Paços de Ferreira v Benfica
After 297 league matches and nine months of nonstop action, the final week of the 2021/22 Primeira Liga season is upon us. For the second straight year, Braga will finish fourth and secure UEFA Europa League qualification whilst Benfica will finish third and play in the pre-season UEFA Champions League qualifiers as they have the previous two years. Sporting’s hopes of retaining the Primeira Liga title after winning their first championship in 19 years under new manager Rúben Amorim have come to an end following Porto’s 1-0 win against Benfica, and Sérgio Conceição’s side can seal their second domestic double in three years as they prepare to take on Tondela – currently in the relegation play-off spot – in the Taça de Portugal Final on May 22.
Benfica were eager to avoid defeat at the Luz and prevent their eternal rivals from celebrating the title on home soil, managing 63% possession and 9 shots in comparison to Porto’s 9, albeit 2 shots on goal vs Porto’s 5. They nearly took the lead from Uruguayan striker Darwin Núñez, only for it to be called offsides by two centimeters, before conceding in the 94th minute in a goal that saw Porto break on the counter after a failed corner kick from Benfica as Brazilian winger Pêpe beat Adel Taarabt to a loose ball before racing from one edge of the box to the other before chipping a pass towards the onrushing Zaidu Sanusi, who controlled it and chipped it past Odysseas Vlachodimos with one touch to secure the league title. The Nigerian left back was moved to tears in the celebrations – just nine months ago, the future looked dim for him after a mistake that nearly saw Famalicão secure a come-from-behind 2-2 draw only for the equalizer to be ruled out due to VAR, with Brazilian left back Wendell arriving from Bayer Leverkusen. He has held onto his starting spot and achieved the greatest moment in his career with a 94th-minute winner that’ll be remembered in the heart and soul of Porto fans for the rest of their lives.
It was an encouraging performance from Benfica following a 1-0 win against 10-man Marítimo and a 0-0 draw to Famalicão as well as a 2-0 win against Sporting and a 3-1 victory against Belenenses-SAD on April 9, the last time they had conceded in a league match prior to the loss to the champions. I expect Benfica to continue their impressive defensive record and get a win against César Peixoto’s Paços de Ferreira, who began April with a 2-0 win against Marítimo before losing 4-0 to Vitória and drawing 1-1 to Gil Vicente and Tondela, the latter of which saw them equalize in the 92nd minute. The Beavers fell to a 2-0 defeat in the Azores as backup goalkeeper Igor Vekič get sent off within five minutes, Brazilian attacking midfielder Lincoln giving Santa Clara the opener within nine, and Ricardo António adding to the lead in the second half. Peixoto will in all likelihood bring André Ferreira back into the fold, who has emerged as one of the finest goalkeepers outside the Big Three this season at 25 years of age, but he will be deprived of Brazilian winger Zé Uilton in the final matchup of the season.
Paços sit 10th in the table, level on 38 points with Marítimo, one point above Boavista and one point behind Estoril Praia. Benfica prevailed 2-0 and 2-1 in 2020, and 5-0 and 4-1 in 2021, their most recent match-up seeing the Eagles break in the near year with a 2-0 win. After Brazilian striker Denílson got sent off for the visitors, João Mário opened the scoring just three minutes later right before halftime, with Álex Grimaldo adding another in the 75th minute. I’m expecting another comfortable victory for Benfica in what will likely be the final game for Darwin Núñez, Grimaldo and plenty more for the club as they prepare to enter the Roger Schmidt era.
