Primeira Preview & Prediction (PPP) – Round 22

Can Nani s Sporting rebound this weekend after two discouraging performances? Photo: Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images

Can Nani’s Sporting rebound this weekend after two discouraging performances? Photo: Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images

It’s alive! It’s alive! After 5 mediocre to subpar weeks, my prediction record is alive! And I’m the king of the world!

OK, I know I’m getting a little ahead of myself here on Oscar weekend, but, I can’t help it – I had a great week! My overall record has improved to 21-24 thanks to a round that saw me go 7-2 with my predictions, including correctly guessing the exact score of three games. The only 2 teams that let me down were Sporting and Penafiel; THAT my friends, is quite the achievement. It’s almost like I know what I’m talking about.

But, I’m not naïve. I’ve experienced a 1-8 week before and I know the same thing could easily happen this week, thus sinking me like Leonardo DiCaprio in the Titanic. I hope that’s not the case though.

I want to show you all the money – by money I mean sharing bragging rights of course – but, at the same time, I’m realistic and I expect to be brought down to Earth a little. Gravity rules. What goes up must come down.

I just don’t want to come too down. I consistently need more wins than losses if I’m going to play this prognostication game well, and, in case you haven’t noticed, I do want to play this game well. In fact, I want someone to hand me a shiny gold statue for “Best Performance by a Portuguese Prognosticator” when the season comes to a close. But that can only happen if I have more weeks like last week. And, that’s gonna be tough given the unpredictability of Liga NOS.

If the previous Valentine’s round was all about identity, then, this Oscar edition, should, appropriately, be all about drama: In the reverse matches of round 22 played earlier in the season, a man was sent off in 7 of the 9 games, radically changing the outcome in nearly every one. Now, while I don’t necessarily expect the same kind of thing to happen this time around, that fact, in and of itself, sets up some very intriguing rematches to follow.

I suspect this week, like every other week in Portugal, will be fun to watch. Get your popcorn ready; the features are about to start. Here are my previews and predictions for round 22:

Ferreira vs. Guimaraes – Fri. Feb. 20th – 8:30pm local/UK, 3:30pm EST

We kickoff the weekend with another Friday matchup featuring Vitoria de Guimaraes as they travel to the Estadio da Mata Real to take on Pacos de Ferreira.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s official – Guimaraes are in crisis. Despite sitting in 5th in the table on 36 points, they’re in terrible form having only picked up 8 points in their last 8 games.

Rui Vitoria’s men, after having a record-breaking 1st half to the season, are now winless in their last 4 overall, drawing bottom-feeders Gil Vicente and Penafiel in the process. That winless streak can be stretched to 5 games when taking road results into account.

A team that was once rife with enthusiasm and creativity has completely lost its mojo not only going goalless in its last 2 matches, but, being shutout in 6 of its last 10. Whether it’s Austin Powers or Stella herself, someone needs to help this team get its groove back.

Paulo Fonseca isn’t the man for that job though; he wants to do the complete opposite. He wants to extend the misery, and, numbers suggest that he can: The Beavers, who currently sit 8th in the standings on goal difference, are one of the stronger teams at home earning 20 of a possible 33 points, and, scoring 19 of their 26 goals there thus far this season.

They also seem to match up quite well with the Little Whites, winning twice and drawing twice in their last 6 meetings with them, including their 1st clash earlier in the campaign when a red card to Helder Lopes wasn’t enough to keep them from earning a point on the road.

If Guimaraes wasn’t in such a dry spell offensively, I’d consider giving them a look against Pacos. But, as things stand right now – I just can’t see them winning any match let alone this one. That doesn’t mean I’m tapping them to lose though.

Pacos just have too many issues of their own, particularly on the backend, to keep the returning Andre Andre and his side off the scoresheet here: In their 11 home games this season, they’ve conceded at least 1 goal in 9 of them. That’s an area where you’d think a team with European ambitions would be stronger, but, that’s not the case.

