Primeira Preview & Prediction (PPP) – Round 17

If he plays for Porto, expect goals from Jackson Martinez.

If he plays for Porto, expect goals from Jackson Martinez.

It seems like just yesterday, doesn’t it? Julien Lopetegui was bringing his brand of Barcelona tiki-taka to Porto, Marco Silva earned a promotion to manage an exciting young Sporting squad, and Jorge Jesus was foolishly putting his faith in a Brazilian named Anderson Talisca no one seemed to know much about. It was the beginning of a new Portuguese season, and, in many cities, the dawning of a new era of football.

Fast forward to today and you might be surprised to learn that months have passed since then, and, when Sporting and Rio Ave tidy up this weekend’s round of results, we will have already marked the halfway point of this Primeira Liga season.

It’s at this point that us fans of the Portuguese league should have a better understanding of our favourite teams and players, and, be confident in our abilities to predict future results. But, frustratingly, this isn’t always the case. As they say, prognostication is a tricky business…

That’s not going to keep me from trying though, and, it shouldn’t keep you from trying either. So, let’s get to it shall we? Let’s see what our psychic minds can come up with.

Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I give to you Portugal Futbol’s 1st weekly Primeira Preview & Prediction column (or, PPP for short):  

Guimaraes vs. Academica – Sat. Jan. 17th – 6pm local/UK, 1pm EST

The 1st game of the Primeira Liga weekend kicks off at the Estadio D. Afonso Henriques in Guimaraes as Rui Vitoria’s men host Academica in what should be, according to statistics, an incredibly feisty matchup.

A whopping total of 39 cards (37 yellow and 2 red) have been handed out by officials in the last 6 games between these 2 sides in all competitions, and, given the prevalent mood in both camps at the moment, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more of them shown in this one.

I expect both teams to come out and play with a heightened sense of urgency, but, for very different reasons.

Academica come into the clash in the worst form of any club in the Liga having gone winless in their last 10, a stretch that dates back to September 28th in Arouca when they picked up their only victory of the season.  Currently sitting in 16th place in the table, only 3 points up on bottom dwellers Gil Vicente, the Coimbra side can ill afford to let more points slip away.

Guimaraes on the other hand, have been letting points slip away themselves recently. Since starting the season on fire winning 8 of their first 11, they’ve started to cool off dramatically winning only 1 of their last 5 matches in the league.

The question has to be asked: Is THIS the real Guimaraes? Andre Andre and his mates should be motivated to answer that question with a resounding NO.

A mismatch on paper, I’m expecting this contest to play out as anything but. There is reason to believe that both sides can get a result here as Academica have not only drawn their last 4 fixtures, but, they also drew Guimaraes 0-0 the last time they met in May. Likewise, Guimaraes are quite the formidable opponent at home, as they have yet to be beaten on their home turf this season.

I give the edge to Guimaraes in this one, but, just slightly.

Prediction: Guimaraes 1-0 Academica

Penafiel vs. Porto – Sat. Jan. 17th – 8:15pm local/UK, 3:15pm EST

Well if Guimaraes and Academica is seen as a mismatch on paper, then, the second Saturday game can only be described as a mismatch of epic proportions.

Playing the role of David, and, sitting in 2nd last spot in the table is Penafiel; playing the role of Goliath, and, sitting in the 2nd best spot in the table is Porto. Statistically speaking, it’s the league’s worst defense (32 goals conceded overall) hosting the league’s best offense (39 goals scored overall). Get your popcorn ready folks. The Dragons are set to entertain.

Now, I’d like to give Penafiel a shot in this one – David did defeat Goliath in the story after all – but, simply put, it’s not going to happen.

Porto come into this one on good form, especially with regards to putting the ball in the back of the net: They’ve scored 24 goals in their last 8 matches, 7 more than the nearest team in that category Benfica, and, they’ve scored at least 3 goals in 5 of their last 6.

Porto are undefeated on the road so far this season and they’ve scored in every one of those fixtures. In contrast, Penafiel have conceded at least 1 goal in their last 5 home games, have only kept a clean sheet in 1 home game all season long, and, have lost 75% of their home games. Math can be devastating sometimes.

