Primeira Preview & Prediction (PPP) – Round 20

Can Marco Silva's Sporting side defeat Benfica and push for the title? Photo: SAPO Desporto

Can Marco Silva’s Sporting side defeat Benfica and push for the title? Photo: SAPO Desporto

Hello again Primeira Liga fans, and welcome to another edition of the Primeira Preview & Prediction (PPP)! This weekend marks the 20th round of play, and boy, there are some exciting fixtures on the schedule. One game in particular should have your eyes firmly planted on it from start to finish. I’m sure you already know which one I’m referring to. If you don’t, you will by the end of this article.

Last week was a bit of a bounce back week for me – if, in fact, you can even call a 4-5 week a “bounce back” week – in that I rebounded after that horrendous 1-8 record the weekend before. But, if we’re perfectly honest, there really was nowhere to go but up, so, I’m not really sure I should be celebrating. A 10-17 overall record leaves much to be desired.

I wish I could tell you I’m feeling confident ahead of these matchups, but, simply put, I’m not. I feel about as confident as a penguin flapping its wings in an attempt to fly off the top of the Empire State Building.

On paper, this seems to be the most difficult round to predict yet; there are way too many factors at play here.

For starters, the African Cup of Nations is coming to a close over in Equatorial Guinea, and, a few players are making their way back to their clubs after being eliminated from the tournament. Algeria’s Yacine Brahimi and Islam Slimani are the first two that come into my mind. They’ll be returning to Porto and Sporting respectively. We really have no idea what kind of condition they’re in.

Next, we have to take the end of the January transfer window into consideration. There were a lot of moves made over the past few days, and I mean A LOT. Far too many to even mention here. The two fading sides of Vitoria de Guimaraes and Belenenses in particular have taken big risks in an attempt to reinvigorate themselves for the second half of the season. How long will it take these sides to gel with their new personnel?

And finally, there’s the hectic Taca da Liga to take into account. Games have been played midweek the entire month of January, and, although the group stage came to a close earlier this week, and, many managers rotated their squads in an attempt to keep them fresh, this is usually when the players who played many of those games in addition to the league games really start to feel the effects.

So yeah, none of that bodes well for my embarrassment of a record, or yours, even if your record isn’t quite as laughable. Nonetheless, you have a job to do, and so do I. Here are my previews and predictions for the next round of play:


Moreirense vs. Porto – Sat. Feb. 7th – 8:15pm local/UK, 3:15pm EST

The weekend doesn’t kickoff until Saturday, when our solitary matchup sees the Green and Whites of Moreirense host a strengthened Porto side no doubt determined to oust Benfica as Portuguese champions.

Julen Lopetegui’s squad was already a good one, and, last week’s continued dominance of Pacos de Ferreira illustrated that, but, the returning Brahimi and acquisition of Guimaraes’ Hernani truly make them a force to be reckoned with from here on out.

It doesn’t look all that good for Moreirense. They’ve got their work cut out for them if they want to keep the Dragons in check, especially with regards to a certain Jackson Martinez, who’s scored 17 goals in all competitions, and, scored 2 of the 3 goals in a 3-0 Porto victory earlier in the season.

Historically, things don’t pan out well for Moreirense when facing Porto: The best result they’ve achieved in their last 6 meetings overall in all competitions was a single draw earned 10 years ago, and, they’ve been outscored by a combined score of 10-1 in those 6 games.

If Miguel Leal’s men want to defend the Parque de Jogos Comendador Joaquim de Almeida Freitas and earn a result, then they’re going to have to do just that – defend.

Moreirense are actually quite strong defensively on their own turf, having only allowed 5 of their 19 goals conceded at home, but, the problem is they have a tendency to leak goals late: A whopping 84% of their goals conceded have come in the second half. That’s 16 of their 19 overall, and, 4 of their 5 at home.

Not only are the Dragons a dominant offensive team, but, they actually score more of their goals in the second half. Amazingly, they’ve outscored opponents 28-5 after the break this season, and, have outscored opponents 15-1 in the last 15 minutes of the game.

