SL Benfica will hope to maintain the pressure on arch-rivals FC Porto when they lock horns with Pacos de Ferreira on Saturday.

Sporting CP’s dream run may have settled the fate of the Liga NOS title this season, but the race to secure direct qualification in the UEFA Champions League is pretty much on as SL Benfica and FC Porto fight for second place, with SC Braga also in the picture.

Porto currently have the edge with 57 points on the board, three ahead of third-placed Benfica, who will be dealt with a tricky test against Pacos de Ferreira at Estadio de Mata Real on Saturday. It is a must-win game for the Dragons, who are hoping to keep up with their arch-rivals and pip them to the second place that will give them direct entry to next season’s Champions League.

In Pacos de Ferreira, though, the visitors have a difficult opponent – one who have been often deemed “best among the rest” as they are sitting comfortably in fifth place, behind the big four in Sporting, Porto, Benfica and Braga.

It could be a tricky test for Benfica, especially given how they had to rely on a late winner from Luca Waldschmidt to seal the victory in the reverse fixture. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their crucial encounter in Liga NOS this weekend.

Team News & Tactics

Pacos de Ferreira

Pacos de Ferreira head coach Pepa has predominantly used the 4-3-3 formation that has offered his side the right kind of balance in attack and in defence. The absence of Douglas Tanque, though, could be a massive blow as the striker serves his suspension after picking up a red card against Famalicao.

On the brighter side of things, the hosts will be boosted by the return of Luther Singh from suspension, as the South African looks to renew his attacking partnership with Helder Ferreira while Dor Jan might get a rare opportunity in the absence of Tanque.

The midfield unit should remain unchanged as Pepa looks to persist, with the three-man setup led by the main holding midfielder in Stephen Eustaquio, whose experience and aggression could be vital in Pacos’ first line of press.

The combative 24-year-old is set to continue featuring alongside Luiz Carlos and the more creative Bruno Costa, although all of them are likely to operate deep, hoping to disrupt the flow of Benfica and create a turnover that would allow Costa to find runners like Singh and Ferrera on the counter.

There should be no changes defensively from Pacos de Ferreira as they are primarily expected to employ a deep defensive line that would require a clear understanding and communication between the four defenders.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Jordi; Fonseca, Marcelo, Maracas, Rebecho; Eustaquio, Carlos, Costa; Ferreira, Jan, Singh

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SL Benfica

SL Benfica usually operate with two strikers upfront, with the combination of Haris Seferovic and Luca Waldschmidt offering them a nice mix of physicality and technique. Should they fail to make the desired impact, coach Jorge Jesus always has the option of deploying record signing Darwin Nunez.

As for the creative unit, it appears Benfica might stick to a 4-4-2 up against a strong Pacos de Ferrerira outfit. Hence, Jesus will rely on the services of the two wide attackers in Rafa Silva and Everton to create the bulk of the chances.

Alternatively, he might go for a 4-3-1-2 formation, with Pizzi featuring in the attacking midfield role. Either way, the experienced Portuguese coach does have excellent options to call upon, including Franco Cervi, Pedrinho and the returning Pizzi.

The same cannot be said in the central midfield department, where key number six Andreas Samaris, as well as Gabriel, are both out injured. It could force Jesus to once again rely on the services of Julian Weigl and Adel Taarabt in the double pivot.

Weigl certainly offers a lot of assurance in possession, but Benfica could have used the services of a strong tackler in the middle of the park, especially up against someone like Eustaquio. Finally, in defence, Benfica are unlikely to make any changes, meaning Jan Vertonghen may once again have to settle for a place bench in favour of Lucas Verissimo and club captain Nicolas Otamendi operating in central defence.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Leite; Goncalves, Verissimo, Otamendi, Grimaldo; Silva, Weigl, Taarabt, Everton; Seferovic, Waldschmidt

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Key Stats

  • SL Benfica are currently the most in-form team in the Portuguese league, having all of their last five league matches that has helped them push for the second spot.
  • SL Benfica last conceded a league way back in mid-February, in a 1-1 draw with Moreirense. They have kept six back to back clean sheets since.
  • Pacos de Ferreira, in contrast. have attained only one clean sheet in their last seven league outings.
  • Benfica forward Haris Seferovic is the league’s second-highest goalscorer with 14 goals in 22 matches. He is just one behind Sporting’s talismanic playmaker Pedro Goncalves.
  • Benfica have scored two or more goals in a single match in six of their last seven games in all competitions.

Player to Watch

Julian Weigl

MUNICH, GERMANY - APRIL 06: Julian Weigl of Borussia Dortmund looks on prior to the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Borussia Dortmund at Allianz Arena on April 06, 2019 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Julian Weigl could be key at the base of Benfica’s setup. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images)

With Andreas Samaris and Gabriel out injured, Julian Weigl is going to play a very important role in helping SL Benfica retain their dominance over Pacos de Ferreira. The former Borussia Dortmund star is an excellent reader of the game, and is blessed with the technical quality as well as the ability to distribute possession all around the park.

However, it will be interesting to see how he operates without the support of a more combative holding midfielder. In addition, Weigl will also be tasked with the responsibility of playing a bigger role in the build-up and in transition, making him one to keep an eye on in this affair.

Prediction

Pacos de Ferreira 0-2 SL Benfica

SL Benfica have found an excellent rhythm in recent weeks, especially in the defensive department; so it is hard to envision them struggling against Pacos de Ferreira this weekend. They have significant firepower going forward as well, so we are expecting the Portuguese giants to secure a rather comfortable 2-0 victory as they continue to pressurise Porto.

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