Well we’re finally here. After weeks of twists and turns, shocks and surprises, the games have simply run out and this weekend’s penultimate jornada could confirm not only who is relegated but consecrate Benfica as Champions.
Any other week this set of matches would have whetted the appetite, but add to that the jeopardy that some of the clubs face and this has potential to be the most exciting weekend of football we’ve had all season.
If results go Benfica’s way, they will claim 38th title (8 more than Porto have won and twice as many as Sporting), but perhaps more importantly to Benfica fans it would be their first title in four years.
After Arouca’s loss on Monday, their 3rd on the bounce, the European race has become a little more interesting. Vitória are looking good for finishing 5th above Arouca and Chaves and Famalicão have a chance of overtaking Arouca for 6th.
Surprisingly Chaves have recently announced they would not be registering for European football next season, a decision that may upset some fans but a decision that has the longevity of the club in the Primera Liga in mind (either way Arouca and Famalicão won’t care).
Estoril’s victory against Arouca last Monday confirmed the bottom three. Marítimo, Paços de Ferreira and Santa Clara are all now fighting to finish 16th in the Relegation Playoff spot. There’s a lot to play for but only two games to do it.
Friday: Marítimo v Vizela
Jornada 33 kicks off on Friday night with Marítimo v Vizela. The islanders hold all the cards in the relegation fight, 4 points above Santa Clara and 3 ahead of Paços. They need just one point to guarantee 16th. Vizela have had a poor finish to their otherwise excellent season. Two points in their last 5 games and only two goals will give Marítimo hope of a result in this game. The Madeira club have scored 9 goals in their last 5 games and it’s their attack that has put them above Pacos and Santa Clara.
Amen in the Azores?
Another island team, Santa Clara, have also found their shooting boots just when we thought they were dead and buried, and anything other than victory over Portimonense in the Azores on Saturday will confirm their automatic relegation. Three goals against Braga last weekend and three more goals the week before combined make 25% of the goals Santa Clara have scored all season!
We’ve found it hard to explain what has happened at Santa Clara in recent weeks. Newish manager Accioly, who had been assistant manager since 2019, may have galvanised the team but the players who are scoring are the Brazilian youngsters on loan who may just be playing for themselves now. Matheus Babi has looked good up top as has Gabriel Silva and both have shown us quality we haven’t seen all season. They may be hoping to secure a move to another club once Santa Clara are inevitably relegated.
Arouca to bounce back?
Arouca v Chaves might have been our second choice for game of the week but Chaves’ decision to not compete in Europe puts the focus solely on Arouca who are in desperate need of snapping out of their poor run of form.
Statistics don’t tell the whole story but it is very interesting looking at the Expected Table for the league to see Arouca in 15th after 32 games. Rather than actual results the expected table takes the teams xG score so for example Arouca may have won a game 1-0 but the xG score might have been 0.4-1.2 meaning the expected table would have that down as an Arouca loss. It does make sense when you think of the incredible performances of goalkeeper Arruabarrena and some of the ridiculous goals they’ve scored. Maybe their luck has simply run out but I feel they can bounce back and a win would guarantee European football next season.
Braga target points record
Porto and Braga have all but confirmed they’re place in the Champions League. Braga travel to Boavista and being 5 points behind Porto and 4 points above Sporting it looks certain they will finish third meaning they will have to go through qualification to get to the Champions League group stage.
They are also looking to beat their points record in the league which is 75 points and with 74 points currently and two games to go they look set to do it. Porto play Famalicão for the 3rd time in 4 weeks. In their recent Taça de Portugal semi-final they were victors twice, winning 2-1 and 3-2 but Famalicão didn’t make it easy for them and there was some bad blood at the end of the second leg. There’s the added pressure that a Porto loss makes Benfica champions but one thing Porto has consistently done this season is win even when they’re not playing well.
Lisbon derby dominates Sunday action
On Sunday it’s hard to focus on any other game other than the Derby de Lisboa. The only other game with real consequence is Paços de Ferreira v Rio Ave but that will be dependent on Marítimo’s result on Saturday.
Sporting host Benfica who may already be champions should Porto lose. Regardless, Benfica will turn up wanting to win and Sporting will do everything they can to rain on Benfica’s parade. In the reverse fixture back in January Sporting managed to frustrate Benfica going 2-1 up only to see Gonçalo Ramos claw back a point. With a goal in his last game but perhaps more importantly a performance that showed his full ability and how far he’s come this season, Sporting will do well to keep him at bay. Like Ramos, in recent games the whole Benfica team seems to be back to their rampant best.
Sporting themselves have a good record for scoring at home and with Paulinho back in contention Amorim will have options in attack. But at the back is where we have seen most of Sporting’s problems this season. Despite the impressive start to Diamonde’s Sporting career, the ageing Coates and Adán have made some costly mistakes this season. Adán will sit this one out after his red card last week against Marítimo, so reserve goalkeeper Franco Israel will step in.
With Nuno Santos, a natural winger, most likely to play left wing back and either Esgaio or Bellerin at right wing back, defending wide areas could be a real issue for Sporting against the likes of Neres and Rafa.
Perhaps the most interesting battle will be in midfield though, Benfica seem revitalised with the young João Neves adding new energy to their midfield. We’ll really see his metal up against Ugarte who could give him the toughest game he’s had yet. Expect to see a fair few sparks in this game, it’ll be feisty, ferocious and full of drama so don’t miss it.
Players to look out for
Pedro Goncalves (Sporting) - In a season full of inconsistencies, Pote has been Mr Consistent for Sporting this season. And with so much negativity around Sporting’s campaign, his performances have gone a little under the radar. He’s faced Benfica 10 times in his career and scored 4 and assisted 4 in those games. If anyone is going to ruin Benfica’s party its Gonçalves.
David Neres (Benfica) - Maybe at the start of the season we would have expected David Neres to have a few more goals to his name than he has, but we’ve seen him offer so much more on the pitch in recent weeks. Three assists in his last 4 games doesn’t give him enough credit for all the moves he starts, the players he takes out the game with his marauding dribbles, the disguised passes. He certainly has what it takes to unlock Sporting’s defence on Sunday.
André Vidigal (Marítimo) - Having played most of this season as a left winger, Vidigal failed to make any real impact. But since being deployed through the middle as a striker Marítimo are scoring and he’s bagged 5 goals in his last 7 games. Could he be the one to secure 16th spot and a chance of safety this weekend?
Mikey Johnston (Vitória) - It’s fair to say Johnston’s loan from Celtic has been a success. He’s adapted to the league so well and now a regular starter for Vitória and their push to secure 5th spot and European football. Some rumours are bubbling about the move becoming permanent but to avoid disappointment watch him while you can.
Gabriel Veron (Porto) - Opportunities have been hard to come by for Veron since his big money move to Porto, but he played a big part in turning around Porto’s game against Casa Pia last weekend. With João Mário still out injured Pepe Aquino should fill in at right back meaning there’s a place potentially on the wing for Veron. He’s got a very direct style of play and will look to dribble past defenders when he can.
By Barney Carter-Phillips