The race for Europa League qualification in Liga NOS is hotting up of late with the contenders dropping in and out of form interchangeably. This particular contest also had a new dimension added to it this week as Porto and Benfica’s confirmation as this season’s Taça de Portugal finalists means an extra space in Europe will be awarded to the team that finishes 5th domestically, given the current top two once again look nailed on for the two available Champions League places. Ahead I take a look at the contenders in the battle for Europe.

Sporting (currently 3rd: 35 points)

The Lisbon side may well lead the contenders for Europe but sadly Estádio José Alvalade remains far from a happy camp amid fan protests against the club president and a season riddled with some positives but plenty of negatives too. A Supertaça thrashing from Benfica set the tone for the campaign and the recent departure of captain and talisman Bruno Fernandes has done little to settle the tension. Still, there are players more than capable of ensuring Sporting make the Europa League once again next season, the likes of Marcos Acuña, Wendel and Luciano Vietto all showing quality at times. If they and the rest of the side can help establish some calm (11 wins and 7 defeats from 20 league games gives an insight into the erratic nature of the season) then a top 3 finish should not be beyond them.

Liga NOS Match of the season:

A display when the attack was firing on all cylinders, Sporting wasted little time in putting Portimonense to the sword. The much-missed duo of Bruno Fernandes and Raphinha were excellent, while Luciano Vietto put in arguably his performance of the season.

 

Braga (4th: 34 points)

Braga certainly are looking the most likely to claim the European places after some superb recent form barring an aberration against Gil Vicente last weekend. They’ve proven their credentials in the Europa League this season after an impressive group stage win amid tough competition in seasoned campaigners Beşiktaş and fellow Portuguese side Wolves. The winter managerial change in replacing Sá Pinto with rookie coach Rúben Amorim has proved an inspired choice so far, the latter has yet to taste defeat in charge and already has silverware in the bank after defeating Porto in the Taça da Liga final. Key clashes remain ahead, not least this weekend away to champions Benfica while the season ends by hosting Porto, but an otherwise favourable run-in should make them heavy favourites for the top 4 at least, provided continued progression in the Europa League knockouts does not provide the same domestic distraction as it did earlier on under Sá Pinto.

Liga NOS Match of the season:

A devastating demolition of Belenenses in Rúben Amorim’s first match in charge. The Arsenalistas were relentless, Paulinho and Ricardo Horta proving unstoppable in attack as the new manager’s 3-4-3 system paid immediate dividends.

 

Rio Ave (5th: 32 points)

Much of the season has been littered with inconsistency but since the turn of the year this talented squad has really stepped up a level. Carlos Carvalhal has Rio Ave playing with a good balance of flair and steel, and along with Braga they are the form team in the chasing pack for Europe. Led by the excellent Mehdi Taremi in attack, the supporting cast of the likes of Nuno Santos, Diego Lopes and evergreen skipper Tarantini are all hitting form at the right time and a first appearance in the Europa League proper since 2014/15 beckons if they can keep this run going.

Liga NOS Match of the season:

It may have taken three spot-kicks to do so but this was a statement of intent from Rio Ave and a deserved victory on a ground at which they had suffered a lot previously. Mehdi Taremi gave Sebástien Coates the right run around, winning each penalty off of the Uruguayan defender who eventually saw red.

 

Famalicão (6th: 32 points)

The fact that the team are even amongst the challengers for Europe is a barometer for how remarkably Famalicão’s first top flight season since 1993/94 has gone. An electric start to the campaign in which they frequently occupied the top 3 positions and even 1st place itself amid some fantastic displays has perhaps predictably given way to a drop off in quality, the team losing some points in some winnable matches lately, certainly based on the high bar they set earlier in the season. Manager João Pedro Sousa has done an admirable job in his first season in charge, and has been helped in no small part by an array of attacking talent in the form of Fábio Martins, Toni Martínez and Anderson to name just a handful of their many exceptional performers. The club remains adamant that simply survival was the number one goal for 2019/20, and with that comfortably achieved and the side still very much on the young side, it feels they might just fall a fraction short of a European bonus unless they can recover some of their early season flair.

Liga NOS Match of the season:

Many expected the wheels to come off in such a tough fixture after Famalicao’s dream start to the campaign and this looked accurate after Luciano Vietto’s stunning opener. The promoted side though produced a spirited second half display that belied their lack of experience, keeping their composure and playing their way to a deserved turnaround for what probably remains their biggest win of the season.

 

Vitória Guimarães (7th: 28 points)

A team that unlike some of the other contenders have recent Europa League experience to call on, namely a disappointing group phase campaign this year albeit having been selected in a tricky group. Predictably this European participation proved something of a hinderance to Vitória domestically, their current record of 7 wins, 7 draws and 6 losses in Liga NOS highlighting their lack of consistency. Excellent team and individual performances were abound at the weekend though, their 7-0 demolition of fellow challengers Famalicão could yet prove a turning point in their quest to be on the European stage once again in 2020/21.

Liga NOS Match of the season:

No prizes for guessing this one, their opponents were much-changed but this does not detract from a ruthless attacking display in which Vitória’s strength in depth was evident. No mercy was shown as Bruno Duarte, Marcus Edwards and Joao Carlos Teixeira led the charge closer towards the top five in Liga NOS.

 

Boavista (8th: 28 points)

An honourable mention for an improving Boavista side that could yet make a late push for the top 5. Level on points with Vitória Guimarães, Daniel Ramos has tightened the team up after negotiating a tricky transition spell from previous boss Lito Vidigal. They are hardly the great entertainers, 17 goals scored and 17 conceded throughout a frugal campaign, as their league position suggests they are considered outsiders to make Europe.

Liga NOS Match of the season:

Boavista’s biggest scalp of the season, they struck early and late through Rafael Costa and Mateus respectively to maintain what was at the time an unbeaten start to the league campaign.



By Jamie Farr

@FRfutebolJamie

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“Racist behaviour is intolerable in an open and developed society. The Portuguese Football Federation expresses its solidarity with the player Moussa Marega. The perpetrators of racist insults should be identified and brought to justice.”

Fernando Gomes
(FPF president reacts to the racism incident in the Vitória Guimarães-FC Porto match) 

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