An ultimately comfortable 4-0 victory over Tondela at the Estádio da Luz on Sunday enabled Benfica to maintain their 4-point lead at the top of the table. Basement dwellers Tondela held out for an hour, but once the excellent Pizzi made the breakthrough other goals soon followed.
Porto had a scare at the Estádio do Dragão, with Rio Ave coming from behind to take the lead early in the second half. However, thanks in no small measure to the brilliant crossing of Alex Telles (three assists), Porto ran out 4-2 winners with all their goals scored from headers.
Sporting dropped further behind in the title race, drawing 2-2 in Madeira against Marítimo. The Lions twice came from behind and were left complaining about the referee again as a late Alan Ruiz goal was chalked off after being incorrectly ruled offside.
In the Minho derby, Vitória Guimarães won at Braga for the first time since 2002. PortuGOAL rounds up the top weekend action from the Liga NOS.
FC Porto 4-2 Rio Ave
A lively opening saw chances at both ends before Porto took the lead on 18 minutes as Brazilian centre-back Felipe headed in a Telles free kick with Rio Ave goalkeeper Cassio coming for the ball and completely missing it. Diogo Jota was clean through shortly afterwards but smashed his effort against the bar, and it proved a costly miss as Casillas made a mess of a Gil Dias cross and Guedes pounced on the loose ball to equalise for Rio Ave just before the break.
The visitors, now managed by former Porto B team coach Luís Castro, then stunned the home crowd by grabbing the lead as Miguel Layún gave away a clumsy penalty hacking down Dias, and Roderick coolly converted from the spot.
Porto responded well to the setback and turned the game on its head again with two more fine headers from wonderful Telles crosses, Marcano then Danilo applying the finishing touch. Young striker Rui Pedro made sure of the three points in the 88th minute, diving to head in after excellent work by fellow substitute João Carlos Teixeira.
Marítimo 2-2 Sporting
In desperate need of a boost, Sporting coach Jorge Jesus rang the changes, with João Palhinha getting a surprise start and William Carvalho on the bench, and the Lions started the match in lively fashion. However, from Marítimo's first shot the hosts took the lead, Eber Bessa rifling in direct from a free kick.
The Lisbon side reacted well, with Coates going close before Bas Dost continued his hot scoring streak by thumping in a well delivered Adrien cross with his head. Marítimo came back strongly and were the better team until the break, Dyego Sousa smashing a brilliant effort against the bar and Raul Silva then restoring the islanders' lead as he headed in a free kick with Sporting's defence again at fault.
Sporting equalised on the hour mark as Bruno César whipped over a low cross that Gelson Martins controlled and finished beautifully and with both teams going for the win it could have gone either way in the final 30 minutes.
When things are going against you nothing falls your way, and Sporting were desperately unlucky not to score a late winner as Alan Ruiz finished a neat move, only to see the "goal" incorrectly ruled out for offside.
Benfica 4-0 Tondela
It was top versus bottom in the Portuguese capital on Sunday as Benfica welcomed Tondela, with the strugglers providing solid resistance for 59 minutes.
Pizzi may not get the same exposure as many of Benfica's star players, but he has been outstanding all season, and again it was the central midfielder who proved decisive, scoring twice with two clinical finishes to settle the nerves of another huge crowd at the Luz. Pizzi has now scored 11 goals in 31 matches in all competitions for Benfica in 2016/17.
Rafa Silva finally scored his first Benfica goal with a lovely lob on the run, and Jonas completed the rout in stoppage time from the penalty spot.
Vitória on the up
Late on Sunday the Minho derby was a typically feisty (10 yellow cards, 1 red) and entertaining affair. Braga have enjoyed much the better of this fixture in recent years, especially at home, but two early goals from Josué and Soares put Vitória Guimarães in control at the Quarry.
Pedro Martins' side held on for the victory, leaving just two points separating Braga, Sporting and Vitória in 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively.
by Tom Kundert
Round 18 Results
Arouca 1-2 Boavista
Belenenses 1-2 Vitória Setúbal
Benfica 4-0 Tondela
Braga 1-2 Vitória Guimarães
Feirense 1-0 Estoril
Marítimo 2-2 Sporting
Paços de Ferreira 0-2 Moreirense
Porto 4-2 Rio Ave
Monday: Chaves vs. Nacional