So, I’m just going to go with a draw here. I don’t think Pacos will be able to score enough against a stingy Guimaraes squad to get a win, and, I can’t see Guimaraes creating enough chances to win themselves.

Prediction: P. Ferreira 1-1 Guimaraes


Braga vs. Nacional – Sat. Feb. 21st – 5pm local/UK, 12pm EST

Now we move to Saturday when Sporting Braga host Nacional at the Estadio Municipal. This is one of those something’s gotta give matchups.

Braga comes into the contest on a 3 game winning streak, keeping a clean sheet in all of those games. They’ve also won 8 of their last 10 home games, keeping a clean sheet in 7 of those victories. I only have one question for Manuel Machado and his Nacional side: “Do ya feel lucky?”

Actually yeah, they probably do. Both teams probably do given the way they won their matches last week: In Braga the Arsenalistas escaped a penalty claim by Arouca and had an offside goal by Eder count for insurance in a 2-0 win; over in a windy Madeira, Nacional won their match with Estoril on a Lucas Joao goal that I’m still not convinced went all the way over the line.

How does that saying go again? You have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good? Yeah, well, the Nationalists are both at the moment.

Not only are Nacional undefeated in their last 6 games (winning 5 of them), they’ve scored in each of those 6 games, and, scored at least 3 goals in their last 3 road games. They’re in the best form of anyone outside the “Big Three” having earned 16 of a possible 24 points in their last 8 games. It must be said that Sergio Conceicao’s men aren’t far behind though as they, too, are in good form having earned 15 of 24 points in their last 8 games.

So what are we to make of this matchup? It’s form versus form; luck versus luck. The force is strong with both of them.

Maybe it’s as simple as home versus away: As alluded to earlier, Braga are incredibly strong at home, holding the 3rd best record in that category, earning 25 of a possible 30 points. Nacional, in contrast, are one of the weaker road teams, sitting 12th in that category and only earning 8 of a possible 30 points.

But, Nacional actually has the advantage in head to head meetings: They’ve won 3, drawn once, and outscored Braga by a 12-9 margin in their last 6 fixtures. Could we see yet another positive result for the men in white and black?

Yes, I think we could. In fact, I’ll say we will. Not a win, but, another draw. The same result we seen in the reverse contest last September. Someone else is gonna have to score for the Nationalists though – Saleh Gomaa will be serving a red card suspension. Oh and I don’t expect to see Aderllan pick up another 2 yellow cards in 4 minutes for the Archbishops like he did the last time these sides met.

Prediction: Braga 1-1 Nacional

Setubal vs. Penafiel – Sat. Feb. 21st – 6pm local/UK, 1pm EST

This is the obligatory worst versus worst matchup of the weekend. When Vitoria de Setubal host Penafiel at the Estadio do Bonfim, it’s gonna be like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly only without the good.

These 2 teams are horrible in just about every statistical category measured: Setubal are 14th in the table on 19 points, 16th in offense with 16 goals scored, tied for 2nd last on defense with 35 goals conceded, and have only earned 8 points in their last 8 games; Penafiel are last in the league and last in defense with 42 goals conceded, 13th on offense with 18 goals scored, and have only earned 3 points in their last 8 games.

Bruno Ribeiro’s men are also winless in their last 3 matches having been shutout in the last 2. So much for that coaching change huh? The more things change, the more they stay the same it seems.

And Penafiel? What more can I say about poor, poor Penafiel? At this point, someone should take their results for the season and write a gothic novel.

For the 2nd week in a row, Rui Quinta’s players took the lead in a match only to find themselves in a losing position within 2 minutes of losing that advantage. It’s a devastating pattern that’s emerged for the Red-and-Black recently: In 4 of their last 6 matches Penafiel have found themselves in front at one point or another only to capitulate and lose that lead in the process. Of the 12 points available to them in those 4 games, they’ve only managed to pick up 1 for their efforts. No wonder they’re winless in 8.