Moreirense v Vizela
Saturday’s Primeira action commences on 3:30 pm GMT in a triple-header as the bottom three teams fight for their top-flight lives on the final day of the regular season. Moreirense sit one point above Belenenses-SAD and one point behind Tondela, and in order to finish 16th and seal their presence in the promotion/relegation two-legged playoff, they need Boavista to do them a solid against Tondela as well as their first victory since April 16, when they beat Tondela 2-0 via goals from Rafael Martins and Kevin Mirallas in quick succession before the interval. Since that win, Moreirense have lost 1-0 to Portimonense and 2-1 to Boavista and fell to a 1-0 defeat against Estoril. André Franco gave the hosts the lead in the second half, who would fall to 10 men in the 84th minute and who defended valiantly against a barrage of attacks from Ricardo Sá Pinto’s side. Moreirense registered 18 shots in comparison to Estoril’s 6 and had 56% possession, but when they had a chance to equalize in extra time as Lucho Vega swung his foot into Lazar Rosić’s shoulder to give them a penalty kick in the 94th minute, but Yan Matheus’ effort rattled off the crossbar and into safety.
Whilst Estoril guaranteed their status in the top-flight on April 24 following a 2-2 draw against Beleneneses-SAD, the other two promoted sides Arouca and Vizela secured safety on the penultimate weekend and will be finishing off the weekend against two relegation battlers. Moreirense were unlucky to not find the back of the net against Bruno Pinheiro’s side, but they have generally done well against teams at the bottom of the table, drawing 1-1 to Arouca – another game that saw them miss a late penalty – beating B-SAD 4-1, losing 2-1 to Tondela, beating Arouca 2-1, and drawing 1-1 to B-SAD. The only common denominator in these games? Both teams scoring. The lone exception? A 1-0 loss at home to Vizela on January 8.
Beginning the year with a 2-0 win against B-SAD and a 1-0 loss to Moreirense as well as a 2-0 loss to Sporting, nine of Vizela’s next ten matches would see both sides find the back of the net, followed by 1-0 defeats to B-SAD and Braga. They’ve since beaten Arouca 2-1, lost 4-2 to Porto and drawn 1-1 to Marítimo to avoid the fate of 1984 – their sole season in the top-flight in the club’s 84-year history prior to this campaign. Alvaro Pacheco’s men will finally have a chance to relax and relish this moment, but they’ll nevertheless be eager to close out the season on a strong note against a Moreirense side that are fighting for their lives.
Arouca v Belenenses-SAD
After falling to a 1-0 defeat to Braga on Sunday via an 87th minute winner from Ricardo Horta, who went level as the all-time leading scorer in club history alongside Mário Laranjo with 92 goals, Arouca were forced to wait another 24 hours for the following match between Famalicão and Belenenses-SAD to see if they’d enter the final week of the season with their top-flight status still up in the air. B-SAD needed nothing less than a win in order to deprive Arouca of securing safety on the penultimate weekend, and they went ahead on the cusp of halftime as Brazilian center back Alex deflected a cross into his own net. Famalicão would equalize in the 67th minute as Spanish left back Adrián Marín combined and ventured forward before waiting for his moment and firing into the top left corner. Not content with a point, Rui Pedro Silva turned to his bench and brought on attackers Simon Banza and Bruno Rodrigues, who have typically been starters this season, for Jhonder Cádiz and Ivo Rodrigues. Two minutes later, Pêpê lifted a delightful chipped pass towards Banza, who chested it down before firing it into the path of an unmarked Bruno, who converted from close range. Senegalese winger Yves Baraye, who had forced Alex’s own goal in the first half, equalized for B-SAD in the third minute of extra time, only for a minute later, Banza and Bruno combined quickly to set up Pêpê, who danced past several opponents before firing a low shot past Brazilian goalkeeper Luiz Júnior.
B-SAD have not suffered relegation since the club’s creation in the summer of 2018, but they need nothing short of a miracle to earn a trip to the relegation play-offs: Moreirense to draw or lose, Tondela to lose, and a victory without starting right back Carraça and creative fulcrum Afonso Sousa. Without Sousa’s influence in the final third and ability to link play, Franclim Carvalho will be lacking a key man in terms of breaking down a defensive outfit, and Arouca have seen four of their last five matches finish with under 2.5 goals. I’m backing this one to be a cagey, low-scoring fixture in what could very well be the final game for Belenenses-SAD in the top-flight for quite some time.
