Santa Clara v Arouca
Excluding matches against the Big Three, nine of Santa Clara’s last twelve matches have seen less than 2.5 goals scored, including a 1-1 draw in Arouca that saw Kyosuke Tagawa equalize in the 72nd minute after André Silva had put the hosts ahead in the 54th minute. Silva led Arouca’s scoring charts with 9 goals – 5 ahead of second-placed André Bukia – before departing to Vitória de Guimarães. Santa Clara have also seen a player leave for Vitória with Venezuelan defender Mikel Villanueva joining on a free transfer, whilst they have lost Japanese midfield metronome Hidemasa Morita to Sporting and Brazilian playmaker Lincoln to Fenerbahçe.
Santa Clara’s opening match of the season saw Casa Pia travel to the Azores and grab a 0-0 draw in their first match in Portugal’s top-flight in 83 years, with the hosts going down to 10 men in the 81st minute as Ricardinho saw red, whilst their next match saw them go up in the 33rd minute as Rildo eluded various Boavista players before slotting home the opener. Just five minutes after the restart, Santa Clara were reduced to ten men as Bruno Messi left his boot planted into Reggie Cannon’s foot, with Boavista equalizing in the 62nd minute from Yusupha Njie before grabbing another goal four minutes later from Martin Tavares to prevail at home in the Estádio de Bessa with a 2-1 victory. Mário Silva’s side will be looking to cut out the childish mistakes and perhaps reduce the intensity so as to avoid a third sending-off in three games as they host an Arouca side that has bounced back from an opening day 4-0 defeat at Benfica in stunning fashion. 60 seconds had passed when Spanish striker Rafa Mújica capitalized on a defensive error and scored the opening goal, with Arouca holding off their opponents’ attempts to secure a 1-0 victory against a Gil Vicente side that will be facing AZ Alkmaar in the Europa Conference League play-offs on Thursday. Arouca, similarly to Santa Clara, have seen a pattern of low-scoring affairs under Armando Evangelista – excluding matches against the Big Three, six of Arouca’s last seven matches have seen less than 2.5 goals scored, and I’m expecting a low-scoring affair between two sides who have suffered major departures in attack this summer and who will be looking to keep things tight at the back in what could prove to be an intriguing match at the Estádio de São Miguel.
Porto v Sporting
The first Clássico of the 2022/23 season and the main event of the Primeira Liga’s third matchday takes place on Saturday night as Sérgio Conceição’s Porto host Rúben Amorim’s Sporting at the Estádio de Dragão. Sporting bounced back from their opening day draw at Braga with a 3-0 win at home against newly promoted Rio Ave, whilst Porto ran into a far more daunting task following their routine victories (3-0 and 5-1) against Tondela in the Supertaça and Marítimo in the league opener. Neither side had found a goal until the 90th minute, when 35-year-old Spanish center back Iván Marcano headed home a cross from substitute Wenderson Galeno to snatch a 1-0 victory in Vizela. Porto enter the Clássico atop the table – level on points with Benfica, Boavista and Vitória but ahead on goal differential – and despite losing key players such as Vitinha, Fábio Vieira and Chancel Mbemba, the Dragons have continued full steam ahead, and they look set for a major boost as midfielder Otávio looks set to make his first start of the season.
Like Otávio, Matheus Nunes grew up in Brazil before moving over to Portugal and eventually playing for the Portuguese national team, and whilst Porto have managed to keep hold of Otávio amidst Premier League interest, Sporting look set to lose Matheus to Wolves for a fee of €45 million plus €5 million in bonuses. Rúben Amorim looks set to start Hidemasa Morita and Manuel Ugarte in midfield, neither of whom have Matheus’ combination of physical dynamism and ability to dribble across the pitch and make an impact on either side. Their midfield depth is scarce, with Daniel Bragança suffering a season-ending injury in preseason and João Palhinha departing for Fulham, and the Lions may find themselves overpowered in midfield with Ugarte and Morita starting for the first time together and Porto’s midfield of Mateus Uribe, Marko Grujić and Otávio looking set to accompany a fourth player in midfield – Pepê, Danny Namaso Loader, or Wenderson Galeno, who came off the bench and set up Marcano’s winning goal in Vizela. Evanilson and Mehdi Taremi have picked up where they have left off, with the duo accounting for six out of Porto’s nine goals this season and against a Sporting side that has suffered defensively in preseason by conceding 10 goals and their opening match, a 3-3 draw to Braga, saw these flaws put to show once more.
April saw Sporting lose 2-0 vs. Benfica and 1-0 in Porto in the Taça de Portugal following a 2-1 defeat in the first leg of the semifinals, and it remains to be seen whether or not Rúben Amorim can keep his defense organized throughout the 90 minutes in the Dragão. I’m expecting Sporting’s defensive issues to be laid bare in this match, I’m expecting Matheus Nunes’ presence will be sorely missed in Porto, and I’m expecting Evanilson and Mehdi Taremi to find the back of the net in the Dragão and keep Porto atop the leaderboard and five points ahead of Sporting.
