Primeira Liga Jornada 27 preview: All set for a thrilling sprint to the finish line

Primeira Liga football is back after the final international break of the season, with a clear run of eight games left from now until the end of the season. If you’ve lost your bearings somewhat, Sporting are currently top of the table with a point more than their Lisbon rivals Benfica, and a game in hand. Porto are seven points adrift of top spot but playing their best football of the season so far.

Braga sit in a somewhat disappointing 4th place, five points behind Porto, and 11 points off a Champions League place, with Vitória looking set to take the 5th and final European place.

At the bottom of the league things are a lot more open, with Chaves and Vizela currently at the foot of the table, but with the likes of Portimonense, Rio Ave, Estoril and Estrela in danger of getting sucked into an unwanted relegation battle. PortuGOAL previews the weekend action. 

Leaders Sporting face local rivals Estrela

League leaders Sporting head across town to face 13th-placed Estrela Amadora on Friday night in a game which on paper should see os Leões maintain their table-topping status. It is the first of three successive matches for Sporting against fellow Lisbon clubs, with the Green and Whites locking horns against Benfica twice in five days after Friday’s match, in the Portuguese Cup then in the league. Coach Rúben Amorim is determined to maintain his players’ focus, saying: “this game against Estrela will be as decisive for our title aspirations than against Benfica.”

Estrela have had an interesting season under Sérgio Vieira. Their owners admitted before the season began that they’d gotten promoted before planned, and perhaps were a little unprepared for life in the top flight, but they’ve fared well this season, rarely looking out of their depth, and amassing enough points to sit above the relegation zone as things stand. That said, with only three points separating them from the relegation playoff place their place amongst the elite next season is far from secure. This encounter against Sporting is the last of their games against the traditional Big Three this season, which does take the pressure off, but a good performance regardless of the final result would set them up nicely for the end of their season.

Benfica host basement dwellers Chaves

Benfica have arguably their easiest game of the season on Friday night, playing bottom-placed GD Chaves at home. Benfica are in a good position in the league (only one point behind the league leaders) but do not have their fate in their own hands. Even if they win every league game for the rest of the season, they could still behind Sporting. Their aim for the rest of the season is therefore very simple: to win each game as it comes.

A home match against Chaves should be a simple task, given that the most northerly side in the league have struggled so badly this season, and despite early signs of improvement under Moreno, look destined for relegation just a season after flirting with European football. Their story hasn’t been the typical story of those smaller teams who finish 5th or 6th one year, but struggle the following season having lost all their best players and their manager. Chaves kept largely the same group of players together, but were forced to change their coach at the beginning of the season. They’ve never managed to make things click since then, and it’s hard to see anything other than a comfortable Benfica win in this game.

Estoril welcome in-form Porto

Porto make the trip south to play Estoril on the outskirts of Lisbon. A disappointing Liga season means they’re most likely out of the title race, but fans will be encouraged by recent performances and they are set to finish the season strongly. Chico Conceicao was recently called up to the Portugal national team for the first time and continues to inspire a squad full of talented players such as Galeno, Evanilson, Alan Varela, Otávio, and others. There’s a more youthful exuberance to Porto in the second half of the season, something which has contributed to their improved form.

Estoril are currently out of the relegation zone having initially seen a run of good results and improved performances with the arrival of Vasco Seabra as new manager, but they find themselves in a patch of poor form as their defensive displays have been abysmal. They conceded 12 goals in 4 games before a much needed 1-0 win over Portimonense halted their demise. A good performance against Porto would be very welcome, but a result of any kind will be a tough ask.

Braga head to the south coast

Braga travel to the Algarve to play Portimonense, another team in danger of falling into the relegation zone, but who under Paulo Sérgio seem to always be able to do just enough to keep their head above water. There’s already talk that Braga manger Artur Jorge could be replaced at the end of the season by promising Arouca manager Daniel Sousa, but for now the former Braga youth team coach continues to lead the Guerreiros in a season that has underwhelmed, rather than been a complete disaster.

Whilst ambitious fans would’ve targeted a second consecutive season of Champions League football, Braga look set to finish in 4th place and are looking over their shoulder at fierce local rivals Vitória in 5th place, rather than further up the table. Simon Banza returning from Afcon has given Braga a big boost. His goals this season have earned them countless points, and it would be no surprise at all to see him on the score sheet again this weekend.

Minho derby sees 5th take on 6th

Outside of the top four, there’s a Minho derby as 5th-placed Vitória take on 6th-placed Moreirense. An 8-point gap between the two teams means this game isn’t as dramatic as the setup might suggest, but another win for Vitória would further cement their European hopes, whereas a win for Moreirense would be yet another good result in what has been an impressive season for the newly promoted side.

Vizela continue quest for great escape

At the bottom end of the table Vizela are at home to Casa Pia. The league’s penultimate side have threatened to turn a corner in recent weeks with some interesting performances, and good results. If you disregard the games against Benfica and Porto, they’re unbeaten in their last four matches against more manageable opposition. Casa Pia similarly have looked improved under a new manager in recent weeks after flirting with the relegation zone themselves. It’s a hard game to call, where the quality of a player like Vizela striker Samuel Essende could be the difference between the two sides.

Three players to keep an eye on this weekend

Jota Silva (Vitória): Fresh from his remarkable Seleção call-up (pictured, left), one of the most impressive players in the league this season could be set to shine again. Jota left a good impression on his debut against Sweden and stated after the match that he does not intend his time with the national team to be a fleeting experience. And with some suggesting he could be a surprise inclusion in the Euro 2024 squad should his namesake at Liverpool not recover from injury in time, the 24-year-old has every motivation to keep getting noticed.

Sava Petrov (Vizela): Vizela made a few January signings to try and save their season and lend support to Samuel Essende who had been really carrying the team. Sava Petrov was signed from Serbian club Radnički Niš having only ever played in Serbia, Slovenia, and Belgium. He scored his first goal in their win over Farense a couple of games ago, and if he can continue scoring it will provide a huge boost to Vizela’s survival hopes.

Roger (Braga): Whilst Braga’s season might have hit a few speed bumps, a shining light has emerged in young winger Roger, someone who burst onto the scene at just 15 years old under Carlos Carvalhal, and who now is making a name for himself in the first team at the ripe old age of 18. His influence on the pitch has been vital given the absence of Ricardo Horta to injury, and drop in form of Álvaro Djaló.

by Albert Carter-Phillips (@LongBallFutebol