It isn’t a lack of talent or bad luck that’s going to get Penafiel relegated at the end of the year, it’s the complete lack of belief in themselves after they lose a lead. And, to be honest, I can see a similar plot revealing itself in this sequel.

The Sado River boys have earned 16 of their 19 points at home and have scored 75% of their goals at home (12 of 16), but they’ve also conceded the opening goal in 71% of their games. You know what that means. Don’t be surprised to see another folding of the tent here.

I often find myself pulling for Penafiel because I can’t stand watching this team try so hard only to come up short time and time again. It’s like watching a hamster run itself into the ground on a wheel that spins in place. Not exactly my cup of tea. But, I’m afraid I can’t see them picking up a win here either.

I believe Penafiel are a better side than Setubal at the moment, but, I fully expect their insecurities to rise to the surface and cost them another match. They should still be good enough for a draw though. So I’m hoping, for both their sake and mine, that they can pull through in that regard.

Prediction: Setubal 2-2 Penafiel

Moreirense vs. Benfica – Sat. Feb. 21st – 7pm local/UK, 2pm EST

Moreirense’s tough run of opponents continues to close out Saturday’s action as league leaders Benfica travel to Moreira de Conegos looking to retain their 4 point lead on their nearest rivals Porto.

The Green and Whites have actually played pretty well in recent weeks despite having to go up against Porto, Braga, and an in form Nacional amongst others, but, they just haven’t been able to get the results they’ve been looking for. As a result, they’ve only been able to pick up 8 points in their last 8 rounds, and, come into this matchup winless in their last 4, having conceded at least 1 goal in all of those games.

I wish I could say things will get better for them here, but, it’s Benfica. They won’t.

Miguel Leal’s side is actually pretty weak at home having only earned 15 points thus far in the season. That puts them in 13th place in the home table. That’s worse than Setubal. You know you have a problem when Setubal is ahead of you in a category.

Benfica, on the other hand, is the league’s best road team earning 25 of a possible 33 points. They’ve also gone undefeated in 36 of their last 39 league games – this is just a statistic that’s worth repeating over and over again – have won 7 of their last 9, and have kept a clean sheet in 9 of their last 11.

Andreas Samaris will be out for the Eagles after picking up his 9th yellow card of the season against Setubal, and, Nico Gaitan’s inclusion is still up in the air at this point, with physical limitations preventing him from regaining the necessary fitness to compete, but, that won’t make much of a difference here.

Jorge Jesus’ men have Moreirense’s number going undefeated in their last 6 meetings with them – 5 of those games ended in a win – and collectively outscoring them 15-4. So, it doesn’t look good for the 11th place side.

I will say this though, Benfica are winless in their last 2 games on the road (conceding in both) and, were trailing through a 16th minute Joao Pedro goal in September the last time these clubs met in a league match. It wasn’t until Marcelo Oliveira was sent off with his 2nd yellow card on the 57-minute mark that the walls caved in and the Eagles went on to win 3-1. So, on second thought, maybe there is a faint glimmer of hope for Moreirense.

Nah, I don’t see it. I expect Benfica to take this one. Maybe not as comfortably as a 2-0 score line might suggest, but, comfortably enough to take the 3 points.

Prediction: Moreirense 0-2 Benfica

Arouca vs. Rio Ave – Sun. Feb. 22nd – 4pm local/UK, 11am EST

The Arouquenses host Pedro Martins’ Big River at the Estadio Municipal to open up Sunday’s action, and, I’ll bet they can’t wait to get on the pitch.

Yes, you read that correctly. It’s Arouca who can’t wait to get going in this one, and here’s why: In the last 4 meetings between these 2 sides, Rio Ave hasn’t won any of them. In fact, the best result they’ve achieved has been a single draw. Can you say kryptonite anyone?

