This weekend the Primeira Liga reaches the exact halfway stage, and the standout fixture takes place in the Portuguese capital on Saturday afternoon as Sporting Clube de Portugal host FC Porto.
A win for the visitors will almost certainly extinguish Sporting’s hopes of ending their long barren spell without winning the league for another year, while simultaneously putting the Dragons in a strong position to retain their Portuguese championship title.
PortuGOAL previews the clash of the titans at Alvalade.
Despite a summer of commotion, Sporting began the season by clocking up consistently good results, and enthusiasm among the fanbase was further enhanced when new coach Marcel Keizer oversaw a spectacular start to his tenure at the Lisbon club. With the Dutch manager at the helm, the Lions reeled off seven straight victories, scoring 30 goals in the process, with the free-flowing football quite the opposite to what José Peseiro’s stodgy team had produced.
However, the bubble of optimism has been burst with two defeats in the last four matches. While a loss at high-flying Vitória Guimarães was not entirely inexcusable, the 2-1 reverse and meek performance at lowly Tondela on Monday severely dented the club’s title aspirations. Sporting are now 8 points adrift of league leaders Porto, and only victory against the northerners will rekindle hope that a title challenge is possible.
Porto, on the other hand, could not be in better shape. Sérgio Concieção’s team have won 18 consecutive matches in all competitions – a club record – and should another victory occur tomorrow, it will establish the outright record for successive wins in competitive play for any Portuguese team.
More significantly, it would mean Porto would extend their lead over the second-placed team for a fourth consecutive round of matches following Braga’s 1-1 draw at Portimonense yesterday, building a minimum of a 7-point buffer, thus leaving them well placed to lift the Liga NOS crown again.
That said, Porto’s record at Alvalade is not good in recent years. You have to go back a decade, to 2008, for Porto’s last victory at the stadium in the league. Moreover, Sporting have won 8/8 matches in the 2018/19 championship.
If Benfica fail to beat Santa Clara in the Azores tonight, then Porto’s lead at the top should they beat Sporting will stretch to 8 points. For UK television viewers, the Santa Clara-Benfica match is live on FreeSports from 7.00 pm.
Team news and tactics
Sporting have to make do without Marcos Acuña after the Argentine picked up his fifth yellow card against Tondela and so misses the match through suspension, and Fredy Montero is also doubtful with injury. Better news for the Lions is the return of star striker Bas Dost, who has recovered from a traumatised skull and will be in the starting XI, while fellow striker Luiz Phellype, newly signed from Paços de Ferreira, also makes the squad.
Sporting are set to stick to Keizer’s 4-3-3 formation, the main doubt being who will line up on the right wing – either Raphinha or Diaby.
As for Porto, with a full-strength squad to choose from apart from long-term injury victims Aboubakar and Otávio, the main curiosity lies in whether or not new signing Pepe will come straight into the team. The Portugal centre-back has not played since donning the Besiktas shirt for the last time on 11 November, so may have to wait for his second debut at the club.
Despite the tough task ahead for his team, Conceição is likely to stick to his preferred 4-4-2 formation, with Moussa Marega and Tiquinho Soares spearheading the attack.
Marcel Keizer, Sporting coach: “We’re halfway through the season. It’s a very important game, against a very good team, but it’s not a decisive match.”
Sérgio Conceição, Porto coach: “Porto’s aim is always to win and I presume Sporting’s is the same. We only look at the points difference until the referee blows his whistle. The game will have its own story, so we have to be focused to win the three points.”
Predicted Sporting XI:
Renan Ribeiro, Bruno Gaspar, Coates, Mathieu, Jefferson, Gudelj, Bruno Fernandes, Wendel, Nani, Diaby, Bas Dost
Predicted Porto XI:
Casillas, Maxi Pereira, Felipe, Militão, Alex Telles, Danilo, Herrera, Corona, Brahimi, Soares, Marega
For viewers in the United Kingdom, the match will be screened on FreeSports tomorrow, albeit not live on this occasion because of the UK’s 3pm blackout rule.
By Tom Kundert