After the draw in Lisbon, both Benfica and Porto knew how important round 27 would be. The Aguias and Dragoes now know that it’ll be goal difference and not head-to-head that’ll separate them should they finish the season on equal points. Every result from here was crucial.
Porto were the first team to take action, in the sort of match they should be winning. Nuno Espirito Santo’s team have struggled against weaker opposition this season but this time, against Belenenses, things were different. While the quality of their play hadn’t improved, evidenced by a dull first half which they controlled without dominating, the scoreline had. Danilo Pereira scored the first goal and allowed Porto to build a three goal lead that put the pressure on Benfica to win convincingly away.
The three-time champions had a very tricky match on their hands. Travelling to the north of the country to play on a much smaller pitch than their players are used too, Benfica faced Moreirense, a team that were desperately looking for points in their brave fight against relegation. Not only that, Moreirense had beaten Benfica in the League Cup’s semi-final en route to their first ever major title, and that match made Moreirense believe they could get something from Benfica again. But the Champions held their nerve. Like last season when they evaded Sporting’s attacks, the Encarnados were able to rescue a very hard-fought one-nil win, with a set piece goal and not much else to note. It was a very underwhelming performance, but it was the kind of performance that makes teams believe they can go all the way.
Sporting’s title chances were very much dependent on their rivals losing points in this round and that didn’t happen. Jorge Jesus had, in the press, ‘given up’ the title, taking some pressure off of his players. It seemed to have worked. I was at Estadio de Alvalade watching the 4-0 thrashing of Boavista, and what I saw was a team that clearly knew their plan: don’t allow the opponent to build, get the ball back quickly, and try and serve Bas Dost (another hat-trick!) as the Dutch is clearly on a superior level in Portugal and has been having some fun. The smile on his face said it all. After a very poor season team-wise, surely Dost believes that next year, if he keeps this form, nothing can stop his team. To help him, Sporting have a player that started slow while he adapted to Europe after coming from South America, but has recently picked up the pace. His name is Alan Ruiz and he might be the next player Jorge Jesus develops into a world class star.