Unlike the opening fixture of the weekend, I expect this one to be the mismatch that it is on paper. In fact, I’m predicting the exact same score from their league cup match almost exactly one year ago to the day: Porto 4, Penafiel 0. On that day Jackson Martinez bagged a brace, and, should he lace up again on Saturday (you never quite know with bad opposition and Lopetegui’s rotation) expect him to bag another.

Prediction: Penafiel 0-4 Porto

Belenenses vs. Gil Vicente – Sun. Jan. 18th – 4pm local/UK, 11am EST

In what I suspect will be the most boring, coma-inducing matchup of the weekend, 8th place Belenenses host dead last Gil Vicente in Lisbon. If you hate goals, this one’s the one for you.

Lito Vidigal’s well has dried up significantly since November 9th when, up to that point, Belenenses had scored in all but 2 of their 10 games played. Now, not only do they find themselves winless in their last 6 league matches, but, they haven’t scored in any of their last 6 league matches either.

Gil Vicente aren’t much better. They come into this contest having lost their last 10 road games, and, having been shut out in 8 of them.

There is, however, some positivity on the Gil Vicente side as they managed to pick up their first victory of the season last weekend against fellow strugglers Penafiel. This is, without question, the best they’ve felt all season (mid-week lost to Estoril in the Taca da Liga notwithstanding). That has to count for something.

I’m betting it doesn’t count for that much though. These 2 teams play each other close. Real close.

5 of the last 6 meetings between these two sides have been decided by a goal or less and I think this clash will be no different. I’m actually leaning towards the “or less” category in this case.

Expect this to be a Homer Simpson special: doughnuts galore.

Prediction: Belenenses 0-0 Gil Vicente

Boavista vs. Estoril – Sun. Jan. 18th – 4pm local/UK, 11am EST

Porto plays host to a big mid-table clash on Sunday as 12th place Boavista host 11th place Estoril. It’s an under the radar match with the potential to be the showstopper this week.

Only three points separate these two sides and defense is neither team’s strong suit.

Petit’s men are woeful, sitting 2nd last in defensive categories for the Liga, allowing 29 goals in their 16 games played so far this season. Estoril, though better, aren’t much better having allowed 25 goals and holding down 14th place on the depth chart. But, the tide may be turning for the latter in that regard.

After allowing 3 or more goals in 8 of their first 10 games, there have since been 2 or fewer goals scored in 5 of Estoril’s last 6 league matches. With that their form has improved, earning 13 points in their last 8 games.

Boavista, in contrast, are the better team offensively, especially at home. They come into the fixture having scored in all but 1 of their home games this season (their season opener against Benfica). Can their offensive form at home make up for their defensive shortcomings?

I’m going to go with almost.

Curiously for a middle of the pack club, Boavista have gone 11 straight games without a draw and have only drawn once this season (a 0-0 result against Porto in September). I expect that streak to come to an end this time around as there just isn’t much between these teams in the standings and on the pitch.

I see an entertaining draw playing out in this one; one where the neutrals will be the only winners.

Prediction: Boavista 2-2 Estoril

Pacos Ferreira vs. Nacional – Sun. Jan. 18th – 4pm local/UK, 11am EST

Every team, regardless of sport or level of play, has a bogey team – a team that you just can’t beat no matter how hard you try. This weekend, when Pacos de Ferreira host Nacional, we’ll find out if, in fact, Nacional is that team for Paulo Fonseca’s men.

The Beavers are winless in their last 6 against Nacional across all competitions, and, have been outscored by a combined total of 15-7 in those contests. That certainly doesn’t bode well for them in this match.

These statistics don’t either: Pacos de Ferreira have conceded at least 1 goal in their last 10 games, and have only kept a clean sheet in one of their home games this season. With matches against perennial heavyweights Benfica and Porto to come in the next two weeks, it’s safe to say that the Beavers will be looking ahead and Nacional will nab the points right?

