As the threat to Benfica’s Liga NOS title hopes becomes clearer with each passing week, it’s with added attention that proceedings at the top of the table are followed before the UEFA Champions League interlude.
The 3-time champions welcomed Arouca to the Estádio da Luz, and even down to ten men, the Eagles were able to secure top spot for another week with a comprehensive 3-0 win, piling pressure onto rivals FC Porto.
The northern outfit reciprocated Benfica’s hunger for success, however, defeating high-flying Vitória de Guimarães 2-0 away from home to maintain the one-point-gap that led us into Gameweek 21.
Taça da Liga sensation Moreirense then hosted Sporting in Sunday’s main card, but the Lions were strong enough to fight their way into a 3-2 victory and do their bit in the hunt for the league’s top spots, keeping Sporting de Braga at bay. Here’s how the action at the top unfolded.
Benfica 3-0 Arouca
No prizes were given out for guessing who the favourites were for this clash, but there has been a lingering frailty surrounding this Benfica side of late that’s seen them ship in seven goals in their last six games.
Arouca set out to spark their luck against the wounded league leaders early on, as Tomané tested Ederson at his near-post on the half turn. Benfica’s response came in the 17th minute through Andrija Zivkovic, deputising for Eduardo Salvio, as Arouca’s Nuno Coelho diverted the Serbian’s cross unintentionally and rattled his own crossbar.
The hosts picked up the taste for dominance and thought they had taken the lead just five minutes later through Kostas Mitroglou, but the linesman picked up Jonas’ involvement from Luisão’s headed assist to call offside.
The warning had been sent out, however, as Benfica’s famed strike duo of Jonas and Mitroglou linked up for the game’s first goal, signed off by the ex-Fulham forward’s low-driven header in the 25th minute.
In total inspiration, the Greek striker was on hand to smash in his brace ten minutes later, courtesy of Eliseu’s efforts down the left flank, to make it 2-0 to the Eagles.
Mateus hit back for the visitors with a low drive to force a full-length diving save out of Ederson in the 38th minute, but that wasn’t to be the end of the duel between the Angolan and the Brazilian.
The Arouca striker was set through on goal soon after, with Eliseu in chase, but the on-rushing Ederson came crashing in with a high foot to leave the referee with no options but to show the goalkeeper the red card as the last man.
On a hat-trick, it was Mitroglou who was the man sacrificed by Rui Vitória for Júlio César’s entrance, as the pressure grew on the team reduced to 10 men on the brink of half time.
All worries were extinguished by André Carrillo into the second period, however, as Pizzi slipped the Peru international into the box before a composed dink over the keeper gave Benfica a 3-0 lead.
Arouca winger Kuca gave Júlio César the chance to remind fans of his worth in the 62nd minute, as the winger’s header inside the box, via a wicked deflection off Nélson Semedo, was saved at point-blank range by the Brazilian veteran.
And from one experienced Brazilian to another, Luisão saw his name up in lights, a game shy of his 500th appearance, but the centre back was unable to direct his volley from Pizzi’s free kick on target in the 77th minute, as Benfica ran out 3-0 winners.
Vitória de Guimarães 0-2 FC Porto
Having seen Benfica take all three points at home to Arouca, only a win for Porto at the fortress that is the Estádio D. Afonso Henriques would suffice.
Pedro Martins’ team were out to prove the win wouldn’t come easy, however, when his namesake striker, Rafael Martins, fired wide at Iker Casillas’ goal with real venom.
But Porto have a new toy, and one the ‘Vimaranenses’ know all about, as Tiquinho Soares pounced onto André Silva’s loose shot to score against his former club in the 36th minute, taking his tally to three goals in two appearances for the Dragons.
Raphinha, also a reported transfer target for Nuno Espírito Santo’s team, caused the title hopefuls a spot of bother either side of the interval, as Guimarães grew into the game.
Porto’s Felipe wasn’t far off grabbing the game’s second, albeit unintentionally, as Alex Telles’ free kick was hooked back into the box by Ivan Marcano and against his centre back partner, only for the deflection to trickle just wide of the mark in the 66th minute.
Even closer to the all-important double was Héctor Herrera directly from a corner, meanwhile Douglas was on hand to delay what seemed to be inevitable and prevent Danilo Pereira from finding the back of the net from the resulting rebound.
Second half substitute Diogo Jota tested himself against the Brazilian late on, who pulled off a comfortable save, but the Portuguese forward wasn’t as forgiving moments later, firing low at the near-post to clinch a 2-0 victory in the 85th minute.
Moreirense 2-3 Sporting
The Lions might well appear to be out of the equation for the title race, trailing first place by 10 points, but they do still have to be wary of Braga breathing down their necks, as the race for the final Champions League position continues.
Their rivals will have been sharpening their teeth when in the 17th minute a mix-up between Rui Patrício and Bruno César saw the latter direct the ball into his own net with his arm in an attempt to shield Ousmane Dramé from the ball and give Moreirense a surprise lead.
Sporting’s response came from Gelson Martins in the 36th minute, an unlikely source in the air, but the winger’s header inside the box was met by the in-form Giorgi Makaridze.
So often the refuge in hard times for Jorge Jesus’ side, Bas Dost turned provider down the channels to square a ball into Alan Ruiz’s path, and the Argentine’s strike found its way in via a deflection in the 40th minute to equalise.
Hope was short-lived, however, as Emmanuel Boateng reached a through ball before Rui Patrício and was swept off his feet by the Portugal number one, as the referee pointed to the spot without hesitation.
Cauê stepped up to the 12-yard-mark and made no mistake in the 43rd minute, giving the recently-acclaimed ‘Giant Killers’ a 2-1 lead before half time.
Stuck for inspiration, Jesus launched young Daniel Podence into the game, and it was from the winger’s feet that Sporting clawed their way back into the contest in the 68th minute.
The man formerly on loan at Moreirense hit the frame of the goal with a shot from outside the box, but Bas Dost ensured that Podence’s work wouldn’t go to waste, pouncing on the rebound to equalise for the away side.
Sporting then completed the turnaround through Adrien Silva, as Schelotto spotted his captain from the byline for a well-placed left-footed strike in the 73rd minute.
Moreirense weren’t quite dead and buried, however, replying no less than a minute later through ex-Sporting B man Dramé, but the luck that was present in their first goal deserted Augusto Inácio’s team for an instance, as the forward’s lobbed effort over Patrício bounced off the bar.
The Lions were able to close the game out and bounce back from last week’s disappointment with a 3-2 victory.
By Patrick Ribeiro
Benfica 3-0 Arouca
Tondela 0-1 Feirense
Estoril 2-1 P. Ferreira
Vit. Setúbal 0-0 Chaves
Vit. Guimarães 0-2 FC Porto
Nacional 1-1 Belenenses
Moreirense 2-3 Sporting
Boavista 1-1 Braga
Rio Ave – Maritimo