Vizela v Arouca
Arouca kicked off matchday 30 of the 2021/22 Primeira Liga season with a 1-1 draw against Santa Clara, opening the scoring just after the break via Brazilian striker André Silva but conceding 17 minutes later to January arrival Kyosuke Tagawa and settling for a point at home, whilst all but securing Santa Clara’s status in the Primeira. They’ll be taking on another newly-promoted side who are hovering above the relegation zone: Vizela.
With four games left, Arouca are one point above Moreirense in the relegation play-off spot, two points above Tondela and three points above Belenenses-SAD, as well as one point behind Alvaro Pacheco’s Vizela, who fell to their second consecutive 1-0 defeat at Belenenses-SAD on the weekend. Vizela began March with a 3-1 defeat to Santa Clara but responded with 1-1 draws to Benfica and Famalicão, a 3-2 win against fellow promoted side Estoril Praia, before losing to 10-man Braga and B-SAD. They defeated Arouca 4-1 when the two sides last faced off in December, with Samu opening the scoring in the 9th minute. Abdoulaye Ba scored an own goal just 7 minutes later, whilst Guilherme Schettine tripled the lead two minutes later. Schettine quadrupled the lead from the penalty spot before the break, with André Bukia grabbing a consolation goal for Armando Evangelista’s side.
I’m backing this one to be far more cagey and balanced in a relegation six-pointer between two sides who’ll be looking to keep their cards close to their chest.
Portimonense v Moreirense
Portimonense manager Paulo Sérgio drew controversy when he elected to play a heavily rotated side against league leaders Porto at the Estádio do Dragão. The prior weekend, the Algarvians picked up their first win of 2022, beating Famalicão 1-0 thanks to a goal from Wélinton Junior, who, alongside other starters such as Shoya Nakajima and Lucas Possignolo, was suspended for the Porto match. Rather than play his first-choice side for a trip to Porto, he elected to bench several starters who would miss the following match against Moreirense if they picked up a yellow card. The result? Porto thrashed Portimonense 7-0 via a hat-trick from Mehdi Taremi as well as goals from Pepe and Marko Grujić as well as a brace from Evanilson.
Paulo Sérgio saw his chances of getting anything in Porto dwindle from very little to practically nothing at the Dragão, and he decided the risk of losing key players such as Filipe Relvas, Pedrão, Samuel Portugal and Iván Angulo was too heavy to bare. Portimonense are seven points above the drop and have to play Moreirense, Arouca, Sporting and Marítimo in the final four weeks. It doesn’t matter where, but they need to pick up points in order to escape a relegation battle that they’ve managed to avoid up until now.
Prior to beating Famalicão, Portimonense had lost four straight in the league, conceding two goals in each. They have been the worst team in the league since the start of February and will need to bounce back as they host Moreirense, who have picked up back-to-back victories for the first time all season. The win against Famalicão was Moreirense’s first league victory since December 12, when they beat Moreirense 1-0 via a late goal from Aylton Boa Morte, who moved to Emirati club Khor Fakkan in the January transfer window.
Ricardo Sá Pinto’s side have climbed from bottom of the league to the relegation play-off spot in just two weeks and have put together an impressive run of form against relegation rivals as of late, beating Belenenses-SAD 4-1, drawing 1-1 to Arouca, beating Tondela 2-0 and Vizela 1-0 since the start of 2022. They will be counting on Derik Lacerda, the young Brazilian forward who came off the bench and set up both goals in both of Moreirense’s recent wins, as well as Rafael Martins and Kevin Mirallas to form an attacking trident and put pressure on a Portimonense side that will be looking to bounce back from their humiliation at the Dragão.
We’ve seen a pattern in recent weeks of low-scoring, cagey battles between relegated-threatened sides, only Tondela-Arouca’s 2-2 draw on March 19 and Moreirense’s 4-1 thrashing of Belenenses-SAD on February 7 have proven to be exceptions, and I’m backing this one to follow the pattern as two sides who are clinging to their lives in the top-flight face off in the Algarve.
Benfica v Famalicão
Benfica bowed out of the Champions League at Anfield with their heads held high after mustering a 3-3 draw with late goals from Roman Yaremchuk and Darwin Núñez as Liverpool progressed 6-4 on aggregate and set up a meeting with Unai Emery’s Villarreal in the semifinals. They responded with a 2-0 victory against Sporting, ending their crosstown rivals’ title dreams and pulling off their first win of the season against either Porto or Sporting.
Nelson Veríssimo’s side will not be able to catch the league leaders who are now nine points clear of Sporting and 15 points clear of Benfica, but they do have the chance to capitalize on Sporting’s grief and push for second place and automatic qualification to the Champions League group stage, rather than going through a pre-season ordeal of qualifiers which saw Benfica defeat Spartak Moscow and PSV Eindhoven, the latter of whom was coached by Roger Schmidt, Benfica’s incoming manager.
They’ll be hosting a Famalicão side who are just four points above the drop and who’ll be without Diogo Figueiras and Gustavo Assunção due to suspension. Their last encounter in December saw Benfica prevail 4-1 via a hat-trick from Darwin Núñez and a goal from Rafa Silva, the latter of whom will be missing due to injury whilst Everton Soares is out due to suspension.
Without his two starting wingers, Veríssimo is left at a crossroads. Does he take red-hot Darwin out of his favored position and push him to the left flank with a bulky, physical target man like Roman Yaremchuk or Haris Seferović leading the line? Does he start Gil Dias, who scored after coming off the bench in the derby, and have just two makeshift wingbacks supporting Darwin and Gonçalo Ramos with service? Or does he take a chance on two teenage wingers like Umaro Candé and Tiago Gouveia who have led Benfica’s youth team to the semifinals of the UEFA Youth League?
