The Portuguese Liga braces itself for O Classico as SL Benfica welcome FC Porto at Estadio da Luz in an absolute six-pointer on Thursday.

SL Benfica are looking to squash FC Porto’s hopes of a late title push and further entice the race for the direct Champions League places as these two teams face each other in the prestigious O Classico on Thursday.

This is a vital game for both sides, with Porto, currently sitting second in the league table, hoping to maintain pressure on league leaders Sporting Lisbon. The Lions do have a six-point lead at the moment, but any mishap against Rio Ave on Wednesday could open up the opportunity for Porto to potentially bridge the gap to just three points.

A win for Benfica, however, could open up the race for second place, which offers direct entry to the UEFA Champions League. The Eagles are currently third in the table, but collecting all three points against their arch-rivals could see them bridge the gap to second place Porto to just one point – making this game an absolute six-pointer.

Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their highly-anticipated and quite crucial match-up at Estadio da Luz this midweek.

Team News & Tactics

SL Benfica

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 is tipped to return to the Benfica setup. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Following a 2-0 win over Tondela on the weekend, Jorge Jesus is hoping to make a few alterations to his starting eleven on Thursday. Julian Weigl, in particular, is among the players set to return. The German midfielder offers the much-needed assurance in possession and has the sense to drop deep during the build-up phase. It could prove to be very important alongside Pizzi, who is more attack-minded, and will have the license to move forward.

Weigl and Pizzi should be supported by the two wing-backs in Diogo Goncalves and Alejandro Grimaldo in the second line of press. Their use of cover shadow could be vital as the Eagles look to prevent Porto from making passes in between the lines.

However, they will also play a key role in offering the width going forward, effectively allowing Rafa Silva and Everton to shift into a central role and provide supply for the lone striker in Haris Seferovic. Jesus, though, does have the option of deploying Luca Waldschmidt, although Darwin Nunez remains a doubt heading into this encounter.

Defensively, Benfica will be boosted by the return of Nicolas Otamendi. The former Manchester City centre-back should allow Jesus to shift to a back-three, thus renewing his defensive partnership with Lucas Verissimo and Jan Vertonghen.

Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Leite; Verissimo, Otamendi, Vertonghen; Goncalves, Pizzi, Weigl, Grimaldo; Silva, Seferovic, Everton

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FC Porto

FC Porto had to endure a nervy end to their recent game against Famalicao. They cannot afford to be defensively complacent this time around,  and the onus will be on the first choice central defensive duo of Chancel Mbemba and Pepe, who returns from suspension this midweek.

epa05229456 Portuguese national soccer team defender Pepe speaks during a press conference at the Restelo stadium in Lisbon, Portugal, 24 March 2016. Portugal will face Bulgaria in an international friendly soccer match on 25 March 2016. EPA/ANTONIO COTRIM

Pepe’s return will be a huge boost for Porto. (Photo by EPA/ANTONIO COTRIM)

Porto head coach Sergio Conceicao is likely to persist with a 4-4-2 formation, unleashing both of his main forwards in Moussa Marega and Mehdi Taremi upfront.

The support from the wide attackers in Luis Diaz and Otavio, however, could be the most important factor. Diaz was given a breather on the weekend and will be coming into this game fresh, hoping to breach the Benfica backline.

In midfield, Sergio Oliveira remains a viable alternative to the double-pivot of Mateus Uribe and Marko Grujic. It will be interesting to see how these two offer solidity in the middle of the park, up against the likes of Weigl and Pizzi.

Elsewhere, Conceicao should recall Zaidu Sinusi back into the starting eleven, deploying him in his preferred left-back position. It could allow Wilson Manafa to return to his favoured right-back slot as well, at the expense of Jesus Corona, who remains an alternative to Luis or Otavio.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Marchesin; Manafa, Pepe, Mbemba, Sanusi; Diaz, Uribe, Grujic, Otavio; Marega, Taremi

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Key Stats

  • FC Porto and SL Benfica drew 1-1 when they last met each other in Liga NOS, earlier this year.
  • Porto are in a great run of form and haven’t lost a single game since their 3-2 defeat to Paco Ferreira back in late October 2020.
  • Benfica are no slouch either and have won nine of their last ten league matches.
  • FC Porto have the highest goalscoring record in the league this season with 61 goals.
  • Benfica, on the other hand, have a better defensive record, having conceded just 21 times – a tally only bettered by league leaders Sporting CP.

Player to Watch

Mehdi Taremi

Embed from Getty Images

Mehdi Taremi has emerged as the main man for FC Porto this season, often stepping up on big occasions. He was, in fact, one of the main protagonists behind their impressive run in the UEFA Champions League, starring in the win over Juventus while also scoring a majestic goal against Chelsea.

Taremi is the club’s most productive player as well, having been involved in 24 goals in the league this term. The 28-year-old, therefore, is destined to become the focal point of the Porto attack on Thursday, as they look to get the better of the Benfica backline, in an attempt to maintain pressure on Sporting Liston at the top of the league table.

Prediction

SL Benfica 1-2 FC Porto

FC Porto have been the better side than SL Benfica in all competitions this season and with Taremi in full flow, coupled with the return of Pepe, we are expecting them to triumph this weekend. The Dragons are likely to dominate possession, with a narrow win on the cards – a result that could make the Liga NOS title chase all the more interesting.

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