Portuguese football is back! Primeira Liga returned to our screens this week with Jornada 25. The match-week started on Wednesday 3rd of June and stretched to Sunday 7th June, with at least one game being played every night.
The games were, of course, played behind closed doors which made for strange viewing but it is something that we, as football fans must get used to, at least for the time being. The main thing as far as Portuguese football is concerned, is that despite the strange circumstances, it is back.
Os Três Grandes with a less than grand return
Going into Jornada 25, the race at the top of the title was slightly tipped in FC Porto’s favour. Sérgio Conceição’s men went ahead of rivals SL Benfica at the summit just before the COVID-19 enforced break. A 1 point lead was all that separated the two sides and it was Porto who played first. They took on Famalicão on Wednesday night, hoping to put some clear daylight between them and Benfica.
However, as has so often been the case this season for both Porto, all did not go to plan. With the game locked at 0-0, Famalicão got a gift of a goal out of nothing. Toní Martinéz relentlessly pressed Marché who had received a backpass. This pressure led to Marché giving the ball square to Fábio Martíns to poke home one of the easiest finishes he will ever score. Jesús Corona managed to put the Dragões level with 15 minutes left to go, however this leveller didn’t count for much for long. Little over 3 minutes later, ex-Wolves youngster Pedro ‘Poté’ Gonçalves put João Pedro Sousa’s men back ahead with a fantastic effort. Famalicão, who had gone into this clash in relatively poor form and were in danger of slipping away from the once occupied top 6 spots, will be ecstatic with the result that sees them on a very healthy 40 points, just 3 points off Sporting CP in 4th place. For FC Porto, a bitterly dissapointing nights work and a missed opportunity in the title race.
Then came the turn of SL Benfica, after witnessing Porto drop all 3 points, Lage’s men had the chance to go clear at the top of the table, their opponents? Bottom half Tondela who came into the game with just 1 win in 2020. In fact, pre-COVID-19, Tondela had lost 3 of their last 4 games and only managed to plunder 2 goals during this time. SL Benfica came into this match also in a poor run of form with just 1 win in 8 games in all competitions. The opportunity to go top was as powerful an incentive as any, but things, just like for FC Porto, did not go to plan.
The Benfica players were frustrated all night by Tondela who simply refused to budge, defending deep for the majority of the match. Benfica managed 26 shots to Tondela’s 4, however, only 5 of Benfica’s shots were actually on target which indicates how resolutely Tondela defended that they limited the Lisbon side to speculative efforts from far out and when Benfica did manage to fire from close range, Tondela put their bodies on the line to block and clear.
The match finished 0-0 and Benfica missed their chance to put daylight between themselves and Porto. Whilst Benfica’s performance was slow, laboured and uninspired, the true horror came after the match with Julian Weigl and Andrija Živković both needing medical treatment, following an attack on the Benfica coach by a group of thugs in which bricks and stones were used. These individuals have been described as thugs and not as supporters or fans because to label them as such would be offensive to the vast majority of actual supporters who manage to behave in the correct fashion, with respect and decency, even after a disappointing result. The residences of Bruno Lage, Pizzi and Rafa Silva were also targeted with offensive graffiti. After so much excitement surrounding the return of the Liga, it was incredibly sad to see this side of Portuguese football yet again, rear its ugly head.
Later that night, in what was probably the most entertaining of matches involving Os Três Grandes saw two European football hopefuls go head to head in Guimarães. New manager Rúben Amorim demonstrated why he has forged a reputation for placing faith in youth by handing out two debuts in his starting XI, one being Matheus Nunes and the other Eduardo Quaresma. Yet another goalkeeping error in Liga NOS saw Andraž Šporar on hand to poke home the opener.
João Teixeira levelled up proceedings after just over half an hour after, you guessed it, another Liga NOS goalkeeping blunder. The two sides went into half-time with a goal each and a goalkeeping error each. Just a few minutes after half-time, the impressive Jovane Cabral set up Šporar to score his second of the night. Vitória began to push further and further forward for an equaliser and after 20 minutes of frustration, they finally found the breakthrough through Englishman Marcus Edwards. A second yellow for Joseph Amoah some 7 minutes after the goal meant Vitória had to change their approach, there would be no hot pursuit of a third and winning goal, instead they chose to manage and protect their point, a wise decision. The match ended in a 2-2 result and on reflection, both sides can be pleased. Sporting, while disappointed they couldn’t take advantage of their numerical superiority, pre-COVID they had lost to both Famalicão and Braga, so to gain a point away from home against a fellow European challenger is at least, some consolation.
The Battle for Survival
As we headed into Jornada 25, Desportivo Aves (18) and Portimonense (17) occupied the two bottom places with 13 and 16 points respectively. Paços da Ferreira (17) on 22 points and Marítimo (16) with a healthy 8 point gap between themselves and the drop with 24 points.
Portimonense kicked off the Primeira Liga restart on Wednesday and were itching to put an end to their catastrophic pre-break form. Their last victory came in November 2019. Since then, they had played 12 games, lost 8 of those and drawn the other 4. Relegation form if there was ever a thing. Getting out of this bottom 2 after such a prolonged period of poor performance is always going to be a difficult task, but on Wednesday they did make steps in the right direction.