Given the fact that Porto have scored at least 2 goals in 11 of their last 13 Liga matches, are undefeated in 18 of their last 20 (winning 5 of their last 6), and, have found the back of the net in every road game with the exception of their loss to Maritimo a couple of weeks back, I can’t see this ending in anything but a victory for the 2nd best team in the table.

Prediction: Moreirense 0-2 Porto

Setubal vs. Academica – Sun. Feb. 8th – 4pm local/UK, 11am EST

2 positions and 5 points in the table only separate Vitoria de Setubal and Academica, but, all the statistics seem to favour Bruno Ribeiro’s 14th place Sado River men at the Estadio do Bonfim.

Although, in a lot of ways, Setubal have been just as porous as Academica this season, and, the Students seem to fair well in this matchup having won 3 and drawn 2 in their last 6 clashes, the Old Esquire are actually quite strong at home, and that should tilt this result in their direction.

All 5 of Setubal’s wins have come at home this season where they’ve also scored 12 of their 16 goals. In contrast, Paulo Sergio’s men, an offensively terrible outfit, are even worse on the road having only scored 3 of their 12 goals away from the comfortable settings of the Estadio Cidade de Coimbra.

In addition to that, Academica haven’t scored in 5 of their last 6 road games, and, are winless in their last 13 Liga matches. As bad as Setubal’s season has been thus far, Academica’s has been absolutely abysmal.

Their only saving grace might be that their one and only victory this season came away from home, and, Setubal have conceded a goal in 9 straight league games. But frankly, I really don’t see them taking much solace in these facts.

Although the first meeting between these two sides ended in a 1-1 draw, Academica only hit the scoreboard as a result of a Lukas Raeder own goal in the 7th minute. Frederico Venancio equalized 10 minutes later and that was that.

With Setubal, there is always a chance of them disappointing and dropping points as they did last week against Gil Vicente, but, this is an opportunity for them to distance themselves from Academica and the relegation zone itself. I see Setubal winning a tight one here.

Prediction: Setubal 1-0 Academica

Guimaraes vs. Belenenses – Sun. Feb. 8th – 4pm local/UK, 11am EST

The match between Guimaraes and Belenenses that sees the Blues travel to the Estadio D. Afonso Henriques is probably the hardest one to pick of the lot this round.

Both teams have been shaken up and shaken up in a big way since the January transfer window, and, only time will tell how much of an impact all these changes have on this game.

For Belenenses, out went striker Deyverson in a loan deal to Cologne of the Bundesliga, and in came Benfica B prospect Rui Fonte, also on a loan deal. It’s quite the interesting swap for Lito Vidigal to make because, on paper, he’s massively upgraded his striker position: Fonte has scored 17 goals in all competitions this season whereas Deyverson has only scored 9. But, the issue here is how, exactly, the numbers of the former translate in the first division as opposed to the second. The kid is immensely talented, but, sometimes these loan moves are a disaster.

And for Guimaraes, the previously mentioned sale of Hernani to Porto brought in Ivo Rodrigues, Otavio, and Sami on loan deals. Although Hernani’s been one of the Little Whites’ best performers this season, having scored 4 goals in all competitions and seemingly creating an infinite amount of chances, you’d have to think 3 for the price of 1 is a decent deal for Rui Vitoria’s men. The issue is the same as above: The numbers are solid, but, will they be the same when playing with the big boys on a regular basis. If they are, and Rodrigues matches his tally of 13 goals in all competitions, then, the departure of Hernani might not even be felt.

None of these changes should come as a surprise given the recent dip in form of both squads. With Guimaraes only earning 10 points in their last 8 games, and Belenenses earning 6, including going winless in their last 4 on the road, something had to be done and fast.

Both teams have shown that they’re consistent defensively what with Guimaraes only conceding 16 goals and Belenenses 20. It’s that strength that has given both a shot at European football come next fall. But, in order to get there, the offensively gifted young bloods are going to have to play a big part going forward.

