Benfica need the win more than Sporting Lisbon do but recent history, recent form and a certain reluctance to take gambles in these games suggests neither side will win it, says Jamie Pacheco...
"If Managers of the Portuguese Big 3 were Blackjack players, they’d be the sort to stick on 14 and hope the Dealer goes bust rather than twisting and going for glory. In other words, they’ll normally take a draw in these big games and hope their rivals slip-up somewhere than go for broke and risk losing the game."
Benfica v Sporting Lisbon
Wednesday January 3 21:30
Focus solely on the league
The Portuguese Superliga is often criticised for the fact that no-one outside the Big 3 of Benfica, Porto and Sporting Lisbon can win it. But hey, at least it's one heck of a battle to see which of the three will win it. That's more than you can say for the likes of the Premier League or Ligue 1 right now.
Of the three it's Benfica who has the catching up to do. They're on 36 points with the other two on 39 but with home advantage against Porto in the return fixture against them (it ended 0-0 in Porto just before Christmas) they'll feel they have just as good a chance as their two bitter rivals. Plus, disappointing though their European adventure was, it does mean that they're free of European distractions with Porto still in the Champions league and Sporting taking a side step into the Europa League.
It was announced this week that they're likely to be selling left-back Grimaldo to Napoli for 30 million. It's not quite clear if that will be in January or (more likely) June but he's almost certain to play here either way.
After a bright start Haris Seferovic has gone off the boil. Pizzi in midfield and Jonas upfront are the key men.
William crucial to the whole operation
It's a motley crew of players that Jorge Jesus has assembled here. They're particularly big on classy players who seem to be drinking in last-chance saloon after their careers suffered setbacks. There's former Liverpool defender Sebastian Coates, ex-Barcelona man Jeremy Mathieu, former Real Madrid (and Benfica) left-back Fabio Coentrao and Bryan Ruiz, once of Fulham.
Upfront it's the giant Bas Dost who's in charge of scoring the goals but it's the cool-as-you-like-it William Carvalho who keeps things ticking over in the middle of the park. A sort of cross between Nemanja Matic and Michael Carrick in that he both wins the ball back and plays a lot of simple balls in midfield, this is more than likely to be his last season at the club. Players like him are gold dust and as soon as a big European club meets controversial President Bruno de Carvalho's valuation of him, he'll be off. How he'd love to win the Superliga before that happens.
All pointers point to a point-a-piece
It's been a real mixed bag of results the last few times these two have played at Benfica's home ground. The last four games have yielded two home wins, a 1-1 draw and a shock 3-0 win for Sporting.
There are plenty of reasons why the draw is the best bet of the three at [3.55]. There's not much to choose between them in terms of squad strength and recent form and Sporting are yet to lose in the league so far this season.
But there's another important factor. If Managers of the Portuguese Big 3 were Blackjack players, they'd be the sort to stick on 14 and hope the Dealer goes bust rather than twisting and going for glory. In other words, they'll normally take a draw in these big games and hope their rivals slip-up somewhere than go for broke and risk losing the game. It's also worth noting that the two matches between members of the Big 3 so far this season have ended in draws, further proof that my theory may be right.
Goals market an enigma
If you're desperate to play the over/under 2.5 goals market, season-long results would suggest overs at 11/10 on Betfair Sportbook is the way to go. 71% of Benfica's home matches and 57% of Sporting's away matches have gone that way.
But this match is a different kettle of fish with so much at stake and the best place for your money to be is probably in your pocket, as regards this market.
Jonas is the obviously place to start as regards a goalscorer. He has 18 goals in 15 starts this season in the league but what he doesn't have is a good record in terms of scoring in the 'Derbies' (in Portugal any match between two of the Big 3 is called that). Too short at 11/10 then.
Bas Dost did score in this fixture last year and has 11 goals in his last 10 games; he also takes penalties.
But the value is arguably Bruno Fernandes. Portuguese but without having played a senior match in Portugal prior to this season after spells at Sampdoria and Udinese, he's scored seven in 14 starts and much like Paul Scholes, has a knack for making well-timed runs into the box from midfield and strikes them beautifully from distance. He's 11/4 on the Sportsbook.