They beat Gil Vicente 1-0 thanks to a Lucas Fernandes goal in an encounter that was by no means a classic. For Gil Vicente, their uninspiring form continues to rumble on. That result means that in their last 6 games they have had a: draw, victory, loss, victory, draw, loss. Very inconsistent, or consistent depending on how you look at it!
CD Aves faced off with Belenenseses SAD and were looking to end a run of 3 straight defeats. The rock-bottom club entered this clash on 13 points and seemingly. with no hope of survival. As the full-time whistle rang around the stadium, they remained in this very same predicament. Another match, another defeat.
A Fábio own goal after just 11 minutes set the tone and while Aves did manage to get 10 shots on goal, they struggled to create anything close to threatening Koffi in the Belenenses net. Silvestre Varela added a second for the boys from Bélem and the match was pretty much sewn up before half-time. The 3 points helped to prop Belenenses up to 29 points, a healthy 10 points from the drop zone with Paços next up to play.
16th placed Paços de Ferreira had to wait until Sunday to take on Carlos Carvalhal’s ever-improving Rio Ave. The clash was last but by no means least, in fact, it was the most entertaining match of the entire Jornada.
The safe money pre-match was firmly on Rio Ave, who hadn’t tasted league defeat since the 5th of January and were riding high on their club record 9 game unbeaten streak, a streak which included draws with FC Porto, Sporting and Famalicao as well as a fantastic win away in Guimaraes. However, as we have noticed across several matches since the restart, form goes out of the window when play has been suspended for so long. Paços took the lead through a João Amaral freekick which led to yet another Liga NOS goalkeeping error. Kieszek completely failing to judge the cross and flapping at it late as it sailed over his head. Pepa’s men didn’t rest there, however, scoring just 3 minutes later through Douglas Tanque. The Rio Ave players looked shell-shocked.
A Diego Lopes goal just before half-time for Rio Ave and a Bruno Telles red card for Paços looked to change the entire dynamic of the match. Going into half-time Rio had halved the scoreline deficit and also now had a man extra. The next 45 minutes looked to point toward a comeback.
Paços again had other ideas. Bruno Santos grabbed his sides third of the afternoon to put clear daylight between the two sides, at least for 6 minutes. Gelson Dala, on a substitute, was on hand to scramble home in the 58th minute to set up a tense last half an hour. A Matheus Reis second yellow evened the teams to 10 men each. The Rio Ave players gave their all in an attempt to grab an equaliser, having 23 shots to Paços 9 and having 73% possession but it was futile. Paços defenders put their bodies on the line to ensure all 3 points, making 13 tackles, 5 interceptions and 39(!) clearances. A fantastic spectacle and a superb 3 points for Pepa’s men. They now have a 6 point gap between themselves and Portimonense. With Sporting CP up next for Rio Ave as well as FC Porto and SC Braga still to play, these 3 points against Rio Ave are even more valuable in their safety fund.
The Rest of the Action
There was another 5 goal thriller at the Cidade do Futeol, CD Santa Clara’s temporary home. Twice SC Braga went ahead, firstly through Fransergio from the penalty spot to make it 1-0 and then through Trincão who made it 2-1, but twice they were pegged back by the Azores outfit. Thiago Santana’s double made it first 1-1 and then 2-2. With the game hanging finely in the balance and with SC Braga down to 10 men, it looked to be dwindling towards a score-draw, that was until Carlos popped up in the 92nd minute to put home the winner.
A deeply disappointing afternoon for Cústodio’s Braga who could have put further daylight between themselves and Sporting CP in 4th. Braga remains 3rd on 46 points and maintains a slender 3 point gap. Santa Clara sits in 9th place with 9 games left, if they managed to finish in this position or higher it would be their highest ever 1st division finish, beating their 10th position finish from last season.
José Gomes’ Marítimo hosted Vitória Setúbal in a clash that ended 1-1.
Rodrigo Pinho looked to get the faintest of touches from an inswinging cross from Correa, however on closer inspection the ball travelled in without a touch. Correa was credited by the Liga with the goal. Rodrigo Pinho however, did put the ball in the back of the net on 58 minutes. However, Pinho was yet again denied a goal, this one being ruled out for offside following a VAR review. Vitória managed an equaliser on the 82nd minute after some fantastic work down the right hand side from Hilderbeto. He broke down the wing with lightening pace before playing a tidy ball across the face of goal for Guedes to smash home.
Boavista v Moreirense is a clash that on the surface pre-match, didn’t offer a lot of excitement. Both sides comfortably mid-table, safe from relegation and also too far from the European places. The match however packed the excitement of a top-table clash with high stakes.
Moreirense went 1-0 up just after half-time through Filipe Soares, a scoreline that went completely against the run of play. Boavista had more of the ball, more shots, more corners and missed 4 huge chances yet could not make the breakthrough. It looked like it was going to be just one of those nights for the Porto outfit. That was until they got a lifeline in the 93rd minute. A Sori Mané handball in the box meant Carraça had the chance to gain his side a point from 12 yards. As the ball crashed off the crossbar and away, it was confirmed that it was just one of those nights. Moreirense survived through injury time and left Porto with all 3 points. They took their chance when it came, defended for large parts and obviously relied on a bit of luck but Ricardo Soares and his men won’t care, for them, the main thing is they won and extended their unbeaten streak to 7 games.
Aaron Barton for Próxima Jornada