SC Braga's drop in domestic form has opened up a nine-point gap between them and 3rd placed Benfica. In Liga Portugal, the top two teams secure automatic qualification for the Champions League, with the third-placed team qualifying for the play-offs.
Injuries prior to the season kick-off
Braga got off on the wrong foot as injuries ravaged their preparation. Central defender David Carmo and left-back Nuno Sequeira were both injured and have not yet returned to play.
Midfielder Andre Casto also suffered some calf-related issues and is not yet available. These crucial absentees from the Braga line-up caused the team to drop points even against lower-league opponents like Boavista and Santa Clara.
This has essentially forced manager Carlos Carvahal to play with almost the same line-up in Portugal and Europe in recent weeks.
Braga's Europa League commitments and qualification
Braga was drawn into a tight group with Red Star Belgrade and Midjylland. These Europa League fixtures, along with the fixtures of the Portuguese Cup, collided with the first-division ties. As soon as European competitions started in September, Braga's dip in form became more obvious.
Prior to their European assignments, Braga had lost just once in Liga Portugal. Following that, they lost another two and drew three. This included a heavy 5-0 thumping at the hands of Benfica.
Playing with a restricted squad also affected their European assignments as Braga barely managed to get out of their group after picking up just one point from their last three games.
Challenge from the perennial Top 3 in Portugal
The outstanding form of the perennial title-contenders - Porto, Benfica and Sporting - has also made Braga's route to Champions League football quite difficult.
Porto and Sporting are tied at the top with 38 points from their opening eighteen games. Both clubs are unbeaten in the division as well. Benfica are also close on their heels with 34 points in their kitty.
Dropping as many as seventeen points from a possible forty-two has created a big separation between Braga and the top three. More importantly, Braga also faces a series of contenders for the Europa League spot as well. Estoril Praia and Portimonense are just a couple of points off fourth.
Transfer activity in January a must
Without recruitment in January, Braga's existing problems will compound the worst. Given the absence of three crucial first-team regulars, Braga needs to fill the void. The fatigue among the rest of the group will also affect their post-January plans.
An active transfer window can hugely stimulate a depleted team fighting a busy schedule.