It’s been a largely disappointing Champions League campaign for Portuguese clubs this season.
While Benfica’s chances of remaining in the competition beyond Christmas are close to zero after three defeats in three matches ahead Tuesday’s trip to Manchester United, Porto and Sporting still have a chance of making the knockout stages… provided they get a win this week.
PortuGOAL looks at the situation of all three clubs and assesses their chances of making progress.
FC Porto look to have the best chance of finishing in the top two among the Portuguese participants. The Dragons are flying in the Liga NOS this season since the arrival of former Nantes boss Sérgio Conceição. The Portuguese head coach took over in June and since then they have gone on to win 9 of their first 10 league games, drawing the other. They sit at the top of the Liga NOS, two points ahead of Sporting. But can they make it through to the next round of the Champions League?
Porto were drawn in Group G alongside Turkish champions Besiktas, French champions AS Monaco, and last season’s Bundesliga runners-up RB Leipzig. Before the competition began, all four sides probably looked at the section and felt they had a good chance of making it through as either group winners or runners-up, Porto included.
After three games, Besiktas are top with a perfect record, while Monaco are bottom with just one point. So far Porto have lost to Besiktas at home 3-1, beaten Monaco away in an impressive 3-0 win before losing to Leipzig away by the odd goal in five. It would appear the Turkish champions are going through, with either the Germans or Porto joining them.
Wednesday’s game when Porto host Leipzig is therefore pivotal. Conceição’s team will feel they can score against the German outfit having hit the net twice two weeks ago, and the home support at the Estádio do Dragão could prove crucial, in addition to the fact Leipzig come into the match on the back of two draining games in four days against powerhouse Bayern Munich. A positive result for the hosts is certainly the belief of sports betting operators like Sportingbet, with Porto 23/20 favourites and Leipzig 12/5 to win the match.
Also, Besiktas could have qualification wrapped up with a victory against Monaco next time out, and therefore could take their foot off the gas when they face Porto later in November. Two wins would certainly see Porto in a very strong position to wrap up qualification in the final match at home to Monaco.
Chances of making it to knockouts: 50%
Just like last season, Sporting were handed the toughest of tasks in the Champions League group stage draw. In 2016/17 the Lions were paired with Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, and it has been no easier this time round, with Barcelona and Juventus the Portuguese club’s adversaries, along with Olympiacos, in Group D.
So far it has been a similar story to one year ago. Jorge Jesus’s side have competed commendably against clubs theoretically of a higher calibre but have come away with zero points after 1-0 and 2-1 defeats at home to Barça and away to Juve respectively.
Nevertheless, Sporting will go into Tuesday’s match against the 6-time Italian champions in Lisbon with nothing to lose and will take heart from their display in Turin a fortnight ago, when only a late Mário Mandzukic header prevented the Portuguese side from earning a point.
Looking at the standings, Sporting are still very much alive, as victory on Tuesday would put Sporting level with Juventus on six points, with a winnable game after that at home to Olympiacos. The Lions would then travel to Barcelona for the last game, who may already be qualified and rest important players against the Portuguese side.
Chances of making it to knockouts: 25%
Reigning Portuguese champions Benfica, in contrast to their two domestic rivals, have almost certainly blown their chances to making progress at the halfway stage, which is surprising given that at the outset they appeared to have the easiest task of the three.
Two disastrous defeats at home to CSKA Moscow (1-2) and away at Basel (5-0) followed by defeat to Manchester United means that Benfica have no choice but to get a positive result against the English giants – and probably only three points will do – to remain in contention for qualification to the next stage of the competition.
A more realistic goal would be to try and eke out a point against José Mourinho’s team in England on Tuesday to boost their chances of grabbing third spot in Group A and a berth in the Europa League.
Chances of making it to knockouts: 5%