Vizela v Vitoria de Guimaraes
The World Cup break would see José Mota and João Henriques dismissed from their posts at Paços de Ferreira and Marítimo, who currently occupy the bottom two positions, but the most shocking managerial sacking would come in Vizela. After taking charge of the club in June 2019, Álvaro Pacheco led Vizela to back-to-back promotions to seal a return to the top-flight after 37 years, the second Primeira campaign in the club’s history.
Vizela confirmed their safety on the penultimate matchday of the season, before kicking off the 2022/23 campaign with a strong start that would see them enter the World Cup break in a comfortable 13th place. And yet, on November 30, Pacheco was dismissed from his post due to disagreements with new club president Joaquim Ribeiro over the club’s direction. His replacement? Tulipa, a manager with no top-flight experience and who has not coached a senior team since 2015.
Vizela fans made their feelings known within days of the sacking, loudly protesting and throwing flares onto the pitch during a training session. This was followed up by a 1-1 draw to second-tier Mafra and a 4-0 loss to Porto as they bowed out of the Taça da Liga, and their next fixture will see them host Vitória de Guimarães. Despite replacing Pepa with Moreno as manager just nine days before the start of their campaign, Vitória have enjoyed a solid start to the season and sit sixth in the table with 23 points from their first 13 games, and they will face Braga in the Taça de Portugal Round of 16 after beating Vizela 2-1.
Vitória have already beaten Chaves and Paços and drawn to Arouca away from home, and I’m expecting them to get another impressive away result this time around. Vizela’s fierce home support has been a key reason for their successful return to the Primeira, but with Pacheco gone, it remains to be seen whether their fans will pack the stadium and if so, whether they will be cheering or jeering. This, combined with Vitória’s superior individual quality in attack, should be enough to see Vitória claim at least a point in Vizela.
Benfica v Braga
The final Primeira Liga match of 2021 would see Benfica visit Porto at the Dragão, a mere week after a 3-0 loss to Porto in the Taça de Portugal saw Jorge Jesus dismissed from his post and replaced by interim manager Nélson Veríssimo. They entered halftime with a 2-0 deficit, halved the margin after the restart via Roman Yaremchuk only to go down to 10 men shortly after, with Mehdi Taremi scoring to secure a 3-1 win for Porto.
365 days later, Benfica will close out 2022 by traveling to Braga. Benfica lost for the first time under Roger Schmidt – a 0-1 friendly defeat – before drawing 1-1 to second-tier Moreirense and exiting the Taça da Liga, but they remain one of the only two teams who are undefeated in all official competitions alongside Paris Saint-Germain.
It has been a near-flawless start to life under the German manager, with the Eagles topping their Champions League group of PSG, Juventus and Maccabi Haifa, and winning 12 of their first 13 league matches with a +30 goal differential to boot. They find themselves eight points clear of Porto and nine points clear of third-placed Braga, and while they will be without their two World Cup winners in Enzo Fernández, I think they may just have enough in the tank to get a win against Braga.
Since the start of the 2021/22 season, Braga have faced the ‘Big Three’ on nine occasions, and eight have featured over 2.5 goals. Last season would see them lose 6-1 at Benfica and beat them 3-2 at home, whilst this season, they began their league campaign with a 3-3 draw to Sporting, following that up with a 4-1 defeat to Porto and a 5-0 loss to Sporting in the Taça da Liga – their most recent fixture.
A promising start has given way to a shaky run of form for Braga, who have been relegated to the Europa Conference League and who have fallen to defeats to Casa Pia and Chaves in the league. Whilst they have ample firepower to put Benfica’s backline under duress, their defense has been a point of weakness following the summer sale of star defender David Carmo to Porto, and it could see new manager Artur Jorge get an early sacking if he isn’t careful. I’m backing this to be another high-scoring shootout as the two sides look to close out 2022 on a strong note.
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