There was a point and a statement, just after Benfica vs Porto, that there would be another chance to dethrone the Encarnados from the top of the table summit they have occupied since round five. Next week, Rui Vitoria’s team travel about two miles, to their city rivals home Estadio Jose de Alvalade, for a match that has all the potential for Benfica to lose their cool and putting their fourth consecutive title at risk, a historic feat already achieved by both Porto and Sporting Lisbon.
But, for that to be the decisive match all the football experts predict, there was a need for Porto to get to that match in a position to mathematically overcome Benfica. And while that still might happen, this Easter round was marked by a result that made things much harder for the Dragoes.
On Good Friday, Benfica hosted Maritimo, a team that seems to be on course for a return to European competition next season but, also a team that has shown its quality in away matches against the big teams. They held out for half an hour until their defence opened up, allowing Benfica to put three past them, including a Jonas brace and an own goal.
The ball was on Porto’s court and it was time to respond. Although Porto put their stack with Sporting, they still had a hand to deal, and win. Nuno Espirito Santo’s team traveled to Braga, arguably the best team in Portuguese football after the big three, with a win absolutely crucial, not only to keep up with Benfica, but to send a signal that the team believes and is ready to celebrate a league title, four years after the last one. The team that NES chose was solid in midfield, with Oliver Torres being solely responsible for the construction process, Andre Silva playing as more of a winger than a striker, and the lack of courage all quickly punished.
Braga starting very strong and scoring in the 5th minute. All of the sudden, the plan Porto had was washed away. Jorge Simao organised his team to kill off the brain Oliver. Braga had a huge chance to kill off the game at the end of the first-half but, Pedro Santos, scorer of the opener, sent his penalty against the post and Porto could believe. The second half was better for the Dragoes, but you still felt something was missing. Soares was able to rescue a point but, Porto are now three points behind the leaders and they can’t slip up anymore.
For Benfica, things changed little. They know they can come away from the clash at the Alvalade with a draw and still maintain a lead but, if Rui Vitoria goes to get a point he will be crushed. Not only Sporting fans, but the players, are eager to inflict a loss to avenge last year. A win over their big rivals would mean they would only be 5 points off the top of the table, the closest they have been for months and, with their morale being at season high, maybe a new found belief can be found for Jorge Jesus’s team.
Sporting won for the fifth game in a row, their longest run of the season, and with Bas Dost scoring and Alan Ruiz finally showing how he could make a positive impact on the team, you’d feel Sporting can turn over Benfica to open up the title race. After next week, Liga Nos will certainly be easier to analyse, because as we stand, pretty much anything can happen.