With just two games remaining the Portuguese Primeira Liga is still wide open and will reach its climax this weekend as the top two go head-to-head. League leaders Benfica were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Estoril on Monday that left second-placed Porto in touching distance ahead of a mouth-watering “Classico” between the teams on Sunday. The two giants of Portugal have dominated the league this season and are both unbeaten with Benfica sitting two points ahead.
Porto turned the pressure back on Benfica in the race for the Liga title with a 3-1 win at Nacional on Saturday. They started well scoring three goals inside 22 minutes to set the victory up. James Rodriguez got them going with the opener after ten minutes and Eliquin Mangala made it two nine minutes later. Lucho Gonzalez added a 22nd-minute penalty for good measure, meaning Nacional’s 27th-minute spot-kick was immaterial. The Dragons’ destiny is now finally in their own hands as they look to retain their title. Porto have won 22 of their 28 matches, drawing six times. Although they haven’t scored as many goals as Benfica, they have the better defensive record, conceding a mere 13 goals in their 28 matches. They have been exceptional at home winning 13 out of 14 games, scoring 26 goals while conceding just four. Porto have hit top gear in recent weeks managing 14 goals in their last five league games which they accumulated all 15 points in. Striker Jackson Martinez has been at the forefront of Porto’s dominance, scoring 25 goals, seven more than the next top scorer in the league.
On Monday Benfica had to come from behind at home to earn a point against sixth-placed Estoril thanks to a scorching half-volley from Maxi Pereira after Jefferson’s free-kick had fortuitously given the visitors the lead just before the hour mark. Benfica had to play with 10 men in the last 10 minutes after midfielder Carlos Martins was dismissed for a second yellow card.
“The important thing is that we are leaders. That is what counts. We go to Porto to win the championship,” coach Jorge Jesus said after the match. Benfica have played 28 matches winning 23 and drawing just five. They have scored a massive 73 goals and conceded just 17. Their away form has not been inferior to their home form winning 12 of their 14 travels and scoring ample goals while keeping their solidity. Before their disappointing draw on Monday night, Benfica were on a magnificent nine game winning streak in the league, scoring 26 goals and conceding just three goals. Morale is high in the Benfica camp after qualifying for the final of the UEFA Europa League against Chelsea next Wednesday. The Eagles are on track to win the treble as they are also in the Portuguese Cup final against Vitoria on May 25.
All their hard work this season will come down to their next two matches, in the space of three days, as a win against Porto will secure the league title and then they have a crack at Europa League success against Chelsea. Whereas Porto have relied on one super striker to produce the goods this season, Benfica have two. When main man Oscar Cardozo isn’t seeing much goal mouth action, it is his fellow South American Lima who is banging in the goals. The Brazilian can create plays whereas Cardozo is a pure finisher. They complement each other well because they have different roles and abilities on the pitch. Between them they have scored 33 goals, with Lima having one more than Cardozo.
Benfica haven’t beaten Porto in the league since 2009, failing to record a win in the seven matches since. The reverse fixture ended in a 2-2 draw and so did this fixture last season. A draw would do Benfica fine and they won’t want to give up the top spot which they’ve occupied for so long. Back the draw.