After 26 matches of the Portuguese Primeira Liga season, Porto refuse to give up the chase on the pace-setters all season, Benfica. Just three points now separate the Dragons from their arch-rivals and the current table-toppers.
However, Porto are also in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and their quest for European glory may see their domestic form suffer. Here, we take a look at the next Liga match for the two Portuguese heavyweights, who will both be desperate to gain any ground on each other ahead of their head-to-head clash at the end of April.
Porto have home advantage against Estoril, but it has the makings of a difficult clash for the Portuguese giants. Julen Lopetegui’s side were held to a 2-2 draw at the Estadio Antonio Coimbra da Mota in their clash earlier in the campaign and the Spanish coach will be expecting another tough encounter on Monday. The hosts will be looking to return to winning ways in the Liga NOS after they dropped points in a 1-1 draw with Nacional in their most recent domestic clash.
In the same fixture last season, Estoril earned a shock 1-0 victory at the Estadio do Dragao after Eliaquim Mangala was sent off for Porto. But the 2014/15 Estoril are not the same proposition as Marco Silva’s well-oiled machine, and are now eight games without a win, a wretched run that includes a recent 6-0 thrashing away at Benfica.
New rookie coach Hugo Leal seems to have stopped the rot, somewhat, with the Canarinhos drawing their last three matches. His opposite number Lopetegui has been at pains to emphasise the importance of the match as he tries to keep his players fully focused on the league and not let their minds wander to the upcoming Bayern Munich clash.
It would appear foolish to back against Porto picking up all three points in this clash. Most bookmakers, including betfair, will be offering odds on this clash and, although the hosts are likely to be odds on, they must be heavily backed against a leaky defensive unit.
Benfica play their match before Porto and will attempt to put six points between the two sides, if only for a couple of days, when they host Nacional on Saturday.
The Eagles have looked imperious at home all season, winning 11 and drawing one of their 12 Liga games at the Estádio da Luz. But Jorge Jesus’s men lost on their last outing, at Rio Ave, and many of the current squad – not to mention the coach – may be haunted by collapses that saw them throw away title-winning positions to Porto late in the season in 2011/12 and 2012/13.
Moreover, Nacional are one of the most improved teams in the league, having lost just 3 of their last 13 matches in all competitions, a run that includes draws against Sporting and Porto. Benfica will also have to do without talismanic captain Luisão, who is suspended after he was sent off in the Rio Ave defeat.
With the Liga NOS building into another titanic battle between the two bitter rivals as it reaches its crescendo, the message is clear for Benfica and Porto in what could be a tense weekend of action. Any slip-up is strictly forbidden.