Braga v Marítimo
Sandwiched in between Vitória and Portimonense are Sporting and Braga, with the two sides delivering an instant classic on opening day that saw Sporting throw away three individual leads and Braga snatch a 3-3 draw in Lisboa courtesy of goals from summer recruits Simon Banza and Sikou Niakaté as well as an 88th-minute equalizer from Abel Ruiz. Braga kicked off the Primeira’s second weekend with a Friday night visit to Famalicão as Nuno Sequeira opened the scoring within 12 minutes, the 31-year-old Portuguese defender returning to the starting line-up after missing the past nine months with an ACL rupture and grabbing an assist and a goal in back-to-back matches.
Shortly after, Brazilian goalkeeper Luiz Júnior palmed away a heavy shot from Vitinha only for it to fall towards Banza, who headed home from close range – one week after scoring Braga’s first equalizer in the 14th minute, Banza had doubled their lead in the 18th, and he would complete his brace later on and convert a cross from substitute Álvaro Djaló to give Braga a 3-0 win. Banza impressed in his debut Primeira campaign last season, scoring 14 goals for Famalicão after arriving on loan from Lens, with Braga snapping up the French striker on a five-year contract for €3 million. He is currently level atop the league’s scoring charts with Pedro Gonçalves and has added a new dimension to Braga’s attack under new manager Artur Jorge. No team has scored more than Braga (Porto and Sporting have 6 as well), but perhaps what’s most surprising is that none of those goals have been scored by the club’s all-time leading goalscorer Ricardo Horta. The captain has been subject of interest from Benfica in a transfer saga that has spanned three months and that shows no signs of stopping ahead of what promises to be a turbulent final two weeks in the summer transfer window, but Braga have shown that they have more than enough quality to deal with his potential departure.
They will be hosting Marítimo on Sunday, a team that kicked off their campaign with a 5-1 defeat to Porto at the Dragão before hosting newly promoted Chaves at Funchal. Chaves came close to breaking the deadlock on multiple occasions but were unable to do so before Cameroonian striker Joel Tagueu fired in the opener within 39 minutes. The visitors were awarded a penalty at the cusp of halftime, only for João Teixeira to blast his effort wide – João would make amends in the 70th minute, receiving a pass from 25 yards out and launching a rocket past Miguel Silva. Five minutes later, João Correia raced up the right flank and delivered a cross for João Bachi to head home, securing a 2-1 win in Marítimo. Vasco Seabra’s side currently sit in the bottom two and will be desperate for a result, but they’ll have a tough time getting their first points of the season against a Braga side that are firing on all cylinders right now. Since the start of April, Braga have won four of their five league matches at home – including wins vs. Benfica and Porto – and drawn 3-3 to Sporting, and I’m expecting them to continue their strong run of form at home against Marítimo with a victory.
Portimonense v Vitória
After an impressive ninth-place finish in their return to the top-flight, Estoril Praia kicked off their season with a 2-0 home win against Famalicão before paying a trip to Guimarães for the second matchday. Vitória would take the lead within a quarter-hour following some well-worked combination play and a close-range finish from André Silva, with Estoril unable to find an answer before falling down to 10 men at the hour-mark as Gonçalo Esteves received a second yellow, as Vitória held onto a 1-0 win.
Vitória were the first Portuguese team to begin preseason training and the first to start their campaign, with Moreno taking over as manager just nine days before their opening match after Pepa’s abrupt departure, but the rookie coach has nevertheless steered them out of choppy waters so far, beating Puskás Akadémia 3-0 before drawing the second leg 0-0. Whilst they opened the scoring within the hour mark of their trip to Croatia, they nevertheless succumbed to a 3-1 loss to Hadjuk Split, following that up with a 1-0 win at Chaves that saw André Silva break the deadlock on the cusp of halftime, only for Vitória to receive two expulsions in the final minutes and narrowly hold onto the three points. Their next match saw summer arrival Anderson Silva open the scoring within five minutes, but they were unable to find another goal past Hadjuk Split and bowed out of European competition in a match that would see Vitória midfielder Tiago Silva receive his marching orders in the second half.
Four of Vitória’s first six matches have seen less than 2.5 goals scored, the sole exceptions coming in the Europa Conference League qualifiers. Their next opponents, Portimonense, have enjoyed a fairly low-scoring pattern under Paulo Sérgio since his appointment in February 2020. Excluding matches against Porto, Sporting, Benfica and Braga, Portimonense have played 18 league matches since the start of December – 15 of those have seen fewer than 2.5 goals scored. The Algarvians began the season with a 1-0 defeat at home to Boavista, before paying a trip to Paços de Ferreira at the weekend. Brazilian forward Zé Uilton replaced an injured Nicolás Gaitán within 15 minutes, and he received his marching orders just seconds after coming on. Portimonense took advantage and opened the scoring within a half-hour via a header from Yago Cariello Ribeiro, with Luquinha and Ewerton adding goals in the final quarter-hour to take a 3-0 away victory.
Since the start of 2019, six of Vitória’s seven fixtures against Portimonense have featured less than 2.5 goals. I’m expecting a similarly cagey battle in a match that will see the seventh-placed side host fourth-place Vitória in the Algarve.
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