Guimaraes have won 4 of the last 6 meetings between these two, outscoring Belenenses 9-3, but, there are way too many unanswered questions here to confidently predict a winner. So I’m going with a draw.

Prediction: Guimaraes 1-1 Belenenses

Maritimo vs. Gil Vicente – Sun. Feb. 8th – 4pm local/UK, 11am EST

The next match sees the Green-and-Reds of Maritimo, a top 6 team at home this season earning 19 points in their 9 games, hosting the dead last Gil Vicente at the Estadio dos Barreiros in Funchal. It’s a game where pretty much anything can happen because Maritimo are like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get.

And that’s doubly true right now considering the last few days Leonel Pontes’ men have had: They’ve lost leading goal scorer Moussa Maazou, the striker from Niger who had scored 10 goals in all competitions – including 9 in the Liga, which put him 2nd to only Porto’s Martinez – to Chinese club Changchun Yatai FC (a club none of us had heard of until this transfer happened), and, they found out that they’ll be losing defensive midfield stalwart Danilo Pereira to a suspected Premier League club in the summer. Their best two players this season, gone just like that. Talk about gutted.

At least the last place Roosters are in town, the side that’s winless in their last 12 on the road and has only earned 3 points in their 9 matches away from home this season. Add to that the fact that Jose Mota’s squad has conceded in 7 straight games and this should be a cakewalk, no?

Well, no. You see, with regards to form, not much separates these two sides: Maritimo have only earned 9 points in their last 8 games and Gil Vicente have earned 7. I’d even go so far as to argue that the boys from Barcelos have been playing better than their opponents on Sunday even though some of their results may suggest otherwise.

Take last week for example: Gil Vicente took it to Setubal and, had it not been for a moment of lax defending when Zequinha was left alone in the box to neatly head in the tying goal on 83 minutes, they would’ve won that game. But, as it stands, it just goes down as another draw.

Maritimo’s match with Academica was quite the back-and-forth affair in and of itself, but, it has to be said that their only goal came off a lucky deflection off a defender following an Edgar Costa shot.

With Maazou gone – the man who scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory earlier in the season – I struggle to see who will make the most of opportunities to score for the Madeirans, and with the Roosters’ play recently, I feel like the question isn’t if they will score, but when. For that reason I see Maritimo dropping points at home and Gil Vicente earning a big one.

Prediction: Maritimo 1-1 Gil Vicente

Arouca vs. Nacional – Sun. Feb. 8th – 4pm local/UK, 11am EST

In what is the closest matchup to call on paper this week, Pedro Emanuel’s Arouca play host to a suddenly surging Nacional side that have won 4 league games in a row and earned 15 points in their last 8 games.

Excluding Portugal’s “Big Three” of Benfica, Porto, and Sporting, the Nationalists are in the best form of anyone in the Liga, but, they’re not without their warts, especially on the road: Coming into this match, Nacional have conceded at least 2 goals in 8 of their last 9 games away from home, and, have allowed almost 3 times as many goals on the road as at home (a ratio of 19-7).

Having said that, there’s a reason why Arouca only sit in 15th in the table with 15 points, and that reason is their ineptitude on offense: They currently find themselves with the worst offensive record in the league having only scored 11 goals at this point of the season.

If this game wasn’t being played at the Estadio Municipal de Arouca, I wouldn’t give anything other than a Nacional win much thought. But, the fact that Manuel Machado’s side will be on the road, where statistics say they’re less comfortable, forces me to look at things from a different perspective.

Although Arouca find themselves on a 3 game losing streak, they seem to be stronger at home- where they’ve earned 10 of their 15 points – and have a similar defensive record to that of Nacional having only conceded 3 more goals this season. Add to that the fact that the Arouquenses hold the slight advantage in the last 4 meetings between these two having won 2, drawn once, and matched the Madeirans goal tally at 3, and, you might have the perfect recipe for an upset.

But, I still can’t bring myself to pull the trigger on that call. I’m just going to play it safe and ride each team’s streak in this one. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to me to see Nacional drop points though. Just putting that out there.

