Sporting v Gil Vicente
Portuguese football returns on Friday as Sporting host Gil Vicente at the Estádio José Alvalade. Sporting won their first league title in 19 years before once again picking up 85 points the following season only to narrowly lose the championship to Porto, but they have already lost as many matches (3) as last season and three times as much as the championship-winning 2020/21 season, with the Lions opening the season with a 3-3 draw to Braga, beating Rio Ave 3-0, losing 3-0 to Porto and 2-0 to Chaves, bouncing back with four straight wins and clean sheets (two of them coming against Tottenham and Eintracht Frankfurt in the Champions League), before slipping up in the Estádio de Bessa with a brace from Bruno Lourenço seeing Boavista take a 2-1 victory.
It has been a similarly disappointing start to the season for Gil Vicente, who finished fifth and qualified for European football for the first time in club history only to lose key assets like manager Ricardo Soares, winger Samuel Lino and midfield metronome Pedrinho and lose 6-1 on aggregate to AZ Alkmaar in the UEFA Europa Conference League play-offs. Since beginning the campaign with a 1-0 victory against Paços de Ferreira, Gil Vicente have lost 1-0 to Arouca, drawn 0-0 to Famalicão, drawn 2-2 to Vizela, lost 2-0 to Porto, beaten Marítimo 2-1 and drawn 2-2 to Rio Ave. It does not make for great reading for the Gillistas, who sit 10th after taking 9 points from their first 7 games under new manager Ivo Vieira, but they nevertheless sit just one point behind 8th-placed Sporting. While the bookies have Sporting as overwhelming favorites at 1.25, I wouldn’t be so sure – they will be without three center backs and starting right wing-back Pedro Porro, leaving Amorim with few options.
One option is to play Ricardo Esgaio out of position as a right-sided center back alongside Gonçalo Inácio and Matheus Reis with either Arthur Gomes or Abdul Fatawu Isshaku getting a first start and playing out of position as a right wing-back; after subbing Esgaio on for an injured Sebastián Coates, Amorim paid the price with Esgaio conceding a penalty and allowing Lourenço to restore Boavista’s advantage from the spot. Another option is to give a first ever start to José Marsà, a 20-year-old Spanish center back who arrived from Barcelona in 2021, with Marsà playing alongside Inácio and Reis in the back three and Esgaio and Nuno Santos operating as wingbacks. Either way, the conditions are not ideal for a Sporting side who lost defensive midfield anchor João Palhinha and midfield partner Matheus Nunes in the summer transfer window, whilst Amorim could also be looking to rotate ahead of the midweek trip to Marseille.
Gil Vicente have scored in four of their last five matches – the sole exception being the defeat to Porto – and they have more than enough firepower to find the back of the net against a Sporting side that has grown accustomed to high-scoring games this season. With 13 goals scored, only Benfica, Braga and Porto have scored more, and with 10 goals conceded, only Arouca, Rio Ave, Paços de Ferreira and Marítimo have conceded more. Whilst Gil Vicente have lost various key players in the summer, they have kept hold of Spanish striker Fran Navarro, who led Gil to a fifth-place finish with 16 goals and who has scored four goals in his last four matches. I’m expecting an attack featuring Marcus Edwards, Pedro Gonçalves, Paulinho and Francisco Trincão to have no issue breaking down Gil’s defense, but I’m also expecting Navarro and co. to be able to find a way past an undermanned Sporting backline in what could be a high-scoring affair in Lisbon.
Vizela v Portimonense
As the international break draws to a close, one team that will be looking to continue its stellar start to the campaign and kick off October with a victory is Portimonense. Alongside Boavista, Braga, Benfica and Casa Pia, Paulo Sérgio’s side have been one of the revelations of the early weeks of the season and currently sit 4th in the league, one point behind Porto, five points above Sporting and 10 points above Vizela, who find themselves hovering above the relegation zone. It has been quite the surprising run of form for the Algarvian side who finished 13th last season despite an underwhelming second half of the season; from the 16th matchday to the 34th and final matchday of the 2021/22 campaign, only relegated Tondela picked up fewer points (13) than Portimonense (14). They have already picked up more points (15) over the first 7 weeks than they did over the second half of the prior campaign – despite losing crucial loanees like Shoya Nakajima and Iván Angulo and selling starting goalkeeper Samuel Portugal to Porto on deadline day, Portimonense are clicking on all cylinders. Apart from a 1-0 home defeat to Boavista on opening day and a 4-0 shellacking to Sporting on September 10, Portimonense have won each of their five fixtures thus far.
Portimonense games tend to be low-scoring affairs; with 8 goals scored and 6 conceded, only Casa Pia, Vitória, Santa Clara and Famalicão have combined for fewer goals than the Algarvian side (14), a feat which becomes even more impressive when you consider that two-thirds of their goals were conceded in a fairly routine defeat to Sporting. They have combined for the same amount of goals as Chaves and Vizela, the latter of which has scored 5 and conceded 9.
After drawing 0-0 in the Algarve on September 26, 2021, Vizela were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw against Portimonense on February 27, 2022 due to first-half goals from Willyan Rocha and Guilherme Schettine, neither of whom have returned to their respective squads this season. There isn’t a whole lot between these sides, but one similarity is that they both manage games well and have the defensive capabilities to keep themselves in the match until the final minutes. I’m expecting another low-scoring draw between these two teams at the Estádio do Vizela.
Vitória v Benfica
Only three teams in Europe’s top 15 leagues have won every game that they have played in so far – Benfica, Real Madrid, and Antwerp – with Benfica playing the most of the bunch (13) and enjoying a perfect start to the 2022/23 season under new manager Roger Schmidt. They have won their first seven league matches by a combined scoreline of 19 to 3, defeated Maccabi Haifa 2-0 and Juventus 2-1 to start their Champions League group stage campaign, and unlike Vitória de Guimarães, they managed to avoid elimination in August’s European qualifiers.
It has been a rather turbulent campaign in Guimarães with Pepa stepping down as manager just nine days before their UEFA Europa Conference League playoff against Puskas Akademia, with Moreno taking the reins and navigating them past the Hungarian side before losing to Croatian giants Hadjuk Split in the following round. After beginning the league campaign with 1-0 wins against Chaves and Estoril, Vitória have lost 2-1 at Portimonense, 1-0 at home to Casa Pia, and 1-0 at Braga, before beating Santa Clara 1-0 at home and drawing 2-2 at Arouca thanks to a 102nd-minute penalty from Ruben Lameiras. The Conquistadores find themselves 9th in the table, level on points with Sporting and one point behind Estoril, but they will have a tough time grabbing a point at home as they take on a Benfica side that looks unstoppable at the moment and that will be looking to carry on their flawless form ahead of a visit from Paris Saint-Germain. Benfica have won 13 of their last 14 league fixtures against Vitória, and Vitória have won just once since August 14 as the long-term absences of right back Miguel Maga and center forward Andre Silva have taken a toll on the team’s form, whilst the lack of options in central defense hasn’t helped the team’s defensive fortunes either.
It will be the first game for Rafa Silva since the 29-year-old announced his international retirement shortly after receiving a call-up by Fernando Santos to the Portuguese national team, and he will be looking to continue his impressive form in attack alongside Gonçalo Ramos, João Mário and David Neres and exploit a Vitória defense that has kept just one clean sheet in their last five matches. I’m expecting a Benfica victory and plenty of goals in what should be an entertaining Saturday night fixture at the Estádio Dom Afonso Henriques.
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