That would probably be the case in any other season, but, in this season? Not so fast.

For all their recent success against Pacos de Ferreira, this season Nacional find themselves with the worst road record in the entire league having only earned 1 point all season long, and, having conceded at least 2 goals in 6 of their last 7 away fixtures.

Suddenly this matchup doesn’t seem so bad for Pacos – does it? Maybe they can gnaw away at the jinx this time around?

In what should be our second hot-tempered affair on the list – there were 29 yellow cards and 5 reds handed out between the 2 squads in their last 6 meetings – I expect the misfortune to live on, for both.

On the bright side, both sides earn a point, with Nacional earning their 2nd point on the road this season. But, on a dimmer note, Pacos de Ferreira’s struggles with their nightmare men continue, and, Nacional remain winless away from home this season.

Glass half full kids, glass half full.

Prediction: P. Ferreira 2-2 Nacional 

Moreirense vs. Arouca – Sun. Jan. 18th – 4pm local/UK, 11am EST

This one is an odd one, this Moreirense vs. Arouca match. Common sense seems to fly out the window on some occasions, and, when these 2 are involved, that sentiment certainly seems to apply. You might even say they bring out the best in each other. At least, when goal scoring is concerned.

“Offensive juggernaut” is a term you wouldn’t use to describe either of these teams: Moreirense have only found the back of the net 14 times all season long and Arouca only 10, which ties them with Vitoria Setubal for bottom of the Liga table. But, for whatever reason, when both teams face off, they seem to snap each other out of their creative malaise.

Both teams have combined to score 19 goals in their last 6 matchups for an average of just over 3 per game, which, for them, is quite the improvement. Add to that the fact that these contests rarely, if ever, end up in a draw – in those 6 matchups Arouca won 4 and Moreirense won 2 – and we might just have ourselves a contest worth keeping an eye on.

But wait, there’s more. Both teams are coming in on a scoring streak.

Moreirense have scored in 6 straight league matches and Arouca have scored in 4. Could this be the contest in which the floodgates open for both of them?

Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but, I do see goals being scored. And someone coming out on top. For me, the venue decides this one just as much as the teams do.

Out of their 15 goals conceded all season, Moreirense have only conceded 2 of them at home. And, with regards to Arouca, their road form leaves much to be desired: They’ve only earned 5 of a possible 24 points away from home this season.

With that, I think it’s impossible to pick against Moreirense in this instance. But, I think Arouca can net themselves a goal.

Prediction: Moreirense 2-1 Arouca 

Vitoria Setubal vs. Braga – Sun. Jan. 18th – 4pm local/UK, 11am EST

When Vitoria Setubal play host to Sporting Braga on Sunday, it might be a match where all the headlines are made off the pitch rather than on it.

Simply put, Domingos Paciencia is in trouble, and, should his side put forth a less than stellar effort in front of their home fans, it could very well be the last we see of him for some time.

The once promising manager who memorably qualified Braga for the Champions League and made them a Europa League finalist the year after just hasn’t been the same since being sacked by the Lions of Lisbon. Since then he’s had a poor run in Turkey with Kayserispor and lead Spanish side Deportivo de La Coruna to a last place finish.

If he’s going to remain on the touchline at the Estadio do Bonfim, he’s going to need some kind of result in this match. But, unfortunately for him, the odds aren’t in his favour.

After finishing a respectable 7th in last season’s table, Setubal currently find themselves in a paltry 15th, having lost 10 of their 16 matches this season, and, failing to score in just over half of them. And, as mentioned previously, they’ve only mustered 10 goals so far this season, tying them with Arouca for the worst goal ratio in the league.

Braga however, are much, much better having scored in their last 6 Liga games on the road, and, scoring a total of 26 goals so far this season. It’s a number that’s only eclipsed by Portugal’s big three.

Add to that the fact that they’ve lost 2 straight after going undefeated in their previous 7 – thanks to an incredible wonder kick by a certain Mr. Tanaka against Sporting last week – and, well, let’s just say it doesn’t look good for our buddy Dom.