Prediction: Arouca 1-2 Nacional

P. Ferreira vs. Penafiel – Sun. Feb. 8th – 4pm local/UK, 11am EST

Paulo Fonseca will find himself back behind the bench for Pacos de Ferreira this Sunday after serving a 10 day suspension for being sent to the stands during the Benfica match, and boy, if last week’s demolishing at the hands of Porto is any indication, they sure will be glad to have him back when they host Penafiel.

Now, I know Porto and Penafiel are world’s apart with regards to talent and record, but, the Red-and-Black, much like fellow bottom-feeders Gil Vicente, have actually been playing better recently drawing their last 2 matches. Also, it must be said that the defensively disastrous Penafiel, who find themselves dead last in the category with 36 goals conceded, only allow half as many goals on the road then at home (12-24), so, we just might have a quality game here.

I think that, at the very least, this will be an entertaining match given Pacos’ propensity to both score goals and leak goals at home: Not only have the Beavers scored in 9 straight home games, but, they’ve also conceded a goal in 8 of their last 10 at the Estadio da Mata Real.

Oh, and it’s probably worth mentioning that Pacos have also conceded at least 2 goals in 5 of their last 6 Liga matches regardless of the confines. So, I don’t know about you, but, I get the feeling we’re going to see some goals scored in this one.

Unfortunately though, for Rui Quinta’s men, I don’t believe they’ll score enough of them to get a win here. They usually don’t. The last 4 times these sides have met, Penafiel have only managed to lose twice, and draw twice, being outscored 8-4 in the process. Couple that with the realization that they’re winless in their last 6 league games, and, I can’t see them pulling out the 3 points here.

I can’t really see them earning a single point either. Put me down for a 2-1 Pacos win. One where all the neutrals that watch feel satisfied.

Prediction: P. Ferreira 2-1 Penafiel

Estoril vs. Braga – Sun. Feb. 8th – 6pm local/UK, 1pm EST

In what is a matchup chalked full of peculiar statistics, the Canaries of Estoril host Sporting Braga at the Estadio Antonio Coimbra da Mota.

Get a load of these doozies and see if you can make sense of them: Estoril come into this contest undefeated in their last 5 home games and have scored in every single one of their home games in the league this season. Wow. They’re a formidable home opponent right? Nope. Curiously, Jose Couceiro’s men have been one of the worst home teams this campaign, only picking up 14 of a possible 27 points. That puts them near the bottom of the table.

Over on the Braga side of things, the Archbishops are very strong defensively sitting in 3rd in that category with only 13 goals conceded, but, of those 13, 10 have been allowed on the road. They’ve also conceded in 3 straight games away from home, but, on 12 points, find themselves as the 5th best road team in the league. In other words, they’re very strong defensively on the road, but, not so strong defensively on the road. Got it? Yeah, me neither.

Let’s turn our attention to recent results then: Although the match looked to be in doubt for a while, Braga eventually overcame Moreirense 1-0 on a goal by substitute Pedro Santos on 73 minutes; Estoril failed to exact the revenge I was hoping for against Rio Ave when a terrible red card decision gave Yonathan Del Valle a goal from a spot-kick, and, Ahmed Hassan won it at the death after the Canaries equalized.

As you might expect between the 5th place and 9th place team in the table, there isn’t much separating these squads with regards to form: Estoril have picked up 14 points in their last 8, and, Braga have earned 13 points. Also, 5 of their last 6 meetings ended with only 1 goal separating the two. Oddly enough, none of those matches ended in a draw as Estoril won twice and Braga won 4 times.

Seems like we’re due for one then, huh? Well, I’m expecting a draw this time around. Even if I wanted to pick a winner, many of these statistics are too confusing and contradictory to actually get a decent feel for the game. So I’ll sit on a draw, thank you very much.

Prediction: Estoril 1-1 Braga

Sporting vs. Benfica – Sun. Feb. 8th – 8pm local/UK, 3pm EST

And then there’s this one. The BIG one! Have you ever stopped to wonder what would happen if an unstoppable force met an immoveable object? I have. And I think I’m going to get the answer to that question when the Eagles travel to the Estadio Jose Alvalade to take on Sporting in the Lisbon derby.

