SL Benfica will look to maintain their four-point lead at the top of the Liga Primeira table when they lock horns with Sporting Lisbon on Friday.

SL Benfica will brace themselves for one of their toughest tests yet when they travel to Estadio Jose Alvalade to face Sporting Lisbon on Friday night. They are currently leading the Liga Primeira table with a comfortable four-point gap over second-placed FC Porto. Their record of 15 wins in 16 matches is truly remarkable.

Much of that credit should be given to head coach Bruno Lage, who has made quite an impact after being appointed, one year ago. But, even though his side is coming on the back of a three-game winning streak in all competitions, Friday’s match-up against Sporting Lisbon could be tricky.

Firstly, Benfica haven’t looked all that convincing in recent weeks. Hence, fourth-placed Sporting CP, who have won eight of their last ten league games could give the visitors a real run for their money as they look to secure a shock win that could potentially help them overtake third-placed Famalicao.

Moreover, with the second half of the campaign already underway, this particular game could hold significant importance, especially with Porto looking to close the four-point gap. And here, at the Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of this high-end fixture on Friday.

Tactics & Team News

Sporting Lisbon

Sporting CP manager Silas will be missing out on a couple of his key players this week. Sebastian Coates is missing due to suspension as he has picked up too many yellow cards this season. The Uruguayan will likely be replaced by Tiago Ilori at the heart of the four-man backline, though Luis Neto is also an option.

LISBON, PORTUGAL - JULY 23: Sporting's defender Sebastian Coates during the Friendly match between Sporting CP and Lyon at Estadio Jose Alvalade on July 23, 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)

Coates’ absence will be a huge blow for Sporting. (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, key forward Luciano Vietto has been ruled out after picking up an injury in the last game. His absence could allow Jese to return to the starting lineup. The ex-Real Madrid star is expected to start at left-wing with former Premier League star Yannick Bolasie featuring on the opposite flank.

In goal, Renan Ribeiro is a doubt heading into this fixture. Luis Maximiano is favourite to retain his place in between the sticks, should the Brazilian fail to return to full fitness.

The midfield is likely to remain unchanged, though Silas has many options still. For example, the presence of Idrissa Doumbia in the team means the Portuguese mastermind could employ a defensive formation, with two banks of four guarding the goalkeeper.

And finally, the Sporting attack is likely to be led by Luiz Phellype, who has been in fine form, netting six league goals this term.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Maximiano; Ristovski, Ilori, Mathieu, Acuna; Wendel, Battaglia, Fernandes; Bolasie, Phellype, Jese

SL Benfica

Club captain Jardel remains the only absentee for Lage heading into this game. The 43-year-old made a few notable changes in the last game against Rio Ave FC in the quarterfinal of Taca de Portugal Placard. He could revert those changes this week.

LISBON, PORTUGAL - APRIL 11: Jardel of Benfica reacts during the UEFA Europa League Quarter Final First Leg match between Benfica and Eintracht Frankfurt at Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica on April 11, 2019 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

Jardel is missing with an injury. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

Especially considering the strength of the opposition, Lage is unlikely to take any risks by fielding Julian Weigl. The new signing from Borussia Dortmund could make way for Gabriel, who could partner Adel Taarabt in the double pivot.

In goal, first-choice ‘keeper Odysseas Vlachodimos was rested in the last game, with Ivan Zlobin starting. The Greek, however, is now guaranteed to return in between the sticks, at the expense of his Russian counterpart.

Lage could enforce a similar change at right-back, with Andre Almeida replacing Tomas Tavares. Same cannot be said for Alejandro Grimaldo, who is expected to retain his place on the opposite flank.

Moving forward, the Benfica could once again be led by the familiar strike duo of Haris Seferovic and Chiquinho. They could be partnered by the wide-attacking combination of Pizzi and Rafa, who is expected to replace Franco Cervi at left-wing.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Vlachodimos; Almeida, Ferro, Dias, Grimaldo; Pizzi, Gabriel, Taarabt, Rafa Silva; Seferovic, Chiquinho

Key Stats

  • Benfica haven’t tasted a defeat in ten of their last 11 meetings with Sporting CP in all competitions.
  • Four of the past eight meetings between these two sides have ended in a draw.
  • Speaking of draws, Benfica are one of only four teams yet to draw a single domestic league game in any of Europe’s top seven leagues this season. CD Aves (Liga NOS), VVV (Eredivisie) and FSV Mainz 05 (Bundesliga) are the other three sides.
  • Benfica have conceded only six goals this season – fewer than any other club in Europe’s top seven leagues.
  • Sporting slumped to a 5-0 defeat when these two sides met last time.

Player to Watch

Bruno Fernandes

Sporting's Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes looks on during the UEFA Europa League Group D football match between Sporting CP and PSV Eindhoven at the Jose Alvalade stadium in Lisbon, on November 28, 2019. (Photo by FILIPE AMORIM / AFP) (Photo by FILIPE AMORIM/AFP via Getty Images)

All eyes on Fernandes. (Photo by FILIPE AMORIM/AFP via Getty Images)

With Sporting Lisbon hoping to lift their curse against SL Benfica, Fernandes will, no doubt, play a key role in this fixture. The Portuguese international is in red hot form, having recently scored a brace in the win over Setubal last time out.

Moreover, he has also become a subject of interest from Manchester United once again, meaning he will be keen on making an impression as he seeks a move away from Lisbon.

From a sporting perspective, Fernandes’ ability to find the back of the net from outside the box, coupled with his set-piece prowess could make Sporting deadly on the counter. Hence, the Benfica defenders must keep their eyes peeled on this Portuguese international.

Prediction

Sporting Lisbon 0-2 SL Benfica

As iterated earlier, Benfica haven’t looked particularly well in recent weeks. But, their strength in attack, coupled with their defensive solidity should enable them to snatch a comfortable win against a Sporting side, who will likely come off tensed. The hosts must avoid making any defensive errors if they are to have a chance of salvaging at least a point in this encounter.

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