Of course, that isn’t the only stat that favours Arouca in this matchup: Although Rio sit in a healthy 7th place in the table on 29 points, they’ve conceded in 5 straight games, and, have only 1 win in their last 10 road games. They’re also a bit more Hyde than Jekyll defensively away from the Estadio do Rio Ave, as they’ve surrendered 3 times as many goals away than at home (21-6).

Arouca does have its warts though, no 16th place team doesn’t: They’re 15th in the home table with only 11 points earned, have only scored 14 goals thus far, and are in terrible form, winning only 7 points in their last 8 games. They’re also winless in their last 5, and, have conceded at least 2 goals in their last 3 games.

All of those numbers are very good reasons to suggest Pedro Emanuel’s men won’t be able to escape this contest with a win, but, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. I think they will.

They’ve played well in the last 2 games, picking up a point against a streaking Nacional side, and, probably being robbed of one against Braga. They completely dominated the 2nd half against the Arsenalistas up until defender Tinoco picked up his 2nd yellow card and was sent off, and, at times, I think they shoot themselves in the foot with how cautious they set up.

I don’t think they’ll be too cautious here though. They should’ve learnt a lesson by now, and, even if they haven’t, they can’t afford to be too careful at this point. Relegation is staring them straight in the face, and, if they want to avoid it, they need wins ASAP.

I’m gonna take a calculated risk and go with the boys in yellow. They’re due for a win.

Prediction: Arouca 2-1 Rio Ave

Maritimo vs. Belenenses – Sun. Feb. 22nd – 4:15pm local/UK, 11:15am EST

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, when Maritimo host Belenenses at the Estadio dos Barreiros, who will win and who will fall? Or, will they draw?

It’s interesting just how much of a reflection these 2 teams are of each other right now: Maritimo are 6th on offense with 28 goals scored; Belenenses are 11th with 20. The latter is 6th on defense with only 21 goals allowed; the former is 11th with 30. Also, both will faceoff against each other on similar form with the Green-and-Reds winning 11 points in their last 8 and the Blues winning 10.

And then there’s the issue of comebacks – both teams experienced one last weekend, but, on different ends of the spectrum: Lito Vidigal’s men looked like they had taken a big 3 points away from Sporting only to be foiled by Mr. fashionably late Carlos Mane in extra time, and, Leonel Pontes’ side stormed back against a fragile Penafiel to earn a 4-3 victory.

How much of a psychological blow did Belenenses suffer following that game with the Lions? Will they sink back into poor form after climbing out of the quicksand they’d found themselves in? And what of Maritimo? Will that incredible comeback spur them on to greater results?

After being shutout in 7 of their previous 8 games, Belenenses have actually turned things around in the goal-scoring department, scoring in 3 straight. Rui Fonte in particular, has had an immense impact since coming over from Benfica’s B side, and, scored his 1st for the team on that calamitous mistake by Rui Patricio.

And, remember how concerned I was about Maritimo’s offense following the departure of leading scorer Moussa Maazou? Well, I guess I shouldn’t have been because they don’t miss him very much: They’ve scored in 4 straight games themselves.

They’ve also conceded goals in their last 3 though. And, although they’re a much stronger side at home than they are away having earned 19 of their 27 points there, they don’t have that same aura of invincibility that they used to have (losing to Gil Vicente and being hammered by the Eagles will do that to you). So, what do we do?

I’m actually going to lean on recent history with these guys: In the last 6 meetings between these 2, both sides matched each other for goals with 8, and, drew each other 3 times. Also, an interesting pattern has emerged with regards to Maritimo’s results in the last couple of months. The pattern is as follows: win, draw, loss, win, draw, loss. If you remember correctly, they won their game last week. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

Put me down for a draw. I think Belenenses will have to shake off a few cobwebs in much the same way Sporting had to last week, but, I think they’ll be strong enough defensively to frustrate a Maritimo side that will be feeling pretty good about themselves.

