Primeira Liga Jornada 32 preview: Title-chasing Benfica travel to the Algarve

Benfica surpassed a huge potential banana skin by beating Braga last week, leaving themselves four points clear of second-placed Porto with three games to go. Two wins out of three will be enough to secure them the title, though a game against Sporting in a week’s time will be another tough test.

Braga’s loss may have opened the door slightly for Sporting to steal the last Champions league spot, but they’ll have to win all their remaining games (including beating Benfica) and hope Braga lose twice. For Benfica and Braga, you sense wins will all but confirm their first and third positions. 

Elsewhere, teams striving to qualify for European football next season and to survive in the top flight are entering the do or die phase of the campaign.

PortuGOAL, in collaboration with the Long Ball Futebol podcast, previews all the weekend action. 

Outside of the top four, the race for Europe could take one last twist with Vitória coming into form at just the right time, and Arouca seemingly running out of steam. Vitória could overtake Arouca and move into 5th place in the next few games. Fortunately for Arouca, Porto qualifying for the Taça de Portugal final opens up 6th place as an additional Europa Conference League spot, so moving down a place in the league table wouldn’t be a total disaster. However Chaves and Famalicão might just fancy their chances of stealing that spot for themselves.

For a couple of weeks it seemed as if the relegation battle might get a bit more interesting, with Marítimo giving themselves a chance of overtaking Estoril, but with recent losses for Marítimo, Paços and Santa Clara, a 5-point rift has opened up between the bottom three and the rest of the league, meaning the only battle could be which club gets the lifeline of the relegation playoff spot (16th).

Friday: Gil Vicente attempt to halt slide against buoyant Boavista

Jornada 32 kicks off on Friday night with Gil Vicente vs Boavista. After such a promising start to 2023 under Daniel Sousa, Gil Vicente’s form has fallen off a cliff and they’re currently one of the worst performing teams in the league (including becoming the first team to lose to Santa Clara since November 2022 last weekend).

They’re up against a Boavista team in decent form, but with neither team having anything to play for, this game will come down to which team is the most motivated. Fran Navarro will want to add to his already healthy goal tally for the season to put himself in the shop window for the summer transfer window, whilst Yusupha Njie, Ricardo Mangas and Kenji Gorré have all impressed for Boavista in recent weeks.

Saturday: Lisbon clubs take centre stage

There are four games to enjoy on Saturday, including Lisbon’s two Grandes as Benfica travel to Portimão and Sporting host Marítimo. Both teams will be expected to win their games. A victory for Benfica will put them one win away from the title, whilst Sporting are playing for pride, and the slimmest of hopes of Champions League football. Benfica will know that a win against Portimonense sets them up for the mouth-watering opportunity to win the league title in the home of their Lisbon rival’s next weekend.

Earlier in the day Chaves host Paços de Ferreira. Paços are clinging on to their Primeira Liga status by the most fragile of threads. Only a win will do, but recent performances don’t inspire a lot of confidence in their ability to win against anyone at the moment. Chaves have won 3 of their last 5 games and are just four points off the European places and will go into this game showing no mercy to the relegation threatened team.

Lastly, only a few weeks ago Vizela vs Famalicão would have also been a big game in the race for Europe, but both teams have lost their last three league games, and will struggle to catch up with those teams ahead of them.

Sunday: Last rites for Santa Clara?

Sunday brings us three great games, and two more of the top four in action. Braga are at home to bottom placed Santa Clara, and similarly to Benfica, know that a win would put them just one win away from their target of Champions league football. A game at home to Santa Clara would seem like the perfect game to get an easy win, but Santa Clara won their first game of 2023 last weekend. Surely they’re not about to go on the unlikeliest of end of season runs? A defeat for Santa Clara coupled with a Marítimo victory will relegate the Azorean club.

Porto are at home to Casa Pia in a game where anything other than a home win would be a big surprise. There’s no point pretending that Porto won’t have been gutted by Benfica’s win last weekend against Braga. They needed to overturn 4 points in 4 games to steal the title from their Lisbon rivals, and the Arsenalistas were arguably the toughest test Benfica had to face for the rest of the season. To pull off a late-season turnaround, the Dragons must win all their remaining games and hope that Benfica slip up not once, but twice in three matches.

Rio Ave vs Vitória could be a really interesting game on Sunday afternoon. Vitória are back in form after a temporary blip, and gunning for 5th place in the table. Rio Ave will finish the season comfortably in mid-table, but have had their own moments of positivity this season. Two teams playing good football with plenty of talented players to look out for.

Monday: Arouca look to bounce back

The weekend wraps up on Monday with Estoril vs Arouca. Arouca will be desperate not to lose three games in a row, and get another victory to keep themselves in 5th place with Vitória breathing down their necks. Estoril have been very poor this season, and three wins in their last 15 games says a lot about this team’s ability. They are somehow just staying afloat above the relegation zone, but another win would really settle any last minute nerves.

Players to look out for

Ricardo Mangas (Boavista): Over his two spells at Boavista Mangas has been used primarily as a left-back, or left wing-back, but Petit this season has moved him into the right side of a front three and he’s been very effective, scoring four goals in the league so far. Coming up against a weak Gil Vicente side, he could well be influential in Boavista’s attack.

João Texeira (Chaves): The Portuguese playmaker hasn’t quite lit up the league in the way some may have predicted after his form in Chaves’ promotion season last year, but he’s started to show what he can do in recent games, including the winning goal in their game against Famalicão last week. His undeniable talent will be on display against Paços.

Mamadou Tounkara (Vitória): Vitória’s turnaround in form has come about in no small part thanks to a new found solidity at the back, and 21-year-old Frenchman Tounkara has been a big part of that. After only a handful of appearances for most of the season, he’s become a solid starter in recent games and has put in some very mature performances.

Ivan Marcano (Porto): A veteran 37-year-old centre back might not be the obvious player to keep an eye on, but Marcano has gone under the radar as a super reliable figure in Porto’s defence recently, keeping things tight alongside Pepe in difficult games when their attack hasn’t always been firing on all cylinders. He’s also scored four goals this season so could pop up with a goal at the other end of the pitch (as he did in last week’s 1-0 win at Arouca).

Tiago Santos (Estoril): Despite their poor form, Estoril will be hoping for a win this weekend, and one of their best players this season has been 20-year-old Portuguese right-back Tiago Santos. Impressing from right back in a relegation threatened team isn’t easy, so the fact that he’s been linked with some of Portugal’s best teams is testament to his progress this season.

By Albert Carter-Phillips