Ladies and gentlemen, it’s official – we’ve hit the halfway point of the Primeira Liga season! The “primeira volta” is over and done with, and boy, what an entertaining first go round it was! From the surprise ascension of Portuguese youngsters Joao Mario and Ruben Neves, to club records established by both Guimaraes and Benfica, there’s really been no shortage of surprises so far this season.
But, the more some things change, the more others stay the same: Predictably, Benfica, Porto, and Sporting all find themselves holding down the top 3 positions in the table, and, also predictably, I’m not all that good at predicting.
In my debut prognostication piece for Portugal Futbol highlighting the 17th weekend of play in the league, I foresaw a number of feisty, close encounters. Everything in my research suggested that that would be the most likely outcome, but, basing the majority – if not all – of my bets on available statistics didn’t prove to be as fruitful as I would’ve hoped. Much to my dismay, history didn’t quite repeat itself.
And that was my mistake last week: I listened to my head my more than my heart, and let myself get too caught up in the numbers. That’s a mistake that the best psychics don’t make, and, one I don’t intend to make twice.
Having said that, the foggy crystal ball I used last week did allow me to finish above .500 with a 5-4 record. That’s right – despite a number of faulty assumptions, and, quite remarkably, not a single matchup ending in a draw, I still managed to finish the matchday on top. That, in and of itself, might be the biggest surprise of all.
Something tells me we’ll be seeing a few surprises this round though. I mean, they’re bound to happen. And with a number of players still missing due to African Cup of Nations action, and, a hectic schedule due to Taca da Liga fixtures, the time for a couple of surprise results is now. So, let’s get to it shall we? Here’s my take on the next weekend’s action:
Guimaraes vs. Gil Vicente – Sat. Jan. 24th – 8:15pm local/UK, 3:15pm EST
In a tale of two contrasting teams this season, Vitoria de Guimaraes kick off the weekend’s action in the Liga yet again when they host a bottom of the table Gil Vicente side desperate for a result, any kind of result, on the road on Saturday.
As you would expect with any last place team, Jose Mota’s men are abysmal away from home: Not only are they winless on the season but they haven’t even found the back of the net in their last 5 matches.
Rui Vitoria’s men are, on the other hand, the unquestionable revelation of the season thus far. They find themselves sitting in a European position (4th) after earning an impressive 4-0 victory over Academica last Saturday. Despite somehow losing out on possession 53% to 47%, they completely bossed the match putting on a counter-attacking display that Jose Mourinho himself would’ve marveled at. Thanks to that result, Andre Andre and company won their 34th point; a club record for the 1st half of a season.
Although Gil Vicente has had some success against Guimaraes in their last 6 games in all competitions earning 2 wins and 2 draws overall, and, matching them for goals scored with 7, a better pass accuracy (73%) and better share of the possession (57%) wasn’t enough for them to come out on top at home in the opener of the season. So, is there any reason to believe they can this time?
After last round’s results, I’m gonna have to go with no. Following a brief slip in form, Guimaraes made a statement of their intent last week and will, most likely, make another in the form of this game this weekend.
There’s no reason to believe they can’t match, or even surpass the result of the clash with Academica, especially if Hernani – who scored 2 of the 3 goals the last time these teams met – appears to be in the mood from the get go at the Estadio D. Afonso Henriques.
Guimaraes win this. I don’t think it’ll be all that close.
Prediction: Guimaraes 4-0 Gil Vicente
Sporting vs. Academica – Sun. Jan. 25th – 4pm local/UK, 11am EST
When Sporting host Academica on Sunday, it will be in a match that can best be described as a clash between past results and present form.
Academica, for whatever reason, tend to play Sporting tough, and it’s not uncommon to see the Lions struggle against the Students of Coimbra. The Lisbon side have only beaten them once in their last 6 meetings in all competitions – a 4-0 win in 2013 that saw Adrien Silva and Fredy Montero score penalties in the process – all the other matches, curiously enough, ended in Academica’s favour: 1 match was won 1-0 and the others all resulted in low-scoring draws.
However, if form is anything to go by – and, trust me, it is – Paulo Sergio’s men have no business hanging around in this contest.
Academica come into the Estadio Jose Alvalade struggling mightily: They’re winless in their last 11 league matches and have now failed to score in 5 of their last 7 games away from home.
Last week’s result against Guimaraes highlighted the problem quite clearly: For all their possession and effort, it doesn’t seem like they have much of the ball, or, are giving much effort. They are completely devoid of ideas and simply aren’t creating enough chances to succeed right now.