Prediction: Maritimo 1-1 Belenenses

Estoril vs. Academica – Sun. Feb. 22nd – 5pm local/UK, 12pm EST

And then we have the kindergarten scholars of Academica to deal with. If I could hand pick one team and boot them out of the league, it would be them for the sheer number of 0-0 draws alone.

Academica are, in my opinion, the worst team in the league. I know the table says Penafiel are 2 points worse, but, Penafiel at least gives you the impression that they can win a game. They’re also quite entertaining to watch which is the last thing you can say about this Coimbran side. The Students should be nominated for Razzies not Oscars.

Maybe things will change now that the club and manager Paulo Sergio have parted ways following that goalless draw to Boavista last Sunday. I guess it all depends on what kind of ideas Jose Viterbo, of under-23 Briosa fame, brings to the table.

Don’t expect him to act as director for too long though, he’s only there on an interim basis to guide the club through this transition in much the same way Rui Santos did for Setubal following the dismissal of Domingos Paciencia.

Sergio actually became only the 4th coach to be relieved of his duties this season – which is a surprising low number – following the departures of Joao de Deus at Gil Vicente, Ricardo Cheu at Penafiel, and Paciencia at Setubal. In outgoing interviews he did the classy thing and took all responsibility for the club’s struggles this season, but, I’m not so sure the problems are down to him alone.

Whoever comes in to succeed him has a big job on his hands. Academica are winless in their last 15 matches, and, are horrible in just about every statistical category. Those numbers include but aren’t limited to: Being 17th in the table on 15 points, 15th on the road with only 6 points banked, and being dead last in the league on offense with only 12 goals scored. In fact, they’ve failed to score in 6 of their last 7 road games.

Their lone bright spot might just be on defense where they’re 9th with 27 goals conceded. Hey, I guess all those 0-0 draws gave them something to boast about after all.

The boasting should be short-lived though – this team is in all kinds of trouble. Did you know that since returning to the top flight 12 years ago, they’ve only finished in the top-10 once? That’s incredible! They’ve basically been fighting to survive every season and this one is no different.

Estoril are struggling a bit as well as they’ve lost their last 3 and been shutout in their last 2, but, the sky isn’t falling at quite the same rate for them as it is for their counterparts. Although Jose Couceiro’s men sit in 12th in the table on 25 points, they’re actually only 6 points behind Belenenses for 6th, so, a win could easily propel them up the ladder.

I don’t think they’re going to get one here though. They won’t lose, but, I don’t think they’ll win either. And, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but, the game won’t end in a goalless draw either.

It’s customary to see a bump in performance any time a coach gets relieved of their duties – it happens in all sports – and, I think we’ll see the same thing here with Academica.

Prediction: Estoril 1-1 Academica

Sporting vs. Gil Vicente – Sun. Feb. 22nd – 6:15pm local/UK, 1:15pm EST

This is the game I’m most looking forward to watching this weekend. One side is playing really well and has next to nothing to lose in the contest; the other is hitting a bit of a wall and might lose everything in the next couple of weeks. It doesn’t get more dramatic than that. I think this match is going to be a blockbuster!

Simply put, Gil Vicente aren’t the pushovers that they were earlier in the season. They’ve been quietly gaining momentum in the last month and a half, going undefeated in their last 4 games, and, picking up their first 3 wins of the season within their last 6 matches. It’s a form that’s given them 11 points in their last 8 rounds, and, pushed them out of the relegation zone for the first time all season.

Sporting, on the other hand, are a bit of a wounded animal right now. They’ve drawn their last 2 games when, you could probably say, they deserved to win them both, and, they lost to an impressive Wolfsburg team in Europa League action on Thursday. A team that looked like a surging locomotive just a couple of weeks ago now feels like they can barely push through the tracks.

