Sporting LisbonPrimeira LigaVS
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Two giants of Portuguese football take centre stage in the Primeira Liga on Friday night as Porto – unbeaten in the league all season – take on a Sporting side who are the only team who can realistically catch them in the title race.
But only a win will do for the Lisbon outfit, who currently sit six points behind Porto in the table. A win will close the gap to three, but a nine-point gap will surely be insurmountable.
Both of these sides come into the game in great form, and with everything at stake, we should be in for a cracker of a match in northwest Portugal.
Sporting head into this one on a run of four straight wins, but it would take some performance for them to go to Porto and take all three points.
It’s nearly six years since the Lions last tasted away success at Porto and they’ll also have to contend with the league leaders’ stunning run of eleven consecutive victories.
But Sporting will be the side with the greater impetus to win this one. Not only that, but they’ll also be desperate to avoid losing further ground by gifting victory away. We expect them to come out the traps fast, but just three clean sheets in their last nine games suggests that there’s holes for Porto to exploit.
Porto can also bank on an imperious home record that has seen them lose just one Primeira Liga game at the Estádio do Dragão in their last 36 outings – a run that stretches back more than two years.
And we think the Dragons would be happy with a point here that would preserve their six-point cushion at the top of the tree. So, our selection here is the score draw at odds of 10/3 with 888.
Domestically, things couldn’t get much better for Porto. They’re unbeaten after 21 games and are seemingly cruising towards a second Primeira Liga title in three years. Avoid defeat on Friday night and they’ll have one hand on the trophy.
But they will be disappointed that they couldn’t make it to the knockout rounds of the Champions League, and they experienced a particularly gut-wrenching exit at the hands of Atletico Madrid in their final group game.
Sérgio Conceição’s side may be slightly concerned about the loss of star player Luis Diaz, who completed a move to Premier League side Liverpool in January, but at least on home soil, they should have enough to seal some silverware this year.
Only Sporting have conceded fewer than their 14 goals this season, with former Real Madrid man Pepe continuing to deliver the defensive goods despite being at the grand old age of 38.
A tough Europa League knockout tie against Lazio awaits them next week, but we expect them to have more than enough to preserve their advantage at the top of the table on Friday night.
Despite Porto’s dominance in the league, it’s been a fruitful season for Sporting so far.
The current league champions squeezed through to the knockout stages of the Champions League at the expense of Borussia Dortmund, and although that run is likely to end at the hands of Manchester City, it still represents a successful return on the continental front.
Perhaps the missing piece from this Sporting side is a star-quality striker. Paulinho leads the way in the Primeira Liga scoring charts for the club with eight goals, but with the likes of Benfica’s Darwin Nunez streets ahead in the goals column, it does show where their problems lie against bigger sides
But their defensive record is top notch, having conceded only 13 times in 21 games, so if they manage to score first in Porto, they could well prove to be a tough nut to crack this weekend.
Manager Ruben Amorin has a clean bill of health as far as injuries are concerned, with no suspensions to worry about for this one either.
These two have faced off plenty of times down the years and Porto have a slight historic advantage with 23 victories from 65 meetings.
Sporting have picked up 18 wins themselves, while 24 – including six of the last ten clashes – have ended in a draw.
This huge game takes place at the picturesque Estádio do Dragão in Porto, where the side that bears the city’s name don’t make a habit of losing in the league.
But the 50,000-strong crowd saw a couple of defeats in Champions League action against Atletico and Liverpool, so is there a chance for Sporting to nick something here?
Matches between sides battling at the top of the table tend to be cagey affairs, but Sporting know that, realistically, only three points will keep them in the hunt for the title, so that at least should make for an entertaining game. But Porto can count on some big-game experience in key positions and we think they will be happy to sit on a draw that will take them one step closer to domestic glory.