Tondela v Boavista
Nine years ago, Wigan Athletic became the first club to win the FA Cup and be relegated from the highest tier of English football in the same season, beating Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City in Wembley and finishing 18th in the table. Even if they are unable to defeat Sérgio Conceição’s Porto in Jamor, Tondela will be looking to avoid Wigan’s fate and continue a 7-year spell in the Primeira, but only a win can ensure their berth in the relegation play-offs where they’ll face either Rio Ave (67 points), Casa Pia (65) or Chaves (64).
They’ll be without center back Marcelo Alves who was sent off in the first half, followed by a second-half brace from Samuel Lino and a goal from Kanya Fujimoto as Gil Vicente sealed European football for the first time in club history and picked up their first win since March 13 with a 3-0 victory. Whilst Gil are set to play in Europe for the first time in their 98 years, Tondela will play in a national cup final for the first time in their 89 years, a game that will certainly feel bittersweet if Nuno Campos’ side are to be directly relegated.
Prior to suffering defeat in Barcelos, Tondela had drawn three straight matches 1-1, lost 2-0 to Moreirense, lost 3-1 to Sporting, beaten Marítimo 3-1 – their last victory coming on April 3 – drawn 2-2 to Arouca, lost 4-0 to Porto with three goals coming after center back Manu Hernando’s expulsion, drawn 1-1 to Belenenses-SAD and lost 2-1 to Famalicão – only the Porto and Gil defeats saw each of the two teams unable to score.
Boavista began 2022 with a 1-1 draw against Tondela as Venezuelan striker Jeriel De Santis equalized in the 89th minute, and they followed it up with 1-1 draws against Gil and Paços, a 2-1 loss to Santa Clara, a 2-2 draw to Vizela, and a 3-2 win against Estoril. The following weeks would see them draw 1-1 to Braga and 0-0 to B-SAD, lose 1-0 to Porto and beat Famalicão 2-1, before losing 4-0 to Marítimo and 3-0 to Sporting and beating Moreirense 2-1. Despite missing top scorer Petar Musa due to suspension, Boavista pulled off a 1-1 draw against Vitória at the weekend and will be counting on Musa’s return and likely farewell match ahead of a summer move to Benfica as they prepare for battle against Tondela. Expect a goal-heavy match between Petit’s side and his former employer – the worst defense in the Primeira with 65 goals conceded – as Tondela seek to prolong their stay in the Primeira for just a little longer.
Porto v Estoril Praia
Porto were unable to extend their unbeaten streak to 59 games and go one match ahead of Fabio Capello’s Milan as the longest invincible run in the history of Europe’s top six leagues as Ricardo Horta led Braga to a 1-0 victory on April 25. However, in beating Benfica with a last-minute goal from Zaidu Sanusi in order to seal their first league title in two years at their rival’s backyard, they’ve given their fans a memory to cherish for the rest of their lives.
Sérgio Conceição’s side will finally have a chance to breathe and celebrate their championship at the Dragão before taking on Tondela in Jamor on May 22 in the Taça de Portugal Final. They’ll be taking on an Estoril side that sealed its status in the top-flight on April 24 after drawing 2-2 to Beleneneses-SAD before losing 3-1 to Famalicão and beating Moreirense 1-0. The last fixture between the two sides saw Estoril enter halftime with a two-goal lead thanks to a penalty from André Franco and a goal from Arthur Gomes, but Mehdi Taremi pulled one back shortly after the interval and provided the assist for Luis Díaz’s equalizer in the 88th minute, with the Colombian finding Francisco Conceição for the winning goal in the 89th minute to secure a 3-2 win and begin 2022 where they left off.
Estoril’s fixtures against the top sides have typically followed this high-scoring pattern with Pedro Gonçalves giving Sporting a lead going into HT on February 20 and Matheus Reis and Pablo Sarabia adding goals in the final quarter-hour following Raúl Silva’s expulsion. Benfica took a two-goal lead on March 20 to comfortably seal a 2-1 victory with André Franco grabbing one back in injury time, and I’m expecting this one to follow the pattern.
