This season’s second match between two of the top three Portuguese outfits sees FC Porto travel to the capital to face Sporting CP. They meet for the first time in 2014/15 in a much anticipated Clássico that is perhaps the most important one in recent years between the league’s second and third placed teams of the last season. Let’s look at what’s been the story so far, and what can be expected of the biggest match of the month in Portugal.
Porto will continue to tinker their squad
The Dragões had a staggering transfer window with the addition of fourteen new players & a new manager, and will be looking to prove their potential in the first match against a top three club. The beginning of the season has been promising so far in Porto, with coach Julen Lopetegui implementing a possession based system much like what he used in his successful outings at the under-19 and under-21 Spanish National teams. The wealth of talent Lopetegui has at his disposal has enabled a rotation policy that has seen them change up the starting XI on every match so far, and considering the tweaks made last week against Boavista, plus the dismissal of center-back Maicon, the match in Lisbon will surely offer another iteration of the Porto lineup.
That last match was also the second time Porto lost points this season, after a 1-1 result at Guimarães, which means the blue-and-white crowd haven’t won a league game since August 31st and are now trailing in the table two points behind leaders Benfica.
With all the rotation put forth by Lopetegui, predicting the Porto lineup can be a difficult task, but if there is one name who is certain to appear on the team sheet it is that of Yacine Brahimi. They will be looking for the Algerian to make a difference once again on Friday, as he has done in this first few games of the season. The mercurial midfielder has been the best player for Porto so far, with the hattrick against BATE in the first week of Champions League football being the corollary of his performances. The ball seems to come alive every time Brahimi gets it and it is through him that Porto look the most dangerous. Brahimi has been employed either as part of the three-man midfield or one of the two wide men upfront flanking Jackson Martínez, the latter role being his most probable one against Sporting, when Lopetegui will likely field the more conservative partnership of Casemiro, Rúben Neves and Héctor Herrera in the middle of the park.
Upfront with Brahimi and Jackson, Óliver Torres might make his return after an injury stopped his promising start of season. At the back, due to the suspension of Maicon, Iván Marcano is the first candidate to substitute the Brazilian and hold the line along with Martins Indi, Danilo and Alex Sandro in front of goalie Fabiano.The Porto supporters will be hoping that, whoever Lopetegui picks on friday, their team will prove up to the task of grabbing the win that has eluded
them at Alvalade since 2008.
Up-and-down Sporting looking to build momentum
Contrary to their opponents next Friday, Sporting have already faced Benfica this season. A 1-1 tie away to their rival giants proved a fair result in what has otherwise been a rough start for Marco Silva’s boys. Like his Porto counterpart, Sporting’s boss was brought in this season, but the similarities end there. Sporting saw their former manager Leonardo Jardim leave to French nouveaux riches Monaco after a surprising season in which the more financially modest of the Big Three ended in second place ahead of their Friday foes, and promising up-and-comer Silva was brought in thanks to his two odds-defying seasons at Estoril.
With only nine points from their first five matches though, Sporting are struggling to find their feet. They haven’t enjoyed the media hype and supporter excitement of the northern outfit due to a relatively quiet transfer window, in which critics point out that more quantity than quality have been brought in, apart from prodigal son Nani’s return in a loan deal. Sporting’s difficulties have been particularly emphatic at the back, highlighted by the incredible late equalizer conceded against Maribor on the first match of the Champions League group stage, when center back duo Maurício and Naby Sarr gifted the ball to young Luka Zahovic.
Nevertheless, results have been partly unfair on Sporting’s performances, and the team seemed to have responded well to the alterations put in place by Marco Silva in the following match, in which they absolutely trashed a powerless Gil Vicente side in a 4-0 away victory, which has brought their confidence levels back up right before this week’s Clássico. 21 year-old João Mário started in lieu of André Martins in that match, after the latter’s lackluster performances at the beginning of the season, and the result was obvious. The plan on Friday will probably involve playing João Mário alongside Adrien in the three-men midfield held by the coveted powerhouse prospect William Carvalho. At the back, Maurício and Sarr should once again be given the go in the center, sided by Cédric Soares and Jefferson; the goal will be guarded by the captain Rui Patrício. Upfront, star-man Nani and Islam Slimani should be accompanied by André Carrillo or Diego Capel.
Three’s a party
The dice are cast for what is certainly the most important clash in recent years between these two sides, considering the title bids both clubs have promised this year. Meanwhile, Benfica will be carefully monitoring the events in their first placed seat ahead of their own match against Estoril on Saturday. By then the end of that the league could have a new leader, or the gap between the red devils and their two biggest competitors might be wider than many would have predicted before the start of the season.
Written by Filipe Ribeiro