Porto vs Benfica | Sunday 14 December | Estadio do Dragao | 22:00
Portugal will come to a standstill on Sunday as the country’s biggest football clubs clash in what is dubbed the O Classico. Current league champions and log leaders Benfica will travel to Porto in an effort to extend their three point lead over their rivals, while a win for Porto will allow them to move into top spot. The rivalry comes about as Lisbon and Porto are the two largest cities in Portugal, and the clubs are two of the wealthiest, currently the most successful and influential football teams in the country. The animosity between these two sides also extends from the country's political, cultural and sporting history. Both sides earned commanding league wins last Saturday to set this vital tie up perfectly.
To Win (90mins)
Porto maintained their unbeaten record this season with a 3-0 win at Academica last weekend courtesy of a Jackson Martinez brace. Martinez scored his first in the thirteenth minute and found the net for a second time nine minutes later. Hector Herrera rounded off the win two minutes into the second half. After an inconsistent start to the season, the Dragons have hit their stride and are the only unbeaten side in the league. Their European form has been just as impressive as they lead their Champions League group, also unbeaten, with four wins and one draw before their final group game a few days before the O Classico. While scoring 27 goals in twelve league games, Porto’s defensive game has been just as impressive letting in only five goals – two less than Benfica. Their home form has been sublime, slipping up just once when they drew with Boavista but have won five times scoring fourteen goals and conceding just once.
Colombian striker Martinez has kept up his phenomenal form that earned him last season’s top scorer gong. The powerful forward tops the Primeira scoring charts with ten goals this season and his brace last weekend would have done his confidence the world of good heading into this mammoth clash. Since arriving at Porto in 2012, he has scored 74 goals in 109 appearances.
Capable of the truly sublime, Martinez is devastating from close range and dangerous from distance. Porto have two skilful wingers in Cristian Tello and Ricardo Quaresma playing alongside Martinez, who make sure the goal scoring machine is never short of chances.
Benfica remained three points clear at the top of the Portuguese Primeira after also recording a 3-0 win. The champions triumphed for the tenth time in twelve games at home to crosstown rivals Belenenses with second-half goals from Rodrigo Lima, Enzo Perez and Eduardo Salvio. It was a majestic second half performance that broke Belenenses' run of six games without a loss. The Eagles have been superb in their title defence thus far, losing just once and drawing just once in their twelve matches. Benfica have scored a goal more than Porto while conceding just two more, seven. Benfica have not carried their league form into Europe and finished bottom of their group. Last season's Europa League runners-up won only once in the Champions League this season, beating Monaco 1-0 at Estadio da Luz in November.
This could serve as a plus for them as head coach Jorge Jesus rested his key players for the midweek clash. Porto have been solid at home and Benfica will have to put in a top-notch attacking performance to get something out of this match in order to keep their spot at the top of the table, and that means star player Nico Gaitan will have to be at the top of his game. The Argentine attacking midfielder has been a key player for the Portuguese champions since joining from Boca Juniors in 2010. Gaitan’s low centre of gravity and stocky build allows him to run at defenders with success. Whether he's in the box or outside of it, he will threaten the goalkeeper with his powerful shooting ability. He's not been a goal scoring machine this season, but he certainly has the ability to do the unexpected and rattle in some screamers.
VERDICT: Porto 19/20
Looking at past encounters between the sides, Porto have been the more dominant team in the last twenty years. The Dragons have beaten Benfica 26 times, double the amount of wins Benfica have managed, with the sides drawing on ten occasions. Porto have been the better performing side in Europe and their form has been top class. Home advantage should also help them swing this match in their favour.