I did expect a bit of a letdown from Marco Silva’s men after their devastating draw against Benfica, but, I still expected them to come out on top against Belenenses. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t, and now they find themselves 9 points behind the Eagles and 5 points behind Porto in 3rd.

With a game against those very Dragons coming up next week, and, Braga slowly sneaking up behind them, only trailing by 4 points in 4th place, this is a must win for Sporting. Again, I wonder how this young team will respond.

Is that comeback draw against the Blues a good result, or, a bad one for the Lions? I mean, obviously a win is better than a draw, but, when comparing the draw against Benfica and the one against Belenenses, are they both equally disappointing? Or, is one more frustrating than the other?

I happen to think it’s a good thing that Sporting got to equalize late last week after losing a lead late the week prior. Aside from a dominating victory, that was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to them. And, I expect them to return to their impressive league form against the Roosters.

Of their last 6 encounters with Gil Vicente, Sporting have won 5 and only lost once, outscoring them by a 13-5 margin. Their last Liga match in September was particularly impressive: They didn’t allow the side named after the Portuguese playwright to register a single shot on target and went on to win 4-0. Something tells me they’re going to need a similar type of effort against Jose Mota’s men to recalibrate their aspirations for the season.

Although it doesn’t quite feel like it anymore, it’s worth remembering that the Lions are still in the midst of an impressive run of form going undefeated in their last 12 league matches, and, scoring in all of those games. They’ve also scored in every single match at the Estadio Jose Alvalade this season. I think it’s safe to say they won’t lose this match regardless of how well their opponents are playing.

I do think Gil Vicente will push forward and give them a bit of a scare though; I see them getting on the board themselves given the fact that Sporting will be missing Cedric as he serves a red card suspension, and, the fact that Rui Patricio looked really shaky in his last outing.

Put me down for a very entertaining match, and, a very entertaining Sporting win.

Prediction: Sporting 3-1 Gil Vicente

Boavista vs. Porto – Mon. Feb. 23rd – 8pm local/UK, 3pm EST

And finally, to bring our Oscar-themed weekend to a close, Monday night football sees Boavista host city rivals Porto in a Liga match for the first time in 7 years. The Estadio do Bessa will be rocking! My goodness, what a derby this should be!

Although it took a 25th minute red card to Maicon to do it, and, they didn’t manage to hit a single one of their 3 shots on goal, Boavista still managed to draw Porto 0-0 at the Estadio do Dragao last go round. That’s definitely a fantastic result for the lesser Porto side, and, they’ll surely be taking some encouragement in the fact that they’re a much stronger team in their own stadium.

Indeed, when it comes to Petit’s men, there’s no place like home: 16 of their 21 points have been earned at home, 13 of their 16 goals have been scored at home, and, they’ve managed to score in 9 straight home games.

Having said that, Maritimo are the only ones who’ve managed to slay the Dragons on the road this season, and, Porto come into this match having scored at least 2 goals in 6 of their last 7 road games. They’ve also won 7 of their last 8 and have kept a clean sheet in their last 3. Yikes. That sounds ominous. Kinda like the music in Jaws before the shark jumps out of the water and takes a bite out of someone.

Boavista has managed to defeat Porto before – that was in a club friendly back in 2007 – that has to count for something. Plus, when you consider the fact that the 2nd place squad will be missing Danilo, Casemiro, and Alex Sandro after they picked up yellow cards last Friday, it might not be quite so farfetched to give the Panthers a chance here.

There’s also the fact that Boavista are catching Porto after a Champions League match with Basel in Switzerland, and, before a big match with Sporting next weekend. Might the Dragons’ attention be elsewhere?

You know what? I suspect that it is, and, I can see that being a factor in this match. But, I still can’t see Boavista winning. They’ll play well. They’ll be physical. The environment will be raucous. But, they still won’t win. Or, get a draw for that matter.

Put me down for a very slim, and, probably unconvincing, Porto win.

Prediction: Boavista 0-1 Porto

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