Sporting however, seem to have plenty of ideas and find themselves with a multitude of scoring opportunities every match. Junya Tanaka in particular comes into this one in magical form, riding a broomstick and throwing pixie dust in the air. He’s scored 3 sublime, game-changing goals in 3 straight games. Might he score another?
Well, if more recent statistics are anything to go by, I think it’s safe to say that someone will bulge the twine for Marco Silva: Sporting have scored at least 1 goal in 9 straight home games and have gone undefeated in the same stretch.
So, what’s the verdict going to be here? Which set of statistics are we to believe?
Unlike last week, I’m going to trust my eyes a little more than my calculator and say Sporting win this rather easily. I will however go out on a limb and say that Academica will create a few more chances for themselves given the ferocity with which the Lions attack sometimes.
From a neutral’s point of view, I hope to see more of Tobias Figueiredo and Ryan Gauld on the pitch, as both made contributions in their Liga debuts last week. The match with Rio Ave, which is surely a contender for match of the year, was quite the setting to make a debut in, but, I thought both youngsters coped remarkably well and made the most of their opportunity.
Prediction: Sporting 3-0 Academica
Setubal vs. Rio Ave – Sun. Jan. 25th – 4pm local/UK, 11am EST
In what might be yet another no-contest contest, a struggling, Domingos Paciencialess Vitoria de Setubal side host a Rio Ave team coming off what might go down as the most impressive loss by a Liga squad in this 2014/2015 campaign.
Paciencia needed a result at home against a strong Braga side last Sunday to earn some of the board’s and fans’ confidence, but he didn’t get it. As a result, both sides “mutually agreed” to part ways and now the men from the Sado River find themselves up a Big River without a paddle.
Their last match didn’t really start off that badly though. Setubal put themselves in front on 15 minutes through Zequinha, and, it has to be said, had the better of the chances in the first half against Braga. But, once Sergio Conceicao’s side equalized from an exquisite Danilo free-kick, all the air was let out of the Setubal balloon and they capitulated.
If they hang their heads against Rio Ave this Sunday in the same manner in which they did last round, they will be in for a world of hurt.
Pedro Martins’ team is extremely organized and has kept a clean sheet in 5 of their last 8 Liga matches. For a side starved for offense, sitting on only 11 goals for the entire season up to this point, that isn’t exactly encouraging news.
Neither is this: Setubal have only won once in their last 6 meetings with Rio Ave picking up more red cards (5) than goals (4). Yikes.
There is a sliver of hope for Setubal however: Remember that prior to last week’s enthralling contest with Sporting, Rio Ave hadn’t scored in 5 of 6 matches. If Setubal can shake their “woe is me” attitude long enough to knick a goal and see things through defensively, it is very much within the realm of possibility that they could pick up a few points here.
I don’t see it though. I expect Setubal to come out urgently and put up a good fight for their new man in charge Rui Santos, but, right now I’m not convinced that they’re mentally tough enough to overcome an obstacle should they find one. And I expect them to find one in the form of Ahmed Hassan, and, after his last performance, Yonathan Del Valle.
Prediction: V. Setubal 0-1 Rio Ave
Belenenses vs. Penafiel – Sun. Jan. 25th – 4pm local/UK, 11am EST
Our next match sees Penafiel travel to the Portuguese capital to take on the 6th place Blues of Belenenses.
First half goals by Deyverson and young Portuguese midfielder Pele were more than enough to keep Gil Vicente at bay last week and earn Belenenses 3 points whereas Penafiel, in contrast, had to survive a monsoon.
Ok, maybe it wasn’t anywhere close to a monsoon in the technical sense, but, did you see the amount of rain on that waterlogged pitch against Porto? It rendered the game, or, more specifically, the 2nd half, virtually unplayable. I’m still debating as to whether or not a suspension would’ve been a good thing against a superior Porto side, but I digress.
I only mention the weather patterns at the Estadio Municipal 25 de Abril because I think they’ll play a role in this game. How can it play a role against Belenenses you ask? I’ll tell you.
For a long stretch of their match with Porto, Penafiel looked to be the better side. Now, they aren’t the better side, and, still didn’t manage to get any points out of the game, but, for a 2nd last team looking to build on any kind of success they can find, I think that was encouraging for them.
I mentioned before that I would be taking a bit of a different approach with some of my predictions this week, in essence, ignoring statistics and just going with my gut. This is one of those predictions: I think Penafiel can win this.
I don’t care that Belenenses are sitting just outside the European qualification places and have one of the stronger defensive records in the league, conceding only 18 times in 17 matches, I don’t see them as intimidating in the slightest and there is at least one statistic that proves that.
Prior to their match with Gil Vicente – ahem, the dead least Gil Vicente – Belenenses had gone winless in their last 6 league games. I wouldn’t say a home victory against a team as poor as the Roosters automatically lifts you out of your funk.
