Midweek provided contrasting emotions for Benfica and Porto. The Lisbon heavyweights’ 1-0 reverse of Otelul Galati, coupled with Manchester United’s surprise 2-1 loss at Basel, sent them through to the UEFA Champions League’s last 16 atop of Group C. In the same competition, Vitor Pereira's side only required victory at home to Zenit St. Petersburg to advance as Group G winners, but a goalless draw condemned them to elimination.
Porto’s consolation was a place in the UEFA Europa League, which they won last year, but both they and Benfica will only return to continental duty in February. So, until then, with the pair having both been unexpectedly dumped out of the Taca de Portugal, the focus is on the Portuguese Liga.
Os Dragões (The Dragons) and As Águias (The Eagles) have both won eight and drawn three of their matches thus far, and rest four points clear of third-placed Sporting.
We are only four points behind Porto and Benfica and although they are strong teams, there is a long way left to go. Rest assured we will keep fighting until the end.
Porto must make the short journey down Portugal’s west coast to Aveiro, where they will meet a Beira-Mar team who have won their last two contests and conceded a division low of six goals this campaign. Inventive No10 Cristian Rodríguez, who missed the Zenit match through injury, is back at the disposal of Pereira, though Belgian midfielder Steven Defour is a doubt for Saturday’s game after limping off against the Russians.
The hosts are waiting on the fitness of two of their key players: former Sampdoria centre-back Hugo and Brazilian striker Douglas. Porto have lost just twice in 25 league visits to Beira-Mar.
Baba awaits Benfica
Benfica appear to have a trickier assignment. Jorge Jesus’ men are at fourth-placed Maritimo, who are chasing a tenth match without defeat and boast the league’s nine-goal top scorer in 23-year-old Senegalese striker Baba, on Sunday.
Long-serving Brazilian centre-back Luisao and Argentina playmaker Nicolas Gaitan are injury concerns for the capital outfit. One man who will be keen to impress for Benfica in Madeira is 32-year-old attacking midfielder Pablo Aimar, who was this week given hope of a return to the Albiceleste squad for the first time since 2009 by coach Alejandro Sabella.
Sporting will unleash in-form duo Diego Capel and Ricky van Wolfswinkel on struggling visitors Nacional tomorrow, and the former has urged them to maintain their push for a quadruple of Europa League, Portuguese Liga, Taca de Portugal and Taca da Liga.
The 23-year-old winger, who was signed at the start of the campaign and was named the top flight’s player of the month for October, said: “We are pleased that we are still alive in all competitions. This was our aim. We just have to maintain the same motivation and will-to-win we’ve shown so far this season. We want to go as far as we can in all competitions.
“We are still fighting for the league title. We are only four points behind Porto and Benfica and although they are strong teams, there is a long way left to go. Rest assured we will keep fighting until the end.”