dreaming of the ultimate glory.
But history is most definitely not on their side. Perhaps surprisingly to some, in Braga's long, fluctuating 97 year history, they have never won the Portuguese league title, their best result coming as recently as 2010 where they valiantly finished as runners-up to Benfica.
In fact, there have only ever been just FIVE different champions in the entire history of Portugal's Primeira Liga, a quite startling statistic which shows the utter domination of the traditional Big Three throughout the league's 85-year history, with the vast majority of the titles going to Benfica (36), Porto (28) and Sporting (16).
The only other two title winners are Belenenses and Boavista, who have each only won the league on one occasion - Belenenses all the way back in 1946, and Boavista in 2001 - thus meaning that of the 84 league seasons completed, an astounding 82 of them have gone to either Benfica, Sporting or Porto.
Braga will also have to break the incredible city dominance that has evolved in the country over the years should they succeed in accomplishing the ultimate glory in Portuguese football. Indeed, in the near-century history of the Portuguese league, there has never been a single title winner that has been based outside the country's two big cities, with Lisbon laying claim to 55 of the 84 titles ever been competed for, while Porto-based clubs have won the other 29.
For Braga to win the title, they would therefore need to not only cause a major upset and topple all three giants in the Portuguese game in the same season, but also completely rewrite history as we know it.
Braga's impressive recent record
But Braga are, without a doubt, a team on the up. Founded in 1921, Braga only achieved their first piece of silverware in 1966, when they lifted the Portuguese Cup after beating Vitória de Setúbal 1-0 in the final. They then went on another dry spell and, with exception to the one-off, highly unique Portuguese Football Federation Cup which they claimed in 1977, did not win any other silverware until 2009. But forgetting their distant and less-than-prestigious past, this last decade has been nothing short of stunning for the Minho club, who have gone from strength to strength.
Take their UEFA coefficient ranking as a rough guide of their impressive rise; in 2005, Braga occupied 139th place in the official UEFA club ranking list. But today, just 13 years later, they sit 48th, above the likes of AC Milan, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Inter Milan and Galatasaray.
Additionally, having only qualified for continental competitions 5 times in 62 years before 2004, Braga have since qualified for the main stages of European competitions in 11 of the last 14 seasons, making the Champions League on two occasions in the process - in 2010 and 2012 at the expense of Sporting - as well as becoming Europa League runners-up in 2013, losing an all-Portuguese final to Porto 1-0, having beaten Benfica in the semi-final.
Braga have since become something of Europa League regulars, and have finished in at least the top 5 of Portugal's top flight nine times in the past 10 years, with last year proving a particularly successful season; despite only coming fourth in the league, their overall points total put them head and shoulders above the chasing pack, and were almost within touching distance of even regaining a Champions League spot for only the third time in their history.
To put into context the incredible accomplishment of Braga last campaign, their 24 league victories from just 34 matches was the most wins they have ever had in a single season in their entire century-long history - even more than the 22 wins they picked up in the 2010-11 season where they finished second place - while their 75 points total was also the most in any season they've played in.
Even if you were to change the number of points for a win from two to three from their earlier seasons and include the campaigns that Braga spent in the second division, the 2017-18 season is still their most successful ever in terms of points earned.
Whether this was a one off or the start of something special still remains to be seen, but with their young manager, Abel Ferreira, in charge of the club, and their shrewd transfer policy which makes the most of the loan system and free transfers to bolster the squad, they have found a winning combination which allows them to remain competitive in the league without spending anywhere near the funds which the likes of Benfica and Porto have available.
With a good blend of experience and youth in their ranks, Braga's squad is a strong one with the potential to cause problems for any side in the league, and their campaign is certainly one to watch out for.