FC Porto v Sporting Lisbon
Friday March 2 20:30
One big win away from the title?
Embarrassing though a 5-0 defeat at home to Liverpool in the Champions League was, at least that outcome has made things very clear regarding what Porto's priorities are for the rest of the season. Turning that tie around on English soil would surely go down as the biggest upset ever in Champions League history and Sergio Conceicao knows as much, meaning he can focus solely on this match and not really worry about how fresh his players are for the return league at Anfield in midweek.
Porto are top of the table on 54 points, five clear of both Benfica and their Friday night opponents Sporting Lisbon. Given the nature of the Portuguese Superliga, where the Big 3 rarely drop points against anyone other than each other, you'd think that a win here would pretty much close the deal.
They may however have to try to win without Vincent Aboubakar, the prolific Cameroon international. He's been injured and unlikely to make it back in time for this game. Not that he's been missed that much. Moussa Marega and Tiquinho have more than made up for his absence with the latter scoring seven goals in his last four league games and the former notching four.
Good Gelson, bad Gelson
Given what's happened over the past two weeks, it's a minor miracle Sporting Lisbon are still even in contention for the title. In their last two matches they needed injury-time winners to get over the line in both. At Tondela it was former Liverpool and Sunderland man Sebastian Coates thumping in from close range for the three points and on Monday night it was Gelson Martins who finished off a good move, albeit benefiting from a deflected shot. That winner came at a price, though. So delighted was he with his last-gasp winner that he took off his shirt in celebration, was booked, it was his second, he was sent off and is now suspended for this huge clash.
Manager Jorge Jesus' face said it all. In two minutes it went from delight to despair as he realized what his starlet had done and the consequences of his actions. He could have been a key player in this match but will now watch from the sidelines.
They may also be without top scorer Bas Dost. The giant striker missed the game against Moreirense and it's nip-tuck as to whether he'll make this one. Given he has 23 goals this season, Porto's defenders will certainly hope he doesn't.
Hosts understandably short
You can see why Porto are pretty short at 1.728/11. With the exception of the 2015/16 season when the Dragons were going through a poor patch and Sporting almost won the league (Sporting beat them 3-1 in Porto) it's a been a familiar story over the years with Porto flexing their muscles on home soil: they won the five previous encounters in Porto and were back to winning ways again last year, winning 2-1.
They've been much the better side this year, too. Whereas Sporting have been scraping last-gasp wins all season, Porto have been winning their matches comfortably. Their last four wins have seen them score 17 goals and concede two.
History tells us that the draw is always a lively runner in matches between the Big 3 and at 3.7511/4 it makes some appeal, although it's worth noting that we haven't had a draw in this fixture (played in Porto) since the 2008/9 season.
But it's hard to ignore the fact that it's Porto holding all the trump cards here. That said, there are better ways of siding with them. Such as this one...
Three points and at least three goals
That 2015/16 anomaly side, the last three times Porto have hosted the Lions have resulted in home wins with at least three goals in the game: 2-1, 3-0 and 3-1. Porto's home record this season stands at 11 wins from 12 matches and of those 11, nine had over 2.5 goals in them.
Yes, Porto don't necessarily need to win the game but doing so would release a lot of pressure in the title race and the way they're playing, they're capable of scoring goals without even necessarily deciding in advance that they're going for the jugular.
Add to that Sporting's habit of scoring at least once in just about every game this season and the fact they've managed to score in three of their last four visits to the Dragao and you can see 15/8 on a home win with at least three goals looks more attractive than the straight Porto win.