Boavista v Benfica
Benfica are clicking on all cylinders under manager Roger Schmidt, with the German arriving from PSV Eindhoven in the summer and engineering a perfect start to the 2022/23 season that has seen them beat FC Midtyjlland 7-2 on aggregate as well as beat Dynamo Kyiv 5-0 on aggregate to secure qualification to the UEFA Champions League group stage, and beat Arouca 4-0 and Casa Pia 1-0 in the league. Having played one game fewer than its rivals, Benfica are three points behind defending champions Porto and one point behind Braga, as well as level on points with Portimonense, Vitória, Boavista and Arouca with 6 points each.
Benfica will travel to the Estádio de Bessa before hosting Paços de Ferreira to close out August, and they’ll be looking to pick up their first win against Boavista in 2022. The two sides drew 1-1 in January with Benfica advancing on penalties before losing to Sporting in the Taça da Liga Final, whilst they would also draw 2-2 in the league a month later – prior to that, Benfica had won their last nine fixtures against the Axadrezados with a combined scoreline of 28 to 5. Two of Boavista’s goals were scored by Gustavo Sauer, who was sold to Botafogo midway through the season, with the Brazilian veteran forming a dynamic duo in attack with Croatian striker Petar Musa, who scored 12 goals and 4 assists before heading for the Estádio da Luz to replace Uruguayan striker Darwin Núñez.
There’s a new sheriff in town, and it isn’t Darwin or Musa, but 21-year-old Portuguese striker Gonçalo Ramos. Born in Olhão, Ramos left the Algarve for the first time in 2013 at the age of 12, joining Benfica’s academy and rising through the ranks before making his first-team debut on July 21, 2020 in the 85th minute and scoring a brace within 8 minutes in a 4-0 away win against Chaves. He would play a sporadic role the following season before taking a step forward in 2021/22, scoring 7 goals and 2 assists in 29 Primeira appearances, playing a secondary role in attack to Darwin and Rafa Silva and even grabbing a goal in a Champions League quarterfinal at Anfield. Ramos has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Darwin’s exit to Anfield, with the youngster beating out Roman Yaremchuk, Henrique Araújo, Rodrigo Pinho and Musa for the starting center forward role and playing alongside David Neres, Rafa and João Mário in Benfica’s front four. Whilst Ramos has been the subject of interest from various Premier League sides, Benfica have safeguarded their striker with a €120 million release clause, and with the qualification to the Champions League group stage seeing them earn €38.38 million, they can demand top dollar for their budding talisman in attack. Ramos has started each of Benfica’s six matches under Schmidt and has made a goal contribution in each match so far with a total of 5 goals and 4 assists, and I’m expecting him to continue that pattern and lead Benfica to their first win of 2022 against a Boavista side that are looking to bounce back from an 0-2 defeat against newly promoted Casa Pia.
Sporting v Chaves
The sole match that will be taking place in Lisbon this weekend will occur on Saturday night as Rúben Amorim’s Sporting host Vítor Campelos’ Chaves at the Estádio José Alvalade. It will be the two sides’ first meeting in the top-flight since March 30, 2019, with each of the previous five encounters seeing Sporting come out victorious with a combined scoreline of 16 to 5. After returning to the Primeira Liga following a four-year absence, the Trasmontanos began their campaign with a 1-0 defeat at home to Vitória, unable to take advantage of the visitors’ two late expulsions and succumbing to defeat at the Estádio Municipal Eng. Manuel Branco Teixeira. The following match saw Marítimo take the lead before the break via Joel Tagueu only for Chaves to equalize in the 70th minute from João Teixeira and taking the lead five minutes later via João Bachi to snatch a 2-1 victory in Madeira. Chaves’ next match saw them open the scoring within eight minutes via Hector Hernandez only to concede an equalizer to Vizela before halftime and settle for a 1-1 draw that saw both sides reduced to 10 men in the second half.
