The first clássico of the Portuguese season takes place tomorrow, as Liga NOS leaders FC Porto, boasting a 100% record in domestic play, travel south to the capital Lisbon to take on Sporting.
Jorge Jesus’ side have also had a positive start to the Primeira Liga, dropping their first points in last weekend’s draw at Moreirense after winning their opening six matches, and the Lions have a good record at home to Porto in recent years.
Nevertheless, Porto will not be in the least overawed, Sérgio Conceição having got his team playing powerful attacking football and the Dragons come into the match on the back of a brilliant display to destroy Monaco in the Champions League on Tuesday. PortuGOAL previews Sunday’s showdown.
Both teams have looked in good shape so far in 2017-18. Porto have enjoyed an almost perfect start to the season, winning 7/7 in the league and boasting the best attack (19 goals) and the best defence (just 3 goals conceded). The 3-0 win over Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco on Tuesday will have further boosted confidence and Porto have also had an extra day to recover from European midweek fixtures.
If ever a defeat can bring confidence, one such as the loss Sporting suffered on Wednesday falls into that category, the Green and Whites putting up a good fight against Barcelona and going down to a Sebastian Coates own goal. Prior to that Sporting had won 8 and draw 3 of 11 matches in all competitions, although their best performances to date have come away from Alvalade.
Key man: Sporting
Excellent performances in midweek against the Catalan giants by centre-back Mathieu and midfielders Rodrigo Battaglia and Bruno Fernandes stole the thunder somewhat of Portugal midfielder William Carvalho, who once again showed that he is not out of place mixing it against world-class opposition. William’s form has quickly dispelled any notion that he would lack motivation after his proposed summer transfer to West Ham failed to materialise, the Angolan born midfielder back to his very best. William is crucial at both ends of the pitch, cutting out opposition attacks and launching his own team’s forward momentum with his magnificent passing range. Another masterclass is likely to be required for the hosts to get the points.
Key man: Porto
In addition to operating a remarkable transformation on this group of players in terms of building a strong and cohesive unit, Conceição has also overseen a drastic improvement in the individual play of practically the whole squad. Exhibit one is Yacine Brahimi, who has been back to his brilliant best – with the bonus of at last bringing a level of consistency to his game – and in what is usually a tight game with little goalmouth action, the Algerian has the talent and ability to be a match-winner with an assist or a goal.
It’s widely expected that both managers will go tête-à-tête without their accustomed two-striker formations, as was the case in the past week. Jesus has preferred to partner his striker, predominantly Bas Dost, with a playmaker like Alan Ruiz or Bruno Fernandes so far this season, whereas Sérgio Conceição made the wise choice of switching up to a 4-3-3 when undoing AS Monaco in midweek.
In another important game, away from home, the Dragons are readying themselves for a similar look, with Sérgio Oliveira a good bet to keep his starting spot in the middle of the park.
Added protection in the middle means Sporting will have to keep a close eye on Porto’s left flank, which has so often presented itself as the main source of creativity. Expect to see Yacine Brahimi drift inwards between the lines to attempt to destabilise the Lions, leaving assist king Alex Telles with space to exploit on the overlap and feeding the likes of Vincent Aboubakar and Moussa Marega.
With Bruno Fernandes helping out with defensive duties in the middle of the park, Sporting might well look to switch William Carvalho and Rodrigo Battaglia around, hoping that the latter can police any inverted movements from Brahimi in the same way he did versus Lionel Messi in Barcelona’s narrow 1-0 win this week at the Estádio José Alvalade.
Execute their defensive plans and Porto won’t dare attack with such vim down the left too many times, should Gelson Martins, currently on five goals and two assists for the season, also be on his A-game down Sporting’s opposing flank. The same warning applies to Ricardo Pereira, who shouldn’t count too much on Marega to track back.
Our final key battle sees two budding Portugal internationals cross swords in the engine room, as Danilo Pereira aims the thwart the free-scoring Fernandes. Should the Porto enforcer do so, it could be the beginning of a very happy night for the northern outfit, although silencing the ex-Sampdoria midfielder has proven to be a lot easier said than done.
Sporting: Rui Patrício, Piccini, Coates, Mathieu, Coentrão, Battaglia, William, Acuña, Gelson Martins, Bruno Fernandes, Bas Dost
Porto: Casillas, Ricardo Pereira, Felipe, Marcano, Telles, Danilo, Herrera, Sérgio Oliveira, Brahimi, Marega, Aboubakar
Quote / unquote
Sporting coach Jorge Jesus, after Barcelona game: "If we play like this against Porto, we will win for certain."
Porto coach Sérgio Conceição in pre-match press conference: "Jorge Jesus said he was certain he'd beat Porto so I told my players we wouldn't travel to Lisbon to save the club money! Jesus is taking the victory for granted, but we'll turn this on its head."
Sporting coach Jorge Jesus in pre-match press conference: "I think our only defeat this season was against the best team in the world, but I'm not certain..."
by Patrick Ribeiro & Tom Kundert