Paços de Ferreira v Marítimo
Paços de Ferreira and Marítimo are making history in Portugal, and not for the right reasons. They are two of the eight Primeira Liga sides who lost to lower-league opposition in the third round of the Taça de Portugal, and they are two of the only sides in Europe who are yet to win a single match in all competitions this season. Since the Primeira Liga introduced promotion/relegation in 1945/46, only four teams have picked up two points or fewer in their first 10 matches – Sanjoanense in 1946/47 (relegated) Barreirense in 1960/61 (relegated), Olhanense in 1963/64 (relegated) and Rio Ave in 1996/97 (stayed up). Paços and Marítimo have joined this infamous group, with the two sides sitting six points behind Santa Clara in the relegation play-off spot.
Another thing that these two sides have in common: they are two of three sides who have sacked their manager already alongside Famalicão. Vasco Seabra was dismissed after five straight losses to start the season, with João Henriques taking charge at Madeira and leading Marítimo to three straight defeats and back-to-back 1-1 draws against Boavista and Arouca. Paços, on the other hand, would lose six straight before drawing 1-1 to Santa Clara and Arouca, only to lose 1-0 to Vitória in the following match. A 2-0 defeat to lower-tier Vitória de Setúbal would seal César Peixoto’s fate, and despite barely having any time to train the team, José Mota nevertheless managed to inspire a fairly organized performance in Famalicão, one that would end in a 2-1 defeat.
There isn’t a lot between these two sides, but I think Paços could just get their first win of the season on Friday against an injury-ravaged Marítimo side. It will be Paços’ first home match since October 8 and their first home match under José Mota since 2008, and I’m expecting the Estádio da Mata Real faithful to give him a hearty welcome. Mota played 196 matches for Paços before spending four years as an assistant, three years as a head coach, before leaving and taking charge of Santa Clara in 2003, only to return three months later and spend nearly five years at the club – one that would see Paços qualify for Europe for the first time ever. He is, by all accounts, a Paços de Ferreira legend, and he could be crucial to the Beavers stabilizing the ship and getting out of the relegation zone.
Another name that will be crucial is Matchoi Djaló. Born in Guinea-Bissau, Djaló became the youngest player to debut in the Primeira Liga at 16 years and 122 days in 2019, but the past 12 months have seen him finally emerge as a crucial player for Paços. He scored the equalizer vs. Santa Clara to give Paços their first point of the season, and after missing the Famalicão match due to suspension, he could be a thorn in the side of Marítimo’s defense.
Paços have not lost in any of their last three matches against Marítimo, and they have won 13 of 27 home matches against the Madeira-based side. Marítimo’s have won just once in their last 17 visits to Estádio da Mata Real, and whilst they have shown some signs of life with their recent draws, I think Paços have what it takes to pick up their first win of the season.
Santa Clara v Porto
The Primeira Liga’s weekend action will kick off on Friday as Paços de Ferreira host Marítimo at the Estádio da Mata Real, and it will be followed by a Saturday afternoon clash in Ponta Delgada as Sérgio Conceição’s Porto travel to the Azores to face off against Santa Clara. Santa Clara currently occupy the relegation play-off spot, six points above Marítimo and Paços, one point behind 15th-placed Gil Vicente, and two points behind 14th-placed Famalicão. The only Primeira sides who have sacked their manager this season are Marítimo, Paços, and Famalicão, but Mário Silva runs the risk of becoming the fourth coach to suffer an early dismissal.
After beginning the season with a goalless draw to Casa Pia, Santa Clara fell to three straight defeats to Boavista, Arouca and Famalicão before beating Marítimo, erasing an early deficit thanks to two goals in quick succession including a penalty goal that was shortly followed by a sending-off from Marítimo’s André Vidigal, with Santa Clara winning 2-1 against 10-man Marítimo. They closed out September with a 1-0 defeat to Vitória and a 1-1 draw at home to Paços, before losing 1-0 to Rio Ave and 2-1 to Sporting and crashing out of the Taça de Portugal in a 2-0 defeat to second-tier Tondela.
Santa Clara did manage to find a brief respite at the weekend, with Vizela going down to 10 men after two minutes when Ivanildo Fernandes brought down Kyosuke Tagawa to receive a straight red. The hosts nevertheless remained in the contest and came close to scoring on multiple occasions in a rain-soaked pitch in Vizela, with Vizela racking up 18 shots to Santa Clara’s 12 and 3 shots on goal to Santa Clara’s 2. The score was level until the 87th minute, when Bruno Messi picked up a pass on the edge of the box and rifled it home past Fabijan Buntic to secure a 1-0 victory, Santa Clara’s second win of the season and their first clean sheet since opening day.