Marítimo v Portimonense
Marítimo and Portimonense began 2022 with an entertaining match in the Algarve as Rafik Guitane gave the visitors the lead before halftime with Fabrício evening things up for Portimonense at the penalty spot in the 68th minute. However, Joel Tagueu fired in a winner in extra time after Samuel Portugal failed to deal with a low shot from André Vidigal, giving Marítimo their second straight win under new manager Vasco Seabra.
Since that win, Marítimo would see eight of its next 10 matches end with fewer than 2.5 goals, the sole exceptions being a 3-0 win against Arouca and a 2-1 loss to Porto. However, the month of April saw things take a turn with Seabra’s side losing 3-1 to Tondela, lose 2-0 to Paços de Ferreira, beating Boavista 4-0 and drawing 2-2 to Santa Clara. They ended the month with a 1-0 loss at home to Benfica who took the lead within two minutes via Darwin Núñez with Marítimo going down to 10 men before halftime via Claudio Winck’s expulsion, and followed it up with a 1-1 draw against Vizela, who clinched their status in the top-flight with a vital point as Kiko Bondoso opened the scoring within 56 minutes but Guitane equalized just minutes later.
Their opponents, Portimonense, aren’t accustomed to heavy goal fests either; they’ve scored 30 goals in 33 games this season – only B-SAD (23), Moreirense (29) and Paços de Ferreira (29) have scored fewer. On the contrary, they’ve conceded 45 goals – outside of Portugal’s Big Three, only Braga (28), Gil Vicente (37), Vitória (41), Estoril (41), Marítimo (43) and Paços de Ferreira (42) have conceded fewer. 15.5% of those goals were conceded on April 16 as Portimonense manager Paulo Sérgio fielded a weakened line-up and lost 7-0 to Porto in order to avoid having his starters pick up a booking and miss the following match. It was Sérgio who had the last laugh – Portimonense defeated Moreirense 1-0 in the next match to secure safety. I’m backing a similarly low-scoring result for this one.
Sporting v Santa Clara
The final week of the season can always be a bit of a crapshoot, especially for two teams such as Santa Clara, who sealed their top-flight status for next season after drawing 2-2 to Marítimo on April 23, and Sporting, whose fading title dreams were evaporated as Porto beat Benfica via an extra-time goal from Zaidu Sanusi last weekend. With both sides having nothing left to play for, it’s worth taking a look at some historical data: the last time Sporting closed out a league season with less than 2.5 goals scored, Nani opened the scoring after halftime to seal a 1-0 away win at Rio Ave on May 23, 2015. Santa Clara, meanwhile, closed out the 2020/21 campaign with a 4-0 win against Farense and ended the prior season with a 2-2 draw to Vitória, having previously lost 4-1 to champions Benfica in 2019 in their first season back in the Primeira.
After defeating Santa Clara 2-1 on both occasions in 2020/21, Rúben Amorim opened 2022 with a 3-2 defeat in Ponte Delgada, a first league defeat for Sporting since May 15 when a hungover Sporting side that was still celebrating their first championship in two decades fell to a 4-3 defeat to Benfica, before closing out the season with a 5-1 thrashing of Marítimo. Apart from a 2-1 loss to Braga on January 22, a 1-1 draw to Marítimo on January 26, and a 2-0 loss to Sporting on April 17, the loss to Santa Clara was the only time that Sporting failed to pick up three points in a league match this year. Sporting would manage to beat the Azoreans 2-1 in the Taça da Liga semifinals before seeing off Benfica in the Final, and while they will not be challenging for any more silverware after a week that saw them lose 2-0 to Benfica and 1-0 to Porto in the second leg of the Taça de Portugal semifinals, they have since bounced back with a 3-0 win against Boavista, a 4-1 win over Gil Vicente, and a come-from-behind 3-2 win against Portimonense. I’m expecting a similar result in what could be the final match for various Sporting players such as Matheus Nunes and João Palhinha, as well as the final match for Santa Clara’s Japanese midfielder Hidemasa Morita, who is heavily linked with a summer move to replace Nunes or Palhinha.
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