There is a smidgeon of hope though. All 4 of Setubal’s victories this season have come at home, and, before last week, all 3 of Braga’s losses had come on the road. Oh and, for what it’s worth, Setubal did actually win their last encounter 2-0 in a club friendly in July. So, I’m telling you there’s a chance.

I wouldn’t bet on it though. Take Braga to rebound in this one and Paciencia to either get sacked or resign. It’s only a matter of time ‘til he’s gone.

Prediction: V. Setubal 0-2 Braga

Maritimo vs. Benfica – Sun. Jan. 18th – 6pm local/UK, 1pm EST

Now this game, Maritimo taking on Benfica, is my pick for match of the week. Everything about it screams quality and entertainment, and no, it’s not just because the table toppers are in it. I will start by complimenting the best team in Portugal though. It’s only fair.

Benfica, in case you haven’t noticed, are good, REAL good. Ok, maybe not so much in European competition but in Portugal? Yes, they’re really good.

With a record of 14 wins, 1 draw, and only 1 loss, and, having won their last 8 league games in a row, the Eagles are in, by far, the best form of anyone in the Liga. Add to that the fact that they are the only team to hold the distinction of having scored in all of their matches this season, and, they have shutout the opposition in their last 6 games, and well, it’s a wonder why they’ve done so poorly in the Champions League.

The guys from Funchal aren’t pushovers though. In fact, I think they can make a game of this.

While it’s true that they only sit in 10th position, and, have failed to score in 5 of their last 7 league fixtures, they are one of the stronger home sides in the Liga, having earned 16 of a possible 21 points so far this season. They’re also a team that’s more than capable of rising up and elevating their level of play against stronger opposition. Solid victories over Guimaraes and Braga are proof of that.

And, when it comes to beating Benfica, Maritimo have experienced such a result as recently as 2013. A game that was, you guessed it – at home. This is a side that should be relishing the chance to rise to the occasion and not shrinking from intimidation.

I’m still picking Benfica to come out on top in this one, but, I don’t expect it to be easy. They are, themselves, the best road team in the league having earned 21 of a possible 24 points this season, and, the best defensive team in the league having allowed only 7 goals up to this point. Statistics suggest it should be too much for Maritimo to overcome, BUT, I don’t expect them to be overmatched either.

Benfica earn a hard-fought, 1 goal victory, and Maritimo earn the praise of their supporters and neutrals alike.

Prediction: Maritimo 0-1 Benfica 

Sporting vs. Rio Ave – Sun. Jan. 18th – 8:15pm local/UK, 3:15pm EST 

And finally, in another game that should be agonizingly close, the last matchup of matchday 17 sees Sporting host Rio Ave at the Alvalade.

In some respects, these 2 teams are like 2 peas in a pod: Sporting have kept a clean sheet in their last 3 league matches, Rio Ave have kept a clean sheet in 5 of their last 7; Sporting come into the contest undefeated in their last 7 overall and 8 at home, and Rio Ave come into the contest undefeated in their last 5. Now, for Rio Ave, 4 of their last 5 matches ended in 0-0 draws, but, undefeated is still undefeated.

You do wonder when that bubble is going to burst though. The “Big River” has dried up, failing to score in 5 of its last 6 league matches, yet, somehow, someway, it’s still holding on to 6th in the table. Bizarre.

Sporting on the other hand might as well be playing in an ocean by comparison, as they’ve scored in every single one of their home games, and, every single match but 1 this season.

But Rio Ave are, as evidence shows, a tough nut to crack. And this is doubly true for Sporting, who’ve only managed to beat them twice in their last 6 confrontations in all competitions.

Pedro Martins’ men have only lost by more than one goal twice all season, once to Braga and once to Porto. But, Sporting has an offense that can rival theirs, and is, statistically, better than Braga’s.

I feel like this match will either be a blowout or another 0-0 draw, and, at the moment, I’m leaning towards Rio Ave’s peculiar streak continuing.

Prediction: Sporting 0-0 Rio Ave

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