Arouca v Rio Ave
On May 26, 2021, Rio Ave paid a visit to the Estádio Municipal de Arouca in the first leg of their relegation playoffs against Arouca, with team captain and right back Thales setting up Pité’s opening goal before the break and assisting a goal for center back Sema Velázquez at the hour mark, with André Silva having a goal denied via VAR shortly after before opening his account in the 74th minute to secure a 3-0 victory for the hosts. Any chance of a second-leg comeback at home were quickly squashed as Arsénio Nunes furthered the deficit in the 32nd minute, with Velázquez adding another at the hour mark to seal a comfortable victory in Vila de Conde. Eight months after losing a 24-penalty shootout to Milan and missing out on a place in the UEFA Europa League group stage, and one year after securing a joint-best fifth-place finish and a new points record of 55, Rio Ave were headed to the second division after a 13-year spell in the Primeira.
Despite losing various key players like Carlos Mané and Toni Borevković, Rio Ave finished first and earned an immediate return to the top-flight, with the Vilacondenses losing 1-0 to Vizela and 3-0 Sporting in their first two matches before drawing 2-2 at Estoril Praia and getting their first win and giving Porto their first loss since April in a 3-1 win at the Estádio dos Arcos with Rio Ave taking a 3-0 lead going into halftime via a brace and an assist from Aziz, who arrived in the summer from Vitória and has formed a lethal pairing in attack alongside fellow Ghanaian striker Emmanuel Boateng.
They would follow that up with a 1-1 draw to Chaves, a 3-2 defeat to Braga, a 2-2 draw to Gil Vicente before beating Santa Clara 1-0, losing 4-2 to Benfica, suffering elimination in a 3-2 loss to Oliveira Hospital in the Taça de Portugal, beating 10-man Portimonense at home, losing 1-0 at Casa Pia before hosting Boavista on November 6. For the third time since the start of October, Rio Ave would prevail with a 1-0 win at home via a goal from Boateng, who left his hometown of Accra at the age of 17 to pursue a career at Rio Ave, where he would spend two years before enjoying two-year spells at Moreirense and Levante, departing Iberia in 2019 and spending three years at Chinese side Dalian Professional F.C. only to return to Rio Ave on a free transfer shortly before the start of the season. The Ghanaian would come off the bench in his first three fixtures and score a goal against Braga before locking down a starting spot in attack alongside Aziz – whilst Boateng has four goals thus far, Aziz has five goals and three assists.
Rio Ave have the lowest expected goals tally in Portugal with 8.3 but have nevertheless scored 15 goals, the most in the Primeira Liga after Benfica, Braga, Porto and Sporting, and sit 12th in the Primeira Liga table. They have been held to a clean sheet on just two occasions: a 1-0 defeat to Vizela on opening day and a 1-0 loss at Casa Pia on October 30. Arouca, on the other hand, have scored 14 and like Rio Ave have conceded 18, and they find themselves eighth in the league and a mere three points behind Sporting in fifth place. After beginning the season with a 4-0 defeat to Benfica, Arouca have been held scoreless on just one occasion – a 0-0 draw vs. Casa Pia on September 4 – and started October with a 1-1 draw vs. Paços de Ferreira before beating Famalicão 4-1, beating fourth-tier GD Fontinhas 2-0 in the Taça de Portugal, drawing 1-1 to Marítimo, beating Sporting 1-0, beating Vizela 1-0 and beating Gil Vicente 4-1 in the Taça de Portugal. Both teams enter this fixture in impressive form and I’m expecting an even-keeled fixture that should see both teams find the back of the net in Arouca.
Boavista v Porto
After an intriguing battle in Arouca, Saturday’s action draws to a conclusion at the Estádio do Bessa as Boavista host crosstown rivals Porto. The Axadrezados began the season in fine fashion under Petit with victories against Portimonense and Santa Clara and defeats to Casa Pia and Benfica before beating Paços de Ferreira, Arouca and Sporting, only to begin October with a 4-0 shellacking at the hands of Famalicão and a 1-0 defeat to fourth-tier AD Machico in the Taça de Portugal.
This was followed by a 3-2 defeat to Vitória de Guimarães and a 2-2 draw to Vizela that would see them take the lead within four minutes, concede twice in the next 24 minutes, equalize from the penalty spot in the 78th minute and receive another penalty and a sending-off from Vizela’s Raphael Guzzo, only for Yusupha Njie to miss from the spot as Boavista failed to make the most out of their man advantage and drew 2-2 in Porto. The next match would see Boavista concede the opener after 64 minutes to Emmanuel Boateng, with Rio Ave holding onto a 1-0 win at home. Having occupied the European football positions for various weeks of the season, Petit’s side currently sit 9th in the table and face an uphill battle as they look to win their first match since September 17.
The Dérbi da Invicta has been one of the most lopsided derbies in Europe alongside the Revierderby, Merseyside derby and Derbi Barceloní, with Porto winning 96, drawing 20 and losing 22. Apart from a 2-2 draw on February 13, 2021, Porto have won each of their 15 meetings against Boavista since the start of 2015, with the Dragons enjoying a two-goal margin of victory or more in 10 of those victories. Sérgio Conceição’s side have had a shaky start to the campaign with the defending Primeira Liga champions losing to Rio Ave, Atlético Madrid, Club Brugge, and Benfica and drawing to Estoril Praia, but they have nevertheless finished atop their Champions League group and sit second in the league table – eight points behind Benfica and one above Braga – and have bounced back from a 1-1 draw to Santa Clara with a 2-1 win against Atlético Madrid, a 4-0 win against Paços de Ferreira, and a 3-0 win against second-tier side and this year’s semifinalists Mafra in the Taça de Portugal.
