Benfica vs Porto | Sunday 26 April | Estadio de Luz | 18:00
The Portuguese Primeira Liga title race has heated up as the two giants have pushed each other all season. With just five games remaining, champions Benfica lie just three points above Porto in what is an annual two-horse title race. The historical derby between these two sides is dubbed O Classico (The Classic). The rivalry comes about as Lisbon and Porto are the two largest cities in Portugal and the two clubs are two of the wealthiest and most successful and influential football teams in the country. This match will go a long way in deciding the title winners as a win for Benfica would surely see them go on to win the league while Porto’s hopes of reclaiming the title hinge on claiming maximum points with just four games remaining. Not much has separated these sides in head-to-head encounters with Benfica winning 85 to Porto's 87 victories from 227 meetings.
To Win (90mins)
Last season Benfica achieved an historic treble by racking up the league and two domestic cups. This season they have done their level best to defend their league title and have already secured a place in the final of one of two of Portugal’s cup competitions. The Eagles have looked imperious all season winning 24 of their 29 Primeira matches, losing just three times. They have been most impressive at home, going unbeaten in fourteen matches at the Stadium of Light by winning thirteen times where they have managed to bang in forty goals and concede just four. The champions maintained their three-point advantage at the top of the table with a 2-0 away victory over Belenenses last Saturday. The league leaders made a fast start and were ahead after six minutes due to some sloppy Belenenses defending which allowed striker Jonas to capitalise. The experienced Brazilian doubled his tally on the hour as he superbly controlled a free-kick on his chest before lashing it into the bottom corner. The 31 year-old Jonas is now just a goal behind the league’s lead marksmen, Jackson Martinez, who has seventeen goals.
Benfica are coached by the colourful Jorge Jesus who has been responsible for the clubs success over the past seven seasons. When given the job ahead of the 2009/10 season, he took over a dysfunctional club crushed by the shadow of its glorious past and the glaring superiority of hated rivals Porto. The Eagles had won the title only once in the previous fifteen seasons, during which time Porto had been champions eleven times. Jesus changed all that. He won the league in exhilarating fashion in his first season and although Porto hit back the following season by going undefeated under Andre Villas-Boas, Benfica have fought them tooth-and-nail in each of Jesus’ seven seasons in charge. They are currently well placed to lift the crown for a second successive season and were it not for two late collapses to throw away winning positions, Benfica would have been celebrating five titles in seven seasons. Jesus has overseen all this while having to contend with losing his top players year after year. Nemanja Matic, Angel Di María and David Luiz are just three of a long list of raw talents that he expertly polished into world-class performers before seeing them leave the Estadio da Luz in exchange for huge transfer fees. Just this season the coach has had to contend with the sale of no fewer than six first-team regulars who had propelled Benfica to last season’s unprecedented domestic treble – yet his side remain above the expensively-assembled Porto.
Porto ensured they stayed in touch with Benfica thanks to a 1-0 win against Academica. Still revelling in their 3-1 UEFA Champions League victory over Bayern Munich last Wednesday, Julen Lopetegui's men were immediately on the attack and got their reward on twelve minutes. Hernani was released behind the Academica defence, he stretched away using his pace and, although his first effort was saved, he made no mistake with the rebound. Ricardo Quaresma never left Porto's bench following his two-goal performance against Bayern. Jackson Martinez, Porto's other goal-scorer from the first leg, went on for the final seven minutes as a substitute while Yacine Brahimi was also rested. However, Porto left the Champions League quarter-final second-leg on Tuesday thrashed by a rampant Bayern Munich 6-1 away from home, putting pay to a previously unbeaten run in the competition. Porto have lost just two league matches all season and their away record comprises of nine wins, four draws and one defeat with thirty goals scored and nine conceded. The Dragons should welcome back star performers Cristian Tello and Danilo from injury. Right back Danilo has been snapped by Real Madrid on a pre-contract and will want to leave his beloved Porto on a high by lifting the title. Porto's on-loan Barcelona winger Tello has been phenomenal this season and was recently named as the best player in the league for March.
VERDICT: Benfica 14/10
Benfica have scored in all of their home games in the league, maintaining an amazing record under Jesus. The current count stands at 92 consecutive league games, over six years, in which no visiting side has kept a clean sheet. Benfica’s home form is intimidating but looking at Porto’s away record this season does give them a chance. Although the Dragons have only won nine of their fourteen travels while losing once, they have scored thirty goals and conceded only nine. The first round league meeting between these sides back in December ended in a 2-0 victory for Benfica at Estadio do Dragao (Stadium of the Dragon). Benfica are tipped to continue their impressive home record by taking advantage of the fact that Porto would have been exerted on Tuesday night against Bayern while the champions had a week’s rest.