The Lisbon derby. One of the biggest games in the Portuguese football calendar. That’s right, this weekend Estoril will be hosting Casa Pia in a quite simply unmissable game.
Jokes aside, this weekend is of course all about Benfica vs. Sporting, and what better time could there be for a massive game like this with Lisbon’s two biggest clubs in markedly different places at the minute?
PortuGOAL previews the huge encounter in the Portuguese capital and the rest of the weekend schedule.
Whilst Benfica got an important league victory against Chaves last weekend, another dismal performance and loss in the Champions League means they must once again face the ire of their frustrated fans. Sporting, on the other hand, are the only one of the big three who are giving their fans something to feel good about, sitting top of the table and looking comfortably the league’s best team.
The intense nature of these games nearly always leaves a lasting impact on the league, but this time it has the potential to completely derail Benfica’s season, or ignite Sporting’s in their bid for another Primeira Liga title.
The “Eternal Derby”
The Dérbi de Lisboa, also known as “O Dérbi Eterno” is quite simply one of the biggest games in the Portuguese football calendar, topped only in recent years by the Clássico between Benfica and Porto. It’s rare that this game doesn’t have a significant impact on the league and this season is no different, the only difference being that in recent years we’ve become used to Benfica leading the way and Sporting looking to cause an upset. This season the Leões go into this game top of the table, and you have to say they are favourites to win this fixture for the first time in a while.
Despite only being 3 points apart in the league, the two teams go into this game worlds apart in terms of confidence, Benfica haven’t been able to shake off the negativity surrounding their Champions League campaign which has so far seen them lose all four of their group stage games, scoring only one goal in the process. We saw this poor form slip into the league a couple of weeks ago with a surprising 1-1 draw at home against comparative minnows Casa Pia, but they followed this up with an important 2-0 win away at Chaves, even if the performance left a little to be desired. They’ve won 8 out of 10 games in the league this season, but the pressure mounting on the players and manager to perform is immense, you sense anything other than a win in this game will further open some nasty wounds.
Sporting are yet to lose this season and only dropped points once against Braga back in September. Not only have they won a lot of games, but they’ve won games in a variety of ways which will please fans and neutral observers alike; comfortably breezing past teams at times, but also grinding out hard-earned victories when the going gets tough, like coming from behind to beat Estrela da Amadora 3-2 in their last game.
This is undoubtedly the toughest test of Sporting’s season so far however, and it will require another great performance if they’re to get a win. This will be the first taste of a Portuguese derby for the likes of new signings Victor Gyökeres and Morten Hjulmand, but they’ve answered nearly every question that’s been asked of them so far, so Sporting fans can be optimistic that both the new faces, and more experienced players, will deliver for them on the biggest stage.
Tough Vitória test for Porto
Outside of the Lisbon derby, Porto will want to put right their disappointing defeat against Estoril, having lost to the then bottom placed side 1-0 at home last weekend. They would’ve hoped therefore for a slightly easier game than travelling away to Guimarães to play Vitória, but they’ll have to overcome Álvaro Pacheco’s side who are in decent form if they’re to get an important win. Mehdi Taremi continues to fire blanks, and a number of Porto players are out of form, but the return of Francisco Conceição has brought a spark back to Porto’s attacking line-up, and Stephen Eustáquio continues to impress in midfield so there are more than enough positives to give Porto a good chance of a win.
Best of the rest
There’s a number of interesting games between the league’s smaller sides, in particular between Estrela da Amadora and Moreirense as the two newly promoted sides go head-to-head for the first time this season. Both sides have looked impressive since making the step up from the Segunda Liga. Moreirense started the season showing a lot of promise but not converting brave performances into points. That has all changed in recent games and they now sit 6th in the table. Estrela have themselves punched above their weight since arriving in the top division, as recently as their last game where they went 2-1 ahead against Sporting away from home. They would’ve felt somewhat disappointed to walk away from that game with nothing, but the performance was positive and indicative of how far they’ve come. This will be a fascinating game between two teams in similar places.
On Friday night improving Estoril host Casa Pia in another difficult-to-predict match between two interesting teams. Braga would appear to have the perfect opportunity to recover from their Champions League lesson at Real Madrid in midweek as they travel to troubled Arouca on Sunday evening, and earlier on the same day Boavista versus Farense could provide fireworks.
Five players to keep an eye on
Ángel di María (Benfica): With all of Benfica’s struggles mounting up they will need their senior players to step up for this vitally important derby. This might be the sort of pressure game World Cup winner Di Maria can thrive in so watch out for his performance.
Marcus Edwards (Sporting): On this week’s podcast we described Edwards performance against Estrela as the best we’ve ever seen from him. The match against Benfica seems like the perfect opportunity for him to silence any doubters out there and to prove that he’s really made the step up to that elite level.
Gonçalo Franco (Moreirense): Moreirense as a whole have performed remarkably well this season with many eye-catching performances. Perhaps not so spectacular but equally important is the job Gonçalo Franco has been doing. A really talented midfielder who can do everything and has shown real maturity despite being just 22 years old. A player of huge potential and one we could see at a bigger club next season.
Bruno Varela (Vitoria): At the start of the season Buno Varela’s absence from the team was noticeable and coincided with the poor form that saw manager Moreno leave. New attack-minded manager Pacheco will not bring guaranteed stability at the back so Varela’s guidance to Vitoria’s inexperienced back line will be vital if they are hoping to frustrate Porto.
Ronald (Estrela): He may possibly have the best name in the league but Ronald is proving more and more that he has more to offer than just that. With a goal and an assist to his name now as well being one of the best dribblers in the league his performances for Estrela this season are why they are mid table and giving the best teams a run for their money this season.
by Albert Carter-Phillips (@LongBallFutebol)