Sporting opened their season with a 3-3 draw in Braga that saw them take the lead on three separate occasions only to concede immediately after, whilst their following match saw them win 3-0 at home against Rio Ave courtesy of a brace from Pedro Gonçalves and a goal from Matheus Nunes. In the following days, Sporting would sell Nunes to Wolves for £38 million plus £4 million in add-ons, with new signing Hidemasa Morita starting alongside Manuel Ugarte in midfield for Sporting’s visit to the Estádio de Dragão on Saturday. Porto opened the scoring before the break via Evanilson, with Sporting unable to find an equalizer before Pedro Porro pulled off a replica of Luis Suárez’s goal-saving handball against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup and received his marching orders in the 75th minute, with Mateus Uribe scoring the resulting penalty and Wenderson Galeno adding another from the spot to snatch their third straight victory against the Leões. Amorim’s side will be looking to bounce back on Saturday as they host a newly promoted side for the second time this season and take on Chaves in Lisbon. Sporting will be without their starting right wingback in Porro and likely their starting center forward in Paulinho, but with Marcus Edwards, Francisco Trincão and Pedro Gonçalves in attack, they nevertheless have what it takes to take all three points at home. Since the start of last season, Sporting have failed to win at home on just six occasions – Porto (twice), Braga, Manchester City, Ajax and Benfica – and I don’t think this will be number seven. Expect Sporting to bounce back with a victory and expect goals galore at the Estádio José Alvalade.
Arouca v Braga
After a summer that saw them lose manager Carlos Carvalhal and star center back David Carmo, Braga have took the Primeira Liga by storm in their start to the 2022/23 campaign under Artur Jorge. Born in Braga, Jorge spent played at Braga from from 1986 to 2004 before moving to Penafiel and retiring a year later at the age of 33, with Jorge moving into coaching and working with Braga’s youth sides from 2010 to 2012, grabbing first-team managerial experience in lower-tier Portuguese sides before returning to Braga in 2017 and working with their B team, apart from a five-match spell at the end of the 2019/20 campaign when he took charge of the first team before being replaced by Carvalhal who led them to back-to-back fourth place finishes, a Taça de Portugal victory and a run to the Europa League quarterfinals, before leaving for Emirati side Al Wahda.
Braga have made no secret of their intention of transforming Portugal’s Big Three into a Big Four, with the Arsenalistas beating Sporting, Porto and Benfica in the second half of the 2021/22 campaign and kicking off their 2022/23 season with a 3-3 draw against Sporting that saw them erase three separate leads and snatch a draw at home thanks to goals from summer signings Simon Banza and Sikou Niakaté – who arrived from Guingamp to replace Carmo in central defense – as well as an 88th-minute goal from Abel Ruíz. The Minhotos followed up their opening day thriller with a 3-0 win at Famalicão courtesy of an early goal from Nuno Sequeira and a brace from Banza, who finished as Famalicão’s top scorer last season with 16 goals on loan from Lens before joining Braga in a permanent deal for €3 million.
Braga scored an equalizer within 14 minutes against Sporting and found themselves two goals to the good within 18 minutes against Famalicão, whilst Sunday’s home match would see Vitinha break the deadlock after nine minutes against Marítimo with Iuri Medeiros doubling the lead before halftime. They would go on to trounce Vasco Seabra’s side by a 5-0 margin thanks to goals from Rodrigo Gomes, Ruíz and Banza, the latter sitting atop the Primeira’s scoring charts with four goals in his first three games – four more than Famalicão have scored all season. Braga have scored 11 goals in their first three games, the highest amount for any Portuguese side since Sporting in 1990/91, and none of those goals have been scored by captain Ricardo Horta. Horta scored in each of Braga’s last four matches to surpass Mario Laranjas as the club’s all-time leading scorer with 92 goals, but he has been the subject of a transfer saga with Benfica that began immediately after the season ended and has shown no signs of stopping.