Playing the role of the unstoppable force is, of course, Marco Silva’s 3rd place Lions. They come into the matchup in the best form of anyone in the league earning 22 of a possible 24 points in their last 8 games, and, having won their last 6 games. Sporting have also gone undefeated at home this season, scoring in every single match in front of their fans. In fact, they’ve only failed to score in one match all season long.

Benfica are the other team that’s only failed to score once this season (in that recent defeat to Pacos) and they’ll be the immoveable object of the weekend. Jorge Jesus’ side currently sit at the top of the standings and have the 2nd best form with 21 of a possible 24 points in their last 8. They’ve gone undefeated in 35 of their last 38 games, kept a clean sheet in 8 of their last 9, and, kept a clean sheet in 13 of their 19 games this season.

Although Benfica are still, statistically speaking, the best road team in the league, their only 2 losses this season have come on the road, and their only draw came against Sporting in the game played at the Estadio da Luz. So, even though the only meeting Sporting won in their last 6 tries came in a club friendly, this is by no means an easy matchup for the Eagles.

Hey, you know who played a big part for Benfica in that draw earlier in the year? Two people: Nico Gaitan and Artur. Gaitan scored their only goal of the match, and, given the fact that he’s still questionable with that injury of his, it’ll be interesting to see who scores the goals this time around should he not be on the pitch in this crucial game. And Artur, or course, made the error that lead to Slimani’s equalizer. He’ll be between the posts again as Julio Caesar is expected to be out until March with a thigh injury.

Over on the Sporting side, Jefferson is expected to be back which will surely do nothing but help a young Portuguese defense that can struggle when left exposed by Silva’s aggressive tactics.

Expect a fantastic game people. One with the emotion lighting the proverbial roof on fire! That’s how it usually is between these giants of Portugal. You have to watch this.

I’m predicting, or, should I say, hope for, an incident-filled, goal-laden draw!

Prediction: Sporting 2-2 Benfica


Boavista vs. Rio Ave – Mon. Feb. 9th – 8pm local/UK, 3pm EST

And finally, our one and only Monday match see Petit’s Boavista hosting the Big River of Rio Ave at the Estadio do Bessa in what should be another close, tightly contested battle.

Now, if you’re a statistics major, the overwhelming amount of evidence supporting Rio in this contest might have you fooled into guaranteeing them a victory. Pedro Martins’ boys are better across the board including on both offense and defense with 26 goals scored and 25 goals conceded to Boavista’s 15 goals scored and 34 goals conceded, but, something tells me both form and location will have a lot to do with the outcome in this one.

Although the Panthers are offensively mediocre, sitting 14th overall, they’ve scored in 8 straight at home, and, 12 of their 15 goals have come at home. In addition to that, 15 of their 19 points have been won at home, so, clearly, they’re a different side to contend with in their own barn.

Contrast those numbers with those of Rio and you’ll see yet another side to the story. Of those 25 goals conceded, 20 of them have come on the road, and, only 9 of their 27 points have been earned away from the Vila do Conde. They’re obviously a different side on the road.

With regards to form, not much separates these two: Rio have earned 10 points in their last 8 and Boavista have earned 9. Also, 3 of the last 6 games between them have ended in a draw. The other 2 ended in 2 wins for the former and 1 win for the latter.

If I had to take a guess (and, let’s face it – that’s what this series is all about) I’d have to say that most of the action in this one is going to come in the last 15 minutes. At home, in the closing minutes of a match, Petit’s men outscore their opponents 6-1 whereas Martins’ side have been outscored by an 8-1 margin.

I’m not gonna go so far as to predict a Boavista victory, but, I don’t see them losing either. They’ll be looking to bounce back after their loss to Benfica last week and Rio were, in a lot of ways, lucky to beat Estoril. I smell another 1-1 draw.

Prediction: Boavista 1-1 Rio Ave

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