So, for that reason, and, for the reason that I strongly believe in the galvanizing force of a positive display in a torrential downpour, I’m taking Penafiel to pick up a victory in Lisbon. If I’m right I’ll be moving to Las Vegas immediately after the result.
Prediction: Belenenses 0-1 Penafiel
Moreirense vs. Nacional – Sun. Jan. 25th – 4pm local/UK, 11am EST
When Moreirense host Nacional, it will be, in my mind, the closest matchup of the round.
These two have played as recently as last week in league cup play, a match that ended in a 1-1 draw, so, it isn’t unreasonable to think that they’ll be well prepared for each other.
In fact, competitively speaking, the Green-and-Whites and the Nationalists don’t seem to be separated by much: Miguel Leal’s squad has earned 15 points at home this season, 11 points in their last 8 games, and has scored 15 goals thus far in their campaign; Manuel Machado’s men have earned 14 points at home this season, 10 points in their last 8 games, and have scored 16 goals thus far in their campaign.
In their last 6 meetings in all competitions, Moreirense have scored 10 goals and Nacional have scored 9. Oh, and Nacional were given 8 yellow cards and Moreirense 7. And M is the 13th letter of the alphabet and N is the 14th. I think you’re catching my drift here…
One of their fixtures in the Portuguese Cup in 2011 even had to be decided on penalties following a 2-2 draw at the end of extra time. So, if you’re like me, and, you have a hard time ignoring numbers, it kinda seems like a draw is a safe bet to make in this one.
But, the one concern that leaves me hesitant to pull the trigger on a draw is the venue in which the game is being played.
Moreirense are at home, where they have now scored in 7 straight matches and only conceded twice all season long; Nacional are on the road, where they have now conceded at least 2 goals in 7 of their last 8 matches, and, prior to last weekend’s slaying of the Beavers, had only earned 1 point all season.
Nonetheless, I’m going to stick with what my gut and the numbers told me initially: Draw, baby, draw.
Nacional should be buoyed by their win over Pacos de Ferreira last week, and, I can see them netting a goal in this one. But, just one. I expect Moreirense to score as well, keeping their offensive streak alive.
Prediction: Moreirense 1-1 Nacional
Estoril vs. Arouca – Sun. Jan. 25th – 5pm local/UK, 12pm EST
Goal-starved Arouca will be looking to create some offensive momentum when they travel to Estoril to take on the Canaries on Sunday. From Pedro Emanuel’s perspective, I’m sure it can’t get much worse.
Arouca currently have the distinction of being the worst offensive team in the Liga, only having scored 10 times thus far. As a result, they find themselves perilously close to the drop zone in 14th place.
To make matters worse, they are winless in their last 7 matches against Estoril, a streak that dates back to their tussles in the Portuguese second division.
Maybe Iuri Medeiros can make a difference. The Sporting youth product has no doubt been loaned to Arouca until the end of the season because the possibility of a creative talent such as his earning regular playing time is very real. They need all the help they can get in that department.
Jose Couceiro’s squad, in contrast, doesn’t have this problem: They’ve scored more than twice as many goals (21) as their opponents this round, and have scored in every single one of their home games.
But, oddly enough, those numbers haven’t translated into a solid record at the Estadio Antonio Coimbra da Mota for Estoril. The Canaries are actually one of the poorer sides at home in the league, having only won 11 of a possible 24 points. So, do they have much of an advantage?
I don’t really think Estoril has the edge. But, given Arouca’s struggles, particularly their streak of having gone winless in their last 6 away matches, I sure as heck wouldn’t give them the upper hand either.
Expect to see our second draw here, leaving both sides’ poor records intact.
Prediction: Estoril 0-0 Arouca
Maritimo vs. Porto – Sun. Jan. 25th – 6pm local/UK, 1pm EST
It doesn’t get any easier for Maritimo as they host Porto in Funchal this week. They’ll be trying to forget the mesmerizing beat down the Eagles put on them last time around while trying to avoid another at the hands of the Liga’s most offensive team statistically.
One team disappointed me more than any other last weekend and that team was Maritimo. I expected the Madeiran side to give Benfica a challenge, especially in the physicality department, but that prediction didn’t come to fruition. I now wonder if I overestimated Leonel Pontes’ team, or, if I underestimated the strength of Benfica. I also wonder just how much of a dent that loss is going to put in the Green-and-Reds’ confidence.
Prior to that match with the Eagles, Maritimo had been one of the stronger teams at home all season earning 16 of a possible 21 points. Now, the aura is all but gone, and, after Porto bring their road form to the Estadio dos Barreiros, I suspect the strength of this island team will disappear entirely.