Whatever he chooses, I expect Darwin and Ramos’ combined firepower to be enough to penetrate a Famalicão defense that is leaking goals at the moment and that has picked up just one point in three games.
Santa Clara v Marítimo
The two teams from the Portuguese islands (our condolences to Nacional in the second tier) will be doing battle in the Azores as Santa Clara take on Marítimo in Ponte Delgada’s Estádio de São Miguel on Saturday. Both teams have been forced to escape the relegation zone at different points in the season, and both teams have turned their fortunes around under new managers and have just about secured their status in the top flight for next year. Santa Clara are ninth, level on points with Estoril Praia in 10th and one point behind Paços de Ferreira and Marítimo.
Recent fixtures between the two sides have been fairly balanced; Marítimo won 1-0 on July 3, 2020, Santa Clara won 2-0 on September 20, 2020 and 2-1 on February 8, 2021, whilst Marítimo came out victorious 4-1 on December 11, 2021.
Vasco Seabra’s men picked up their first victory since March 6 when they thrashed Boavista 4-0 thanks Cameroonian striker Joel Tagueu, who became the first Marítimo player since Baba Diawara in 2009 to score a hat-trick in the league as well as the fourth-top scorer in club history. Marítimo will be without Joel – who has scored four of their last six goals – and Argentine midfielder Iván Rossi due to suspension, whilst Mário Silva’s side are deprived of Portuguese fullback Paulo Henrique as well. Ali Alipour has scored seven goals this season but has not found the back of the net since February, and Seabra will be counting on the Iranian to fill the void going forward in the absence of his Cameroonian talisman.
Marítimo’s best form of the season came immediately after Seabra’s appointment on November 13, which was followed by a 2-0 win against Paços de Ferreira, a 1-1 draw to Boavista, a 4-1 win against Santa Clara, a 7-1 defeat to Benfica, a 2-0 win against 10-man Vizela, a 2-1 win to Portimonense, and a 1-0 win against Braga. Joel opened the scoring for Marítimo against Paços, Santa Clara and Vizela and scored an extra time winner against Portimonense.
Since that 1-0 win against Braga on January 15, Marítimo have won three games. They followed up their 3-0 defeat of Arouca with a 1-0 loss to Famalicão, and followed up their 1-0 win against Moreirense with a 1-0 loss to Vitória. Prior to the win against Boavista, they had conceded seven goals in their past four matches. They are a team that thrive when they have space to exploit on the counter, but Santa Clara have impressed in the defensive end in recent weeks; apart from their 3-0 loss to Porto, they have conceded just twice since the start of March and have scored six in that same timeframe. Whereas Marítimo’s attackers could struggle against a team that does not expose itself and leave ample space to be exploited on the transition, I expect Santa Clara to edge this one thanks to the fine form of January arrival Kyosuke Tagawa who has scored two goals in his past two games.
Gil Vicente v Paços de Ferreira
Paços de Ferreira returned to European competition after an eight-year drought following a 2020/21 season that saw them finish fifth in the league. It was a superb achievement that, in common Portuguese fashion, was followed by a summer of asset stripping. Pepa left immediately after to take on the managerial job at Vitória de Guimarães, whilst top scorer Douglas Tanque headed for Emirati club Khor Fakkan. From their 3-2 victory against Porto on October 30, 2020 – the last time Porto lost in league play – two of Paços’ goalscorers from that day – Stephen Eustàquio and Bruno Costa – are now playing for Porto.
The Beavers did manage to get past Northern Irish side Larne and even beat Tottenham Hotspur, before being eliminated by Spurs in the second leg of the UEFA Europa Conference League play-off round. However, they struggled to cope with their summer exodus, and by the time December rolled around, Paços were hovering above the relegation zone and on the lookout for a new manager. The midseason appointment of César Peixoto has seen Paços improve in the second half of the season – last weekend’s 4-0 defeat to Pepa’s Vitória the exception rather than the rule – and they have all but sealed their status in the Primeira next season.
It is a vicious cycle that every Portuguese team outside of the Big Three and Braga have to endure, and it perhaps explains Gil Vicente’s sudden collapse under manager Ricardo Soares. Since winning at Braga with a late goal from Henrique Gomes, going one point behind Braga in the race for fourth place, Gil Vicente have drawn 1-1 to Marítimo and lost 2-1 to relegation battlers Arouca and Moreirense despite playing with a man advantage for the second half. Their latest match saw them go into halftime with a 2-1 deficit to Famalicão, only for a late penalty from substitute Fran Navarro to give Gil a much-needed point away from home.
Gil Vicente are out of the running for fourth place and need some positive results in order to ensure fifth place, having just a five-point advantage over Vitória as well as an 11-point advantage over Marítimo and Paços. They have won their past two fixtures against the Beavers and kept a clean sheet in both, with a 95th-minute goal from substitute Antoine Léautey giving them a 1-0 victory in December, and they’ll be looking to continue that streak without two key midfield cogs in Kanya Fujimoto and Vítor Carvalho; Paços, meanwhile, will be missing midfield general Luiz Carlos.
Despite these key absences, I’m expecting an entertaining fixture. Apart from their recent defeat to Vitória, Paços have been rendered goal-less just once since the start of February when they lost 2-0 to Sporting. Gil Vicente, on the other hand, have not kept a clean sheet in their past four games and have conceded six goals in their past three, and apart from a 0-0 draw to Estoril on March 4, they’ve managed to score in every game since the start of the year.
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