Marítimo v Vitória de Guimarães
Sunday’s Primeira Liga action kicks off in Madeira as Pepa’s Vitória de Guimarães pay a visit to Vasco Seabra’s Marítimo. Vitória come into the match on the back of a 2-1 comeback victory against Famalicão, as goals from Colombian striker Óscar Estupiñán and Rochinha gave Vitória a much-needed three points at home. It was a similar story when the two sides last met up in October: Simon Banza scored within five minutes, Pêpê scored within six on Sunday, but they nevertheless came away empty-handed against Vitória.
Vitória snapped a three-game losing streak and will be looking to pick up back-to-back victories for the first time since December, although they will be without 21-year-old midfielder Tomás Händel due to a muscular injury. Marítimo opened the month with a 1-0 win at relegation battlers Moreirense as a first-half goal from Matheus Costa gifted them a victory. They currently sit seventh in the table, one point behind Vitória who occupy the coveted sixth position. If Porto or Sporting defeat Tondela or Mafra in the Taça de Portugal Final, sixth place will secure entrance to the Europa Conference League qualifiers.
I’m backing this one to be a high-scoring affair. Vitória’s weakest position has been in central defense and Ali Alipour and Rafik Guitane should have their fair share of chances, whilst Óscar Estupiñán and Rochinha will be looking to provide a weapon for Pepa in a crucial fixture for European football.
Porto v Tondela
Porto suffered defeat for the first time since December 7 and the first time in the post Luís Diaz-era in a 1-0 home defeat in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League Round of 16 tie against Lyon as a goal from Lucas Paquetà gave Peter Bosz’s men a lead going back home. They have bounced back from a draw against 10-man Gil Vicente with a 4-2 win against Paços de Ferreira and a 2-1 victory against Sporting in the first leg of the Taça de Portugal semifinals, and they will be looking to bounce back against Tondela, who currently sit 16th – the relegation play-off spot. Moreirense are a point behind them at 20 whilst Belenenses-SAD are rooted to the bottom of the table with 16 points.
Tondela snapped a six-game losing streak on March 3 by defeating second-tier Mafra 3-0 in the first leg of the Taça de Portugal semifinals, but they let an early lead slip away in a 1-1 draw to Belenenses-SAD. Porto have won 12 of their last 14 against the Auriverdes, with their recent fixture in October seeing Sergio Conceição’s side come out victorious via a Mehdi Taremi hat-trick. After a period of inconsistent form and uncharacteristic finishing mistakes, the Iranian striker is hitting top form at the home stretch of the season, forming a dynamic strike pair with the young Brazilian Evanilson and joining Domenico Berardi, Kylian Mbappé, Mohamed Salah and Karim Benzema as the only players in Europe’s major leagues to hit double figures in goals and assists this season. I’m expecting Taremi and Evanilson to overpower a leaky Tondela defense that has conceded a league-worst 48 goals under Pako Ayestarán.
Braga v Gil Vicente
The most enthralling match-up of the weekend will take place on Sunday night as Braga host Gil Vicente in a battle between fourth and fifth. Carlos Carvalhal’s side have a four-point advantage on Gil with nine matches remaining, and they are riding the momentum of a 2-0 win against Monaco at home in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League Round of 16 affair.
Gil Vicente have enjoyed an impressive run of form themselves under Ricardo Soares with the club following up two consecutive victories against Vizela and Belenenses-SAD with a 1-1 draw against Porto despite playing with 10 men for 90+ minutes, but they encountered a roadblock in a 0-0 draw against Estoril. They will be without their starting right back Zé Carlos, who has emerged as one of the league’s breakthrough sensations after joining on loan from Braga. Whilst Samuel Lino and Fran Navarro will prove a tricky combination for Braga’s defense, perhaps Gil’s most important player will be Pedrinho in midfield. The 29-year-old Portuguese veteran has renewed his contract at Gil until 2025 and won the league’s Best Midfielder award and Best Player award for the month of February, and he’ll be looking to cap off his incredible week with a victory in what promises to be a superb midfield battle between him and Al Musrati.
Sporting v Moreirense
After defeating Arouca with a heavily rotated starting line-up, Rúben Amorim’s Sporting bounced out of the Champions League with grace and decorum in a 0-0 draw at the Etihad after losing 5-0 to Manchester City in Lisbon. Sporting trail league leaders Porto by six points with nine matches remaining, and with Porto likely to pick up three points against relegation battlers Tondela, Sporting need to win against Moreirense – one point behind Tondela in 17th – in order to keep the pressure on in the home stretch of the title fight.
Whilst Moreirense began February with an emphatic 4-1 victory against Belenenses-SAD, they later succumbed to a 5-0 loss to Famalicão, a 1-0 defeat to Porto and a 1-1 draw to relegation rivals Arouca, before losing 1-0 to Marítimo. Moreirense manager Ricardo Sá Pinto began his coaching career a decade ago at Sporting, but he lasted just eight months before being sacked. He had also spent nine years across two different spells at Sporting, and after being hired as Sporting’s Director of Football in November 2009, he resigned two months later after a physical confrontation with Brazilian striker and club legend Liédson in the team’s locker room after the 4–3 home win against C.D. Mafra in the Taça de Portugal.
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