With a greater or lesser degree of difficulty Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting won their weekend games to leave the top of the Primeira Liga table unchanged with 11 games remaining.
The round of matches was notable, however, for the bright displays shown by a trio of brilliant young talents who served notice they have a big future in the game. Diogo Jota (Paços), Iuri Medeiros (Moreirense) and Otávio (Vitória Guimarães) were all on the score-sheet and all put in displays full of zest for their respective teams, suggesting that next year they will not look out of place playing at their expected destinations: Benfica, Sporting and Porto respectively.
Diogo Jota gives Benfica fans a taste of what is to come
On paper Benfica had the most difficult task, but overcame Paços de Ferreira 3-1 away, with prolific strike duo Mitroglou and Jonas (penalty) again both on the mark. Greek forward Mitroglou got the ball rolling for Benfica, scoring in the 13th minute, to continue in hot streak. The former Fulham and Olympiacos striker has now found the net in seven successive Liga matches.
Paços were depleted by injuries and suspensions, not to mention the players on loan from Benfica who could not face their parent club, but refused to lie down and drew level midway through the half thanks to a dazzling strike by Diogo Jota. The 19-year-old got hold of the ball, raced across the top the box, steadied himself and struck a sweet shot over Júlio César into the net. The midfielder now has an impressive 9 goals in all competitions in 2015/16 and his obvious talent has already led to a pre-agreement to move to Benfica next season.
Benfica grabbed the lead again just before the break as Jonas went down in the box with the referee pointing to the spot despite vehement protests from the home players. Jonas himself dispatched the penalty to give the Eagles a somewhat fortuitous half-time advantage.
The second half was a different story, with Benfica dominating and it was no surprise when Rui Vitória’s side scored again, young Swedish centre-back Lindelöf hitting his first senior goal to wrap up the three points.
Porto survive Iuri Medeiros – just
Porto looked in real trouble as they went 2-0 down at home to Moreirense, but produced a stirring comeback to run out 3-2 winners.
But the outstanding performer on the pitch was Portugal U21 winger Iuri Medeiros, on loan to Moreirense from Sporting. The Azores-born winger has, like the above-mentioned Jota, got 9 goals to his name this season. He struck after 10 minutes to give the away side a shock lead after 10 minutes, and things got worse for Porto when Medeiros threaded a beautifully weighted throughball to Fábio Espinho who double the lead for Miguel Leal’s side.
An out-of-sorts Porto finally started putting pressure on the visitors in the final 15 minutes of the first half, but it needed a highly disputed penalty to get them back into the game when Maxi Pereira went down in the box under what looked like a clean tackle. Layún smashed home the spot kick.
Medeiros enjoys playing against the big clubs (he had scored in each of three matches against Porto and Benfica prior to Sunday’s clash) and the tricky winger was close to restoring Moreirense’s two-goal advantage soon after half time, his long-range effort bringing a flying save out to Casillas.
But Porto gradually began to wear down Moreirense and two quick-fire goals from the lively Suk and substitute Evandro had Porto ahead with 15 minutes remaining, and the Dragons held on comfortably for three points that keeps them in the title race.
Sporting relief at home
Playing on Monday night, Sporting made light of the pressure of having seen their two title rivals win to register a straightforward 2-0 victory over Boavista at Alvalade to remain three points clear at the table summit.
The match will have come as a relief to the vast majority of another big crowd at Alvalade, given that the Lions had struggled to win their home games in recent weeks, even against lowly opposition.
Jorge Jesus made some surprising selections, with Marvin Zeegalar in for the usual left-back Jefferson and Italian right-back Schelotto enjoying a rare start in place of João Pereira, while winger Gelson Martins also made the starting XI as João Mário moved to the centre in place of the suspended William.
The changes did not subdue Sporting’s play, quite the opposite with both full-backs impressive at both ends of the pitch and the indefatigable Adrien putting in another all-action display. Teo Gutiérrez and Ewerton (twice) missed glaring chances as Sporting controlled proceedings. As half time approached Ewerton made amends for his misses with a powerful header from a corner to give Sporting the lead, and Bryan Ruiz’s deflected free kick soon afterwards gave the Lions a 2-0 advantage at the interval.
The second half was a more even affair, with Anderson Carvalho hitting the post for Boavista and Rui Patrício forced into two diving saves, while at the other end of the pitch Slimani’s close range effort was well saved by Mika, with substitute Carlos Mané hitting the post from the follow-up.
Sporting’s next two Liga matches, away at Vitória Guimarães and at home to Benfica, could go a long way to deciding whether or not their long wait for a title will be over this season.
Otávio shines in thrilling Minho derby
The Minho derby between Braga and Vitória Guimarães is undoubtedly the biggest fixture not involving the Big Three in the Portuguese football calendar. The match between two proud football cities separated by less than 20 km is usually a fiery affair and Sunday night’s game was no different.
Braga went two goals up inside 20 minutes as Pedro Santos and Rui Fonte found the back of the net, both goals set up by lovely assists from former Porto midfielder Josué.
But Vitória roared back, largely thanks to the efforts of one man. Brazilian midfielder Otávio is on loan from Porto, and the 21-year-old showed magnificent skills to set up two goals, the first laid on for Licá after a mesmerising run, the second a header from Dourado from a peach of a cross from Otávio.
Hassan put Braga back in the lead in the second half, but Otávio won a penalty with a theatrical dive, which he converted himself as the match ended 3-3.
Round 23 results
Académica 0-2 Rio Ave
Belenenses 0-2 Arouca
Braga 3-3 Vitória Guimarães
FC Porto 3-2 Moreirense
Paços de Ferreira 1-3 Benfica
Sporting 2-0 Boavista
Tondela 3-4 Marítimo
União de Madeira 1-1 Estoril
Vitória Setúbal 1-1 Nacional