14 of Porto’s 21 fixtures have featured more than 2.5 goals, and four of their last five fixtures against Boavista have featured more than 3.5 goals. I’m expecting a similar result for this one, and I’m expecting the likes of Mehdi Taremi, Stephen Eustáquio, Otávio and Diogo Costa to put in a strong performance before heading to Qatar for the FIFA World Cup.
Benfica v Gil Vicente
Only two teams in Europe are still undefeated: Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain. After drawing 1-1 to PSG on two occasions, Benfica have since beaten third-tier Caldas on penalties in the Taça de Portugal after drawing 1-1 and beaten Porto for the first time since March 2019, winning 1-0 in the Dragão via a goal from Rafa Silva, before beating Juventus 4-3 and beating Chaves 5-0. They faced off against Maccabi Haifa on the final matchday and won 6-1, with João Mário’s 92nd-minute goal ensuring that Benfica finished atop their group. Whilst PSG will be facing off against Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, Benfica will be playing Club Brugge.
Roger Schmidt’s side enjoy an eight-point lead over Porto, a nine-point lead over Braga, an 11-point lead over Casa Pia and a 12-point lead over crosstown rivals Sporting, and apart from their draws to PSG, their draw to Caldas, and a 0-0 draw to Vitória in the league on October 1, they have won every single match that they have played in. The Eagles have the best attack in Portugal with 34 goals scored in 12 matches – 7 better than the next-best – and the best defense with 6 goals conceded – 2 better than the next-best – and they have scored 22 goals in their last five. Benfica defeated Estoril Praia 5-1 at the weekend before winning 1-0 at the same stadium in their midweek Taça de Portugal fixture via a goal from David Neres, and their final match between the FIFA World Cup will see them host Gil Vicente at the Estádio da Luz.
After a fifth-place finish and a first-ever European qualification, Gil Vicente have suffered a dismal start to the campaign that sees them sit 16th in the Primeira Liga table. Since beating Marítimo 2-1 on September 11, Gil have snatched a 2-2 draw against Rio Ave via a last-minute equalizer from Murilo de Souza, lost 3-1 to Sporting, lost 1-0 to Estoril Praia, beaten fourth-tier Serpa FC 3-0, lost 3-1 to Chaves and 1-0 to Braga, prompting the dismissal of Ivo Vieira, who replaced Ricardo Soares as the club’s manager in the summer.
Under interim manager Carlos Cunha – who looks set to return to the U-23 side in the following weeks as the club look for a long-term solution at manager – Gil would lose 2-1 to Portimonense before succumbing to a 4-1 home defeat against Arouca in the Taça de Portugal, falling to 9 men with late expulsions for Kevin Villodres and Lucas Cunha. As a result of Cunha being suspended and Tomás Araújo being unavailable, we could see captain Rúben Fernandes partner Emmanuel Hackman – a backup right back – or Né Lopes, whose sole appearance this season has come in the Taça de Portugal – in the heart of defense. Overall, it’s a combination that could prove lethal to Gil’s chances of keeping things sturdy at the back.
Gil Vicente have already lost as many matches this season (10 in all competitions) as they did in the entirety of last season, and I’m expecting them to get their 11th loss in what could prove to be another high-scoring shootout in Lisbon.
Casa Pia v Chaves
As we enter the final Primeira Liga matchday before the FIFA World Cup, one thing’s for sure: each of the three promoted sides are proving that they are here to stay and compete. Chaves find themselves 11th in the table, one point above 12th-placed Rio Ave and seven behind fourth-placed Casa Pia, and they have already picked up various impressive results including a 2-0 win at Sporting and a 1-0 win at Braga.
Eight of Chaves’ 12 fixtures have featured under 2.5 goals, with two of the exceptions being lopsided defeats to Porto and Benfica, with Chaves closing out October with a 3-1 win against Gil Vicente and a 5-0 loss to Benfica before drawing 0-0 to Santa Clara. Both of the fixtures that have taken place between promoted sides have featured 2.5 goals or fewer, with Rio Ave drawing 1-1 to Chaves and losing 1-0 to Casa Pia, and I think there’s a good chance we could be in for something similar on Sunday in Jamor.
Casa Pia ended an 83-year top-flight absence and finished second last season – two points behind Rio Ave and four above Chaves – thanks to a stellar defensive record that saw the Lisbon-based side concede just 22 goals in 34 matches, 9 better than Rio Ave and 13 better than Chaves. They have since translated that solidity to the Primeira Liga and are tied with Porto for the second-best defensive record in the league, two goals away from Benfica.
From the eight goals that Casa Pia have conceded, three have come in a 3-1 defeat to Sporting. Filipe Martins’ side have bounced back from that loss by grabbing 1-0 wins against Rio Ave and Braga, with the latter seeing them take the lead within 23 minutes in Braga via Rafael Martins. The hosts came close to equalizing only for Ricardo Batista to save Ricardo Horta’s effort from the spot – no goalkeeper has saved more penalties than Batista (2) this season – as Casa Pia held off a Braga side that mustered 28 shots and 8 shots on goal, before beating fourth-tier Valadares Gaia in the Taça de Portugal, taking a 2-0 lead within 31 minutes and holding onto another win and clean sheet to seal their place in the Round of 16. They have picked up nine clean sheets in all competitions – seven in the league – and nine victories – seven in the league – in what is proving to be a phenomenal start to life in the Primeira for Os Gansos.
11 out of Casa Pia’s 14 matches have featured 2.5 goals or fewer, and I’m expecting this one to follow that pattern as they look to remain in fourth place and pick up another victory against Chaves.
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