The 2020/21 season will go down in football history as one of the most unusual ever all around the world. The Covid-19 pandemic led to a full campaign without spectators in the stadiums and an extremely compressed match schedule with games seemingly taking place non-stop.
Nonetheless, the beautiful game has again delivered in bringing entertainment and no little light relief during these concerning times for so many. And in Portugal, as the season moves into the home straight, there is no lack of excitement with plenty of big outcomes still hanging in the balance.
With 10 matches of the 34-game Primeira Liga remaining, PortuGOAL looks at the state of play in the Liga NOS.
Title winners: Sporting set to end drought?
If last August you had asked 100 Portuguese football analysts if Sporting would be 10 points clear at the top of the table at this stage of the season, you would have got a resounding one hundred replies of “NÃO”.
Rúben Amorim has operated a minor miracle at Alvalade, and a first championship triumph since 2001/2002 now looks a certainty. A mix of seasoned veterans and brilliant up-and-coming talents has been expertly blended into a solid and cohesive unit by the young coach.
Sporting have enjoyed their best ever start to a season, remaining unbeaten after 24 matches, winning 20 and drawing four of them, and the magnificent performances of stars such as captain Sebastián Coates, wing-backs Pedro Porro and Nuno Mendes, holding midfielder João Palhinha and free-scoring midfielder Pedro Gonçalves suggest the Lions will not throw it away from here.
Perhaps the more pertinent question as regards the champions elect is whether this is the start of a successful era or just a one-off.
The Champions League scrap
Porto and Benfica have been used to fighting it out for top spot in recent times. This year the battle is just as intense, but prize at stake is second place, which gives automatic entry to the UEFA Champions League group stage and a guaranteed windfall of millions of euros.
The Dragons are currently in the box seat, three points ahead of their great rivals from the capital, but Benfica have at last found form, winning five games in a row in a run during which they have not conceded a single goal.
This duel looks like it will go to the wire, with the FC Porto-Benfica encounter on matchday 30 potentially holding the key to who will finish second.
That said, Braga cannot be ruled out of the race. Carlos Carvalhal’s team are just a point behind Benfica and should the top two drop points, the Arsenalistas could pounce to grab second place, or maybe third, equally lucrative in potential as it is a ticket to the Champions League qualifiers.
Wild battle to beat the drop
Arguably the most intriguing battle taking place in the closing weeks of the season is at the other end of the table, given the number of teams desperately fighting to beat relegation to Portugal’s second tier.
To spice up the tussle even more, this season a new format has been introduced in Portugal, whereby the team that finishes 16th (third from last) will go into a playoff against the side that finishes 3rd in the Second Division to decide who earns the right to play top-flight football next season. So instead of trying to finish outside the last two places, like usual, this season the bottom three spots are to be avoided at all cost.
The current table looks bad for the representatives from Madeira, with both Nacional and Marítimo below the water line. Historical Porto club Boavista would also be relegated if the season finished today, rendering their heavy investment and recruitment policy from last summer a disaster.
However, there is hope for the bottom three. Incredibly, just two points separate the bottom six clubs, and so tight is the lower half of the table in terms of points that potential candidates for relegation go all the way up to Rio Ave, who are currently 10th but only 6 points above last place!
A win or two for any of the bottom ten teams and suddenly they have kicked clear of the relegation zone, but conversely, two or three losses on the bounce and you are in big trouble. This is simply too close to call and it is very probable that several clubs will only learn their fate after the final round of matches have been played on 19 May. Watch this space.
Where to watch the action unfold
As explained above, there is still plenty to play for in the remainder of the 2020/21 Primeira Liga in Portugal. There are many streaming platforms allowing you to catch a glimpse of your favourite Portuguese players and teams in action. When they are unavailable due to geo-restrictions, turn to a streaming VPN. It allows you to change your IP address and, in turn, change the location services see when you visit them. As a result, you will be able to access more content from anywhere you go.