Julen Lopetegui’s men, having survived the elements in Penafiel last Saturday, come into this matchup as the best road team in the league: They have yet to be defeated away from home, and have scored in every single one of their road fixtures.
On a head-to-head comparison, Porto have outscored Maritimo 14-4 in their last 6 meetings in all competitions, and, have already beaten them this season 2-0 in the now infamous Ruben Neves debut match.
There really is no reason to believe Maritimo will spring up and snatch points in this match. I know I was a big proponent of theirs last week, but, given the way they lost that match, and, the quality of striker Jackson Martinez – who scored his 60th Liga goal in 77 appearances against Penafiel – and Oliver Torres – who’s scored in 3 straight league games – I can’t see them holding off the Dragons for very long.
I see Porto winning easily. Maybe not by the margin that Benfica did, but, comfortably enough. If Maritimo play the way I expected them to last round, and score after not being able to find the back of the net in 6 of their last 8, I’m going to be a little peeved.
Prediction: Maritimo 0-2 Porto
Boavista vs. Braga – Sun. Jan. 25th – 8:15pm local/UK, 3:15pm EST
When Boavista and Sporting Braga clash, you more often than not get a low scoring, testy affair. Oh, and anything but a win for Boavista.
In their last 8 meetings – all of them coming in league play – these clubs have only been separated by more than 1 goal at the final whistle once: Braga’s recent 3-0 win in the opener of this season. And, in their last 6, a total of 22 cards have been handed out between them, including 6 reds.
Will we be seeing a similar type of game this time around? I think we’ll be seeing more of the latter example and less of the former ones.
Petit’s Panthers, as mentioned last week, are absolutely horrid defensively this season, tied for 2nd last in the Liga with 31 goals conceded in their 17 games; the Archbishops have quality on both sides of the ball, with 29 goals scored and only 12 goals conceded in their 17 matches.
Braga also come into this one on a road scoring streak, now having scored in 7 straight away from home.
Despite having scored in 7 of their 8 home games so far, it does appear that the newly promoted club is going to have its hands full keeping their opponents contained. That’s reason enough for me to tip Braga to earn the 3 points.
Although Boavista are a much better side at home than on the road having won as many as they’ve lost, and, Braga are a much poorer side on the road having won 3, drawn 3, and lost 3 of their 9 games, I don’t think this advantage will make any impact on the proceedings at the Estadio do Bessa.
I expect Braga to take this one; they’ve been improving steadily all season long. I am however inclined to give Boavista a goal on account of Braga’s tendency to start slowly in other stadiums: Os Arsenalistas have given up as many goals as they’ve scored in the first half of all their matches away from home (5).
Prediction: Boavista 1-3 Braga
Pacos de Ferreira vs. Benfica – Mon. Jan. 26th – 8pm local/UK, 3pm EST
And finally, in the Portuguese version of Monday Night Football, Pacos de Ferreira host the high-flying 1st place Eagles of Benfica. I’m probably not going out on much of a limb here, but, something tells me this isn’t going to be much of a marquee matchup. Unless of course, to use another sports metaphor – you enjoy watching the Harlem Globetrotters take on the Washington Generals.
After last weekend’s shutout victory over Maritimo, Benfica have now stretched their winning streak in the Liga to 9 games, their goal scoring streak to 17 games – they’re still the only club to have scored in every match this season – and, their clean sheet streak to 7 games.
On the flip side, Paulo Fonseca’s men are winless in their last 4 and have conceded in their last 11 in the league. They come into the match on equal form to that of lightweights Gil Vicente and Vitoria de Setubal earning only 6 points in their last 8 matches.
Oh, and they’ve been outscored by Benfica 13-2 in their last 6 meetings in all competitions.
Oh, and, inexplicably, Jorge Jesus’ men seem to have gotten better since Enzo Perez’s recent departure to Valencia, cementing their best half-point of the campaign record in the last 30 years with 15 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss, and a whopping 46 points.
Oh, and if you thought Nacional was a bogey team for Pacos de Ferreira, get a load of this little nugget: The Beavers have only beaten the Eagles once in the last 23 times they’ve met in all competitions. The victory came in a league match back in 2006.
I have four words for you Pacos fans: Good luck with that. Or, as John Madden would quip when using his telestrator, “When you’re not good enough, you’re going to lose here, here, here, here, here, and here!”
Eduardo Salvio, Anderson Talisca, and the new leader in competitive appearances for the club Luisao aren’t going to do anything but win this match. And I see them winning big.
Prediction: P. Ferreira 0-4 Benfica