Familiar patterns are beginning to emerge amongst the dizzying heights of the Liga NOS table, with none of the traditional ‘Big Three’ succumbing to upsets for a third week running, and once again each of Benfica, Sporting and Porto’s main goal-getters adding to their tallies.
Benfica kicked proceedings off for the pack of title chasers on Friday night with the visit of Chaves to the Estádio da Luz, eventually overcome by the likes of Kostas Mitroglou in a hard-fought 3-1 victory.
Rivals Sporting were out for much of the same in their short journey to Estoril, as goals from Bryan Ruiz and Bas Dost reinforced their hold over third place.
FC Porto were tasked with overcoming their midweek European woes and cutting the gap between them and table-toppers Benfica back to one point in none other than the ‘Invicta Derby’, requiring just the one goal from the in-form Tiquinho Soares to skip past the Boavista hurdle. Here’s how things panned out for the Portuguese giants over the weekend.
Benfica 3-1 Chaves
We’re at that stage where only the three points will suffice, no matter how they come about, as Benfica welcomed one of the feel-good outfits of the season, Chaves, to their home.
The visitors instantly demonstrated their value for money with a defence-splitting pass in the 14th minute from Perdigão that left Fábio Martins one-on-one with Ederson, but the Braga loanee’s lack of control in the keeper’s presence killed the move.
Benfica proved to be cold-blooded with the game’s next chance in the 17th minute, as Mitroglou netted Nélson Semedo’s cross with his head and left Chaves appealing vigorously for a foul in the build-up to the ex-Fulham man’s execution.
Fábio Martins came into the cut again at the other end, feeding off William’s work inside the box, but the latter’s flick-on fell awkwardly for the winger’s volley over the bar.
Eduardo Salvio attracted his fair share of appreciation in the 42nd minute when plucking a pass out from the sky and timing a ball into Mitroglou inside the box before the Benfica hitman shot wide.
With the seesaw effect in full swing, Chaves found success via Renan Bressan’s Goal of the Season contender, as the midfielder took Perdigão’s cutback first time from the edge of the D to leave Ederson beaten by the sheer curve of his strike.
Semedo assists again
Benfica didn’t take long to rectify the scoreboard in the second period, however, as Nélson Semedo came racing down the right flank once more to set the incoming Mitroglou, but instead found himself assisting Rafa Silva for a routine back-post finish that put the league leaders back in the lead in the 50th minute.
Mitroglou dipped deep into the artistry archives to pull out a scissor kick just two minutes later, as the volleyed effort roamed passed Antonio Felipe’s goal with caution.
Pedro Tiba demonstrated there’d be no let-up from Chaves’ end when forcing Ederson into action with a venomous shot in the 82nd minute, but Mitroglou was on hand to allay any fears of an equaliser with minutes to spare, taking advantage of a poor Massaia clearance to stick a shot past the keeper and take his personal account to 13 in the league, as Benfica concluded a 3-1 victory.
Estoril 0-2 Sporting
Sporting have been quietly meshing results together away from the limelight of the title chase, but in their visit to the Estádio António Coimbra da Mota a new challenge emerged – to do so without club captain Adrien Silva.
The Lions had slipped up on all three occasions that their captain had been absent previously, but in an in-form Alan Ruiz they had the makings for a different story.
So often a creative spark for Jorge Jesus’ men in recent fixtures, the Argentine took the initiative in the game’s first chance to direct a cross with the outside of his boot for Ezequiel Schelotto’s skewed volley, but it was the former Colón man’s namesake, Bryan Ruiz, who took advantage of the Italian full back’s efforts to give Sporting first blood in the 22nd minute with a tap-in.
Both Licá and the like-minded Matheus Índio aimed to cancel out the Costa Rican’s goal with pops from range, with the two efforts falling comfortably within Rui Patrício’s grasp past the half-hour mark.
En vogue, this time it was Gelson unleashing the infamous ‘Trivela’ across goal for Bas Dost, but the Dutchman’s outstretched leg was only enough to hook the ball over the bar from close range.
Gelson was at it again from the flanks and enabled William Carvalho to fire away from the edge of the box before witnessing the defensive midfielder fluff his lines with a ballooned effort on the stroke of half-time.
New half, same provider, as Gelson was again on hand to set Dost with only the keeper to beat, but the league’s top scorer left everyone stunned, including himself, when side-footing the ball wide in the 56th minute.
Dost was almost left to rue his calamitous miss when Licá found Kléber requiring a sole touch at goal to potentially equalise in the 61st minute, as Paulo Oliveira’s timely interception robbed the ex-Porto pair of any joy.
João Palhinha then took a break from his defensive duties to unleash Gelson in behind Estoril’s high line, but again Sporting saw another chance go begging after the 21-year-old dragged his attempt wide.
Dost was eventually gifted the chance to make amends from the spot after being dragged down inside the box, albeit from an offside position, by Oumar Diakhite in the 85th minute.
The target man kept his cool from 12 yards and claimed his 18th league goal, subsequently making it three wins on the bounce for Sporting.
Boavista 0-1 FC Porto
This week it was Porto’s turn to nurse the effects of a continental hangover, as Nuno Espírito Santo called on the likes of Willy Boly and Óliver Torres to come into the XI in place of Felipe and André Silva.
Although André Silva’s demotion may have initially come as a surprise, Soares took just seven minutes to ensure the Portuguese striker wouldn’t be missed when getting on the end of Jesús Corona’s cross and charging the visitors into an early lead over local rivals Boavista.
Porto’s André André became the first to expose the derby’s uglier facet, as the referee brandished a yellow card for the midfielder who raised his studs when challenging Carraça.
The half-hour mark brought to us the first real chance for the hosts, as Anderson Carvalho latched onto an Iván Bulos knocked down before seeing Iker Casillas beat his volley away.
A classic slalom run from Yacine Brahimi induced panic at the other end, first through Soares’ effort that was well saved by Vagner and later when Óliver’s follow-up ran into a whole host of bodies before going out for a goal kick.
Brahimi was soon creating another opening for Soares in the 34th minute before the latter’s poor choice of execution saw the keeper claim an easy one-on-one save, whereas it was the Algerian’s miscalculated control inside the box that scuppered Porto’s next attack just three minutes later.
Talocha turned up the heat with a dangerous tackle on Corona, forcing the Mexican to go off injured with half-time looming and earning himself a kind yellow card before tempers between the two outfits flared. As the referee whistled for the break, Porto coach Nuno Espírito Santos was sent off for his protests.
The visitors totted up the complaints in the second period, this time after Maxi Pereira picked up a yellow for what the officiating team deemed to be a dive by the ex-Benfica man inside the box.
André André reminded us all that there was a game being played among all the fouls and yellow cards, as the diminutive playmaker set himself for a half-volley that didn’t go too far away from Vagner’s goal in the 75th minute.
Maxi Pereira then saw his initial yellow card come back to haunt him following a foul on André Bukia, leaving Porto to defend a 1-0 lead with 10 men in the final exchanges and eventually secure the all-important three points needed to keep up with Benfica’s pace.
By Patrick Ribeiro
Vit. Guimarães 1-0 Moreirense
Benfica 3-1 Chaves
Estoril Praia 0-2 Sporting
Rio Ave 0-0 P. Ferreira
Nacional 0-0 Feirense
Vit. Setúbal 1-1 Braga
Boavista 0-1 FC Porto
Monday, 27 February
Arouca - Belenenses