Whilst they picked up a much-needed three points at the weekend, I’m expecting Santa Clara to pick up their eighth defeat of the season as they host Porto at the Estádio de São Miguel. Similarly to Vizela, Porto put up a valiant fight after going down to 10 men within 27 minutes as Stephen Eustáquio saw two yellows in quick succession, but they were unable to find a goal and eventually fell to a 1-0 home defeat to Benfica via a 72nd-minute goal from Rafa Silva. As a result, Porto currently sit six points behind league leaders and level on points with Braga, and they will be well aware that any more slip-ups will prove costly as they look to make up the distance at the top of the table. Porto have enjoyed a sensational return from international break, beating Braga 4-1, beating Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 and 3-0, beating Portimonense 2-0 and thrashing lower-tier Anadia 6-0 in the cup before losing to Benfica, but they nevertheless bounced back with a 4-0 win at Club Brugge. As a result of this win and Atlético Madrid’s failure to beat Leverkusen, they are now through to the Champions League knockout round and have avoided their fate of last season, when they finished third in their group. It is no doubt a major weight lifted off their shoulders and it should allow them to breathe easy ahead of their meeting with Atleti at the Dragão on Tuesday. I’m expecting Porto to take care of business fairly comfortably against one of the worst sides in Portugal at the moment, and I’m expecting them to come out of the Azores with a win and at least a two-goal margin.
Benfica v Chaves
There’s no other way to put it: Benfica are clicking on all cylinders under Roger Schmidt. After beginning the campaign with 13 straight wins under their new German manager, Benfica drew 0-0 to Vitória, drew 1-1 (twice) to Paris Saint-Germain, defeated Rio Ave 4-2 in the league, and drew 1-1 to third-tier Caldas before beating them on penalties in the Taça de Portugal. Their next match would see them take a man advantage after 27 minutes after Stephen Eustáquio picked up two yellows, but after struggling to turn the momentum in their favor, Schmidt made a triple substitution at halftime with David Neres, Julian Draxler and Gilberto coming on. Draxler would be forced off due to injury just 18 minutes later, but Benfica nevertheless managed to hold their own and find a way past a tiring Porto defense, with Rafa driving down the pitch and instigating a rapid counter-attack before combining with Neres and firing in the opener past Diogo Costa. Benfica would go on to win 1-0 at the Dragão, the first time they have beaten Porto in all competitions since March 2019, moving six points clear of Porto and Braga atop the league table.
Their next match would see them take the lead after 17 minutes via a header from teenage center back António Silva, only for Juventus to equalize shortly after from Moise Kean. Benfica would reclaim their advantage shortly after via a penalty from João Mário and a goal from Rafa, with Rafa completing his brace after halftime to put Benfica ahead 4-1. Juve did manage to make things interesting with two substitutes in Samuel Iling-Junior and Arkadiusz Milik combining for their second goal and Weston McKennie adding a third two minutes later, but Benfica nevertheless protected their lead for the final 16 minutes and secured a 4-3 win in Lisbon. They have condemned Juventus to their first Champions League group stage elimination since 2013, and whilst they will still have their eyes set on the top spot in the group – currently level on 11 points with PSG – they will be aware that PSG can guarantee first place with a win against Juve. As such, don’t be surprised to see Schmidt heavily rotate his line-up for the final match, a trip to Israel to face Maccabi Haifa, and go with his first-choice XI for their match-up against Chaves on Saturday.
Chaves have enjoyed an impressive return to the top-flight under Vítor Campelos and currently sit 9th in the table with three wins thus far – including two against Sporting and Braga – and with Spanish striker Hector Hernandez in fine form thus far with four goals, this certainly won’t be an easy contest. Nevertheless, Benfica have won both of their match-ups against newly promoted sides thus far, and I think they should have enough of what it takes to pick up a win at home against Chaves. They are the only defeated team in Europe alongside Napoli and Paris Saint-Germain, and they have more than enough firepower to get the three points against a Chaves side that conceded three against Porto on September 10.
Overall, I think we’re set for a high-scoring fixture in Lisbon. Chaves have been held to a clean sheet on two occasions – a 1-0 opening day defeat to Vitória and a 3-0 loss to Porto – and Hernandez should be a genuine threat to Benfica’s defense, but Benfica’s attack of Gonçalo Ramos, João Mário and Rafa Silva are proving a nuisance to the top defenses and Europe and should be able to find the back of the net on multiple occasions against the Transmontanos. With the possible exception of David Neres getting his first start since October 5, I don’t think we’ll see too many changes in the line-up from Schmidt for the match at the Estádio da Luz – after all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
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