It remains to be seen whether or not Braga keep hold of Horta, who is contracted at the club through 2026, but it is clear that they are becoming far less dependent on Horta to score goals and launch into attack under their new manager. It is a sharp contrast to the end of last season when Horta scored in 1-0 wins against Porto, B-SAD and Arouca before opening the scoring within a minute vs. Famalicão – this is a Braga side that is clicking on all cylinders and that will be looking to challenge Benfica, Porto and Sporting for their first ever league title this season. Whilst their opponents Arouca have won two straight matches (1-0 and 1-2) against Gil Vicente and Santa Clara, they have been unable to compete against Portugal’s biggest sides since returning to the top-flight in 2021, losing 2-0 twice to Benfica, losing 2-1 and 2-0 to Sporting, losing 3-0 and 2-0 to Porto, and closing out 2021 with a 6-0 defeat to Braga. They opened the season with a 4-0 defeat to Benfica, and I’m expecting them to take another heavy defeat at home against a Braga side whose attack is putting up historic figures under Artur Jorge.
Rio Ave v Porto
Rio Ave finished fifth for the second time in three years in 2019/20, beating out Famalicão on the final day of the season to secure Europa League qualification under Carlos Carvalhal. Crucial to their feat was Iranian striker Mehdi Taremi, who had arrived the previous summer from Qatari side Al Gharafa and who impressed in his first-ever season in Europe, scoring 18 goals and finishing atop the league’s scoring charts alongside Benfica duo Carlos Vinícius and Pizzi. The following summer would see Carvalhal depart to Braga, taking various Rio Ave loanees like Lucas Piazón and Al Musrati with him, whilst key players like Nuno Santos and Matheus Reis headed for Sporting and proceeded to win the club’s first Primeira Liga title in 19 years. No departure proved more lethal than that of Taremi, who left for reigning champions FC Porto following his superb debut campaign in Vila do Conde. Eight months after losing to Milan in a 24-penalty shootout in the Europa League qualifiers, Rio Ave would finish 16th after scoring 25 goals in 34 matches, the joint-fewest in the league, before losing to Arouca in the promotion/relegation play-offs and ending a 13-year spell in the top-flight. After finishing atop the Segunda to secure an immediate return, Rio Ave kicked off their Primeira campaign with a 1-0 home defeat to Vizela before losing 3-0 to Sporting and drawing 2-2 at Estoril Praia – Estoril opening the scoring within six minutes, Rio Ave equalizing at the hour-mark and taking the lead in the 73rd minute before conceding an equalizer in the 80th minute. Luís Freire’s side find themselves 15th in the league, level on 1 point with Famalicão and Santa Clara and one point above bottom dwellers Paços de Ferreira and Marítimo, and they need a miracle as they get set to welcome Porto to the Estádio dos Arcos.
Despite losing key figures in Fábio Vieira, Vitinha and Chancel Mbemba this summer, Sérgio Conceição’s side have picked up where they left off following a season that saw them win the domestic double and achieve a Portuguese league record 91 points. After beating Tondela 3-0 in the Supertaça and thrashing Marítimo 5-1 in the league opener – Taremi scoring braces in both matches – Porto edged Vizela in a last-gasp 1-0 victory before stamping their authority in a 3-0 win against Sporting in the first Clássico of the season. Having grabbed 49 goals and 35 assists in his first two seasons at the Dragão, Taremi has begun the campaign with 4 goals and 2 assists in 4 games, and he’ll be looking to find the back of the net in what should be an emotional homecoming.
Another player who will be heading back to Vila de Conde is Wenderson Galeno, the Brazilian winger spending the 2018/19 season on loan at Rio Ave before moving to Braga the following summer and cutting his time at Porto short after 3 years. Galeno returned to Porto in January as the club’s replacement for Luís Diaz, but after a tepid second half to the season, the 24-year-old has come off the bench in each of Porto’s first four matches and been a nuisance against tired legs. The Brazilian set up Iván Marcano’s 90th-minute winner in Vizela before grabbing a penalty against Sporting, and alongside an attack of Taremi, Evanilson, Pepê, and Otávio, I think Porto will have enough firepower to make easy work of a Rio Ave side that are struggling to cope in their return to the Primeira.
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