For the first time since Jornada 13, we have a new leader at the top of the Primeira Liga table, but all is not as it seems. Benfica’s 3-0 win over Gil Vicente saw them move into 1st place at the expense of Sporting, who’s game against Famalicão was postponed due to policing issues at the stadium.
Sporting will want to get straight back to winning ways this weekend but face a tough test hosting Braga at Alvalade, Benfica themselves face a difficult trip to Guimarães, and Porto, who dropped points against Rio Ave last weekend, travel to an Arouca side on good form.
On the face of it tough assignments await each of the current top four sides in the league. PortuGOAL previews the weekend action.
Sunday blockbuster at Alvalade
Sporting v Braga is easily the standout fixture of the weekend. Ruben Amorim’s side are flying high despite missing a week of Primeira Liga football and seeing their Lisbon rivals rise above them in the table. They beat UD Leiria comfortably in the Taça de Portugal in midweek, and go into their game against Braga with a strong squad of players brimming with confidence, further boosted by the return of Hidemasa Morita after Japan’s elimination from the Asian Cup.
Braga are also in a good place, having recently won the Allianz Cup final, beating Sporting in the semi-finals, a result which will give them great confidence ahead of this game. It is unclear whether they will have Simon Banza available to them, with DR Congo having been knocked out of the AFCON on Wednesday. Sunday’s game against Sporting might just come too soon for the Congolese striker to be back in the Braga starting XI. His stand-in replacement up front for Braga has been Spaniard Abel Ruiz, a striker who’s never been a prolific goalscorer, but who scored the winning goal against Moreirense last week, and against Sporting in the aforementioned Taça da Liga semi-final victory.
In-form Vitória eye Benfica upset
Benfica face arguably their toughest test since their Allianz Cup semi-final defeat to Estoril in January, as they travel to Guimarães to face an in-form Vitória side who’ve won 3 out of their last 4 league games and sit just one point behind Braga in 5th place. Benfica themselves though will be full of confidence, having moved top of the table and on a run of consistent and impressive victories. Their striking options now look to be in a great place, with the arrival of promising youngster Marcos Leonardo providing not only a fresh attacking presence, but also seemingly motivating Artur Cabral to play at his best.
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Can Porto bounce back at Arouca?
Just as we thought Porto were getting their season back on track, they drop points in a seemingly comfortable game at home against Rio Ave where they were unable to score and had to settle for a 0-0 draw - although as we’ve been saying on the Long Ball Futebol Podcast, Rio Ave, with their transfer ban lifted and a seemingly new lease of life, are a team to watch out for in the second half of the season. It’s essential for Porto to bounce straight back, and they would’ve hoped for a slightly easier game than away to Arouca, a much smaller team but a side in good form with a Spanish strike force of Rafa Mújica and Cristo González capable of causing them real problems. Porto will need their own attacking players to be back on form if they’re going to get an important win.
Gil welcome troubled Vizela
For a couple of games to keep an eye on outside of the top four, we have Primeira Liga football to look forward to all the way until Tuesday night, as Gil Vicente host bottom placed Vizela. Gil are testament to how, with the bottom half of the table as tight as it is, a couple of wins can do you the world of good, having shot up to 10th in the table with two consecutive wins in recent games. Vizela are badly in need of something similar, with only 4 points from their last 10 league games, and no wins in that time. There have been glimmers of good performances, and one or two interesting signings in the January transfer window, but we are really going to need to start seeing signs of improvement from Vizela if they are to rescue their season.
Rejuvenated Rio Ave host Casa Pia
Finally, definitely worth keeping an eye on is Rio Ave v Casa Pia. As we’ve mentioned a couple of times, Rio Ave look to be on the verge of stringing some good results together with a positive transfer window (signing the likes of European Championship winner Adrien Silva, former Chaves playmaker João Teixeira, Sporting’s young Uruguayan midfielder Mateo Tanlongo, and also the return of striker Aziz), a promising young manager in Luís Freire, and a renewed vigour after the malaise of a first half to the season under the shadow of a transfer ban. They’re at home to a Casa Pia side wounded by a recent 8-0 humiliation at the hands of Sporting, and could only respond with a 0-0 draw at home against Boavista in a game where neither team had a shot on target. A great opportunity for the Vilacondense side to show what they can do.
Three players to keep an eye on this weekend
Costinha (Rio Ave): With club captain Guga leaving for the Chinese Super League, and an influx of new players, Rio Ave need a new talisman, and may well find it in 23-year-old full-back Costinha. He’s played 23 games for Rio Ave so far this season, the most of any player in their squad, and despite being just 23 years of age, he is already a leader in the team. Don’t be surprised if he makes an impact at both ends of the pitch against Casa Pia.
Eduardo Quaresma (Sporting): Once the forgotten man at Sporting after failed loans in Germany and Portugal, Eduardo Quaresma’s form since being a surprise recall to the starting XI against Porto just a few weeks ago has been nothing short of remarkable, looking every bit the player we hoped he would be. With the absence of Diomande on international duty, and St. Juste constantly injured, in just a matter of weeks Quaresma has made a name for himself as one of Sporting’s key starters at the back.
Maxime Dominguez (Gil Vicente): Gil Vicente’s season has been inconsistent to say the least, their dreadful away form only compensated for by some good home wins, and some standout players such as playmaker Maxime Dominguez who has proven himself to be a very talented player in not always the easiest of circumstances. At home against a weak Vizela side we could well see the best of what the Swiss dynamo can produce.
by Albert Carter-Phillips (@LongBallFutebol)