Portuguese Liga Team of the Season: Hulk, Garay & Aimar star in 2011-12 campaign

We choose the best XI from the Portuguese top-flight that came to a conclusion on Sunday, with the Dragons, led by Vitor Pereira, emerging champions once again
Porto defended their league title, despite the fact that they were not nearly as impressive as they had been under Andre Villas-Boas. And with the campaign concluded, Goal.com takes a look at which players excelled the most in the Portuguese Liga in 2011-12.

After seven years at the Estadio do Dragao, Helton remains as influential as ever and an undisputed starter between the sticks for Porto. At the age of 33, the Brazilian has shown that experience is a must for a goalkeeper. With Porto struggling to find the right formula at the back this season, they will certainly have Helton to thank for keeping the best defensive record in the league. The news that the three-times-capped Brazilian will sign a new contract is undoubtedly a major boost for 2012-13.

They came, they saw, they conquered. The 2011 summer transfer window had numerous examples of players who made an instant impact on the league after choosing to further their careers in Portugal. Emiliano Insua signed for Sporting Lisbon in August after finding his chances hard to come by at Liverpool, and he has become one of the best left-backs in the country, overshadowing a somewhat disappointing Alvaro Pereira. The 23-year-old has been at home on the flank, and although he could not score in the league, he took a major role in the rebirth of the Leoes.

When Ewerton signed for Sporting Braga on a two-year loan deal from Corinthians do Pilar, the centre-half was fairly unknown, even in his country. However, less than one year later, the Brazilian has proved his credentials as he played an important part in the club’s third-place finish in the league. In December, Braga had one of the best defensive records in the competition, and much of that is owed to Ewerton, who is on Porto’s agenda this summer.

After struggling for chances at Real Madrid, Ezequiel Garay decided to try his luck elsewhere, and he is certainly happy with that choice after becoming a key figure at Benfica, who had been looking for a new centre-half partner for Luisao since David Luiz left for Chelsea. The Argentine has impressed everyone with his quality positioning, marking and tackling as he provided an immense source of stability in defence.

Joao Pereira has been an important member in Sporting Lisbon's back four since he joined the club in December 2009, but his performances improved this season following the revolution that took place in the summer. The Portuguese, who is a modern attacking-minded full-back, has only benefited from the quality boost in the Leoes' squad, which has helped him cement his place in the national team going into Euro 2012. However, you should not expect to see him at the Estadio de Alvalade much longer as Valencia are reportedly closing in on the 28-year-old.

Fernando’s future at Porto seemed to be in doubt after he was strongly linked with a new challenge last summer, which cost him his place in the starting XI in the first matches of the season. The Brazilian, however, went on to play a key role in the squad, and edges out Javi Garcia to a place in our team of the season. Fernando is not important for his goals or his passing qualities, but his presence in front of the defense is a huge relief for any coach.  

At the age of 32, the end of Aimar’s career is drawing closer, but the Argentine playmaker continues to be a vital part of Benfica’s squad. The former Valencia ace, who moved to the Estadio da Luz in 2008, is the club’s only pure No.10, and his creativity and flair are felt whenever he is on the field. Aimar may no longer be able to play 90 minutes of football because of his injury record, but his passing qualities – which made him one of the best playmakers in the game last decade - are still at their prime.

Joao Moutinho went through a bit of a crisis at Porto during the early stages of the campaign as he admitted to being out of shape, but the 25-year-old improved as the season wore on to help the club retain their league crown. He grabbed six assists and also scored three goals in the competition to finish the season on a high and leave no doubts about his starting XI place in Portugal for Euro 2012.

Hulk was unable to achieve the same stats from 2010-11 in the league, grabbing seven goals and five assists fewer when compared to the previous season, but the Brazilian forward was without a doubt Porto’s most important forward. Following the departure of Radamel Falcao, Hulk had to take the team’s attacking reins, and even though he missed working with a world-class striker, as neither Kleber, nor Marc Janko, are at the same level as the Colombian, at times it seemed that the 25-year-old was the only player interested in steering the ship. The Brazilian's spell at the Estadio do Dragao appears to be coming to an end, though, after his agent stated that it is time for the player to move on.

The striking duo in our team of the season consists of Sporting Braga’s Lima and Benfica’s Oscar Cardozo, both of whom netted 20 goals in the competition, though it was the Paraguayan who was named the top scorer as it took him one match fewer to reach that mark. After a somewhat modest first season at the club, the Brazilian rose to prominence under Leonardo Jardim, who found the best way to make full use of the 28-year-old’s qualities. As for Cardozo, the Paraguayan remains a love-me-or-hate-me paradox: he continues to bag goals like there is no tomorrow, having recently become Benfica’s most prolific foreign player, but his clumsy, slow-paced style of play often annoys the supporters. He has often been linked with a new challenge, but if he stays at the Estadio da Luz, there is little doubt that you will see him at the top of the scoring charts in the league next season.

 Conceded: 17

Goals/Assists: 0/2 Goals/Assists: 2/0 Goals/Assists: 1/0 Goals/Assists: 0/2

Goals/Assists: 2/9 Goals/Assists: 1/1 Goals/Assists: 3/6

 Goals/Assists: 16/11
Goals/Assists: 20/7
Goals/Assists: 20/4