Benfica beat 10-man Porto in the Portuguese capital tonight to rise to the top of the table and inflict a first league defeat of the season on the Dragons.
The visitors were reduced to ten men before 20 minutes were up when Fábio Cardoso received a straight red card for bringing down David Neres.
Benfica took their time to profit from their numerical advantage, Di María continuing his free-scoring early-season form to net the all-important winner midway through the second half.
Neres gets the nod
Roger Schmidt opted for an attacking lineup, selecting David Neres, Di Maria and Rafa Silva to supply the bullets for front man Petar Musa, with João Neves partnering Orkun Kökcü in midfield, and João Mário dropping to the bench.
For Porto the main news was the absence of centre-back Pepe, with David Carmo and Fábio Cardoso at the heart of defence, and in midfield Romário Baró was preferred to André Franco or Iván Jaime as Conceição opted for more muscle over creativity.
The match almost started with a bang as Neres put Porto goalkeeper Diogo Costa under pressure, his rushed clearance leading to a chance for Di María who shot over the bar. Porto soon hit back with Stephen Eustáquio shooting on the turn, his effort whistling wide. Neither team were creating much, a firm Galeno shot going straight at Trubin.
Early red card
But in the 19th minute the visitors suffered a huge blow as Fábio Cardoso was sent off. The centre-back appeared to initially win the ball from Neres with a sliding tackle, but with his trailing leg he tripped up the Brazilian who was about to skip over him. The referee had no doubts and immediately brandished the red card. Less than halfway through the first half and Porto were down to 10 men.
Conceição was forced to rejig his lineup. In the absence of injured center-backs Pepe and Marcano, B-team centre-back Zé Pedro came on and the unfortunate Romário Baró, who had made a promising start to the game, was sacrificed and forced onto the bench.
The ten men of Porto did not abdicate to attack though, Benfica goalkeeper Trubin showing he was alert to race out of his goal and thwart Mehdi Taremi who had broken free. Diogo Costa then saved well to avert an own goal by Alan Varela.
A Benfica breakaway led to another moment of drama as the turbo-charged Rafa speeded past David Carmo despite a big head start for the Porto defender, who ended up bringing down the forward. The crowd screamed for another red card but this time the referee opted for yellow.
Trubin saves well
Despite their numerical advantage Benfica were not getting any joy out the makeshift Porto back line and it needed a brilliant save from Trubin to prevent Porto from taking the lead shortly before the break, the Ukrainian goalkeeper tipping over a powerful Pepê shot.
A weak header from the anonymous Musa and a Di María shot over the bar just before the break failed to appease the impatient home supporters after a strangely muted 45 minutes from the Eagles.
Roger Schmidt must have felt the same frustrations as the home fans. Whatever the German said to his players at the break had the desired effect as the Eagles came out with far more attacking intent.
In the 52nd minute Kökcü latched onto a half-cleared cross and directed a cross-shot that bobbled past the diving Diogo Costa who was relieved to see the ball bounce off the post. Moments later Neres seemed certain to score after good work by Di María, but the Brazilian was denied by an excellent Costa save.
The chances were now coming thick and fast, Otamendi sliding in at the second post but directing his effort into the side-netting. Next it was Alan Varela who was Porto’s saviour, a brilliant block intercepting a Neres shot destined for the back of the net.
Di María strikes
In the 68th minute the goal Benfica had been threatening duly arrived after a fine team move. Kökcü and Aursnes combined to release Neres, who crossed low for Di María whose shot beat the exposed Diogo Costa with the aid of a deflection off Wendell.
Di María’s world-cup winning team-mate Otamendi almost doubled the lead five minutes later after a lovely cut-back by Kökcü, his thumping shot just clearing the bar.
Benfica defended their lead for the rest of the match without undue alarm, both sides making a series of substitutions that had little effect other than to break up play in a largely forgettable match.
Conceição downs Otamendi
The final incident of note was pint-sized Francisco Conceição jumping into man mountain Otamendi who fell to the floor like a sack of potatoes, then remonstrated with the referee for only showing the yellow card to the Porto winger.
There is no love lost between these two sides and Clássico matches are always intense affairs, almost always involving red cards and plenty of controversy, punctuated by moments of high-quality football. This game lacked the latter ingredient.
Benfica will not care though, the three precious points for the reigning champions the reward for a first victory over their great rivals at the Estádio da Luz since 2018.
By Tom Kundert at the Estádio da Luz
Benfica: Trubin, Bah, António Silva, Otamendi, Aursnes, João Neves, Kökcü, Di María (João Mário, 85’), Rafa, David Neres (Jurásek, 85’), Musa (Artur Cabral, 66’)
FC Porto: Diogo Costa, João Mário, Fábio Cardoso, David Carmo, Wendell (Gonçalo Borges, 79’), Varela (Iván Jaime, 84’), Romário Baró (Zé Pedro, 24’), Eustaquio, Pepê (Francisco Conceição, 80’), Taremi, Galeno
[1-0] Di María, 68’