FC Porto will be hoping to wrap up their Liga Primeira campaign on a positive note when they play hosts to Belenenses on Wednesday.

The 2020/21 campaign has not been the one for FC Porto, primarily because of their defeat to Sporting CP for the Liga Primeira title. Although the Portuguese giants did not fare badly at all, they were easily bested by the Lions, who secured their first league title since 2002 earlier this month.

On the bright side for FC Porto, they did manage to secure direct qualification to the UEFA Champions League, thanks to back-to-back wins over Farense and Rio Ave that helped them maintain a healthy four-point advantage over their arch-rivals SL Benfica.

Os Dragoes, therefore, have nothing much to play in the final game in the 2020/21 campaign, at Estadio do Dragao, the venue for the UEFA Champions League that is to be played later this month.

It is going to be a dead rubber for Belenenses, too, having secured a mid-table spot in the league. They are currently ninth in the standings, with an opportunity to potentially overtake eighth-placed Famalicao, though on the flip side, the visitors could drop down to 11th, if the results do not go in their favour.

Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their fascinating encounter at Estadio do Dragao, in the final matchday of the Liga Primeira this midweek.

Team News & Tactics

FC Porto

With nothing left to play for, Sergio Conceicao is unlikely to miss out on the opportunity to hand at least a couple of the younger players the opportunity to start on Wednesday, including his own son Chico Conceicao.

The 18-year-old has been a regular member of the matchday squad since the turn of the year, and might just get the nod ahead of Otavio at right wing, accompanying Luis Diaz on the flanks. Jesus Corona, unfortunately, is not available due to injury.

There could be a change in the defensive unit as well, with Chancel Mbemba replacing Diego Leite, at the heart of the four-man backline alongside Pepe. Joao Mario and Wilson Manafa, as usual, should occupy the fullback slots, hoping to provide the width going forward.

In midfield, Romario Baro could be tipped for a rare starting opportunity alongside Mateus Uribe in the double-pivot. The 21-year-old has made the matchday squads recently, so there is a chance of him earning his second start in the league, as he hopes to offer assurance in possession for FC Porto this midweek.

Dinally, Toni Martinez should continue to partner Mehdi Taremi in spearheading the line for the Dragons. Conceicao, though, does have other options including the young Evanilson while Sergio Oliveira is also a useful asset in the final third, especially in terms of chance creation.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Marchesin; Mario, Pepe, Mbemba, Manafa; Conceicao, Uribe, Baro, Diaz; Martinez, Taremi

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Belenenses FC

Belenenses, on the other hand, should persist with the 3-4-3 formation that worked quite well in the reverse fixture. Their coach Petit values it particularly because it offers some much-needed defensive balance to the side, with the back three Thibang Phete, Tomas Ribeiro and Goncalo Silva partnering each other well.

These three often receive additional defensive support from the wing-backs in Tiago Esgaio and Lima, although they will also be responsible for providing the width going forward. Lima, in particular, is a crucial aspect to Belenenses’ offensive game, having notched up five assists this campaign.

In midfield, Petit should persist with the duo of Yaya Sithole and Afonso Sousa as they provide a nice variety in the middle of the park. On Wednesday, they are largely expected to remain strong in the second line of press while also find runners like Silvestre Varela and Miguel Cardoso with long balls.

Varela was absent from the last game but should return to the starting lineup, at the expense of Francisco Teixeira. He and Miguel Cardoso are going to be vital in offering creative support for the in-form Mateo Cassierra this midweek.

Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Kritsyuk; Phete, Ribeiro, Silva; Esgaio, Sithole, Sousa, Lima; Cardoso, Cassierra, Varela

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Key Stats

  • Belenenses held FC Porto to a goalless draw when these two teams last met each other in the reverse fixture back in early February.
  • FC Porto haven’t lost any of their last 27 matches in Liga NOS.
  • Belenenses have lost just four matches in Liga Primeira since the start of February – as many as they had in the previous six matches.
  • With 70 goals to their name, FC Porto are the best-scoring team in Liga NOS this season whereas Belenenses have managed just 25 goals in 33 games so far – the second-lowest in the competition.
  • Belenenses, though, have a marvellous defensive record (31 goals conceded), with only FC Porto (29) and champions Sporting CP (15) conceding fewer goals in the league this season.

Player to Watch

Pepe

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 has a point to prove. (Photo by EPA/ANTONIO COTRIM)

This is going to be an important game for Pepe, as he hopes to end the campaign on a positive note. The Real Madrid legend has enjoyed immense success joining Porto in 2019, notching up almost 100 appearances in all competitions. His partnership with Mbemba, in particular, has been critical in helping the Dragons remain ahead of SL Benfica in the league.

On Wednesday, though, Pepe is going to play his last game of the season, with his future remaining uncertain. Although the defender still has a contract until 2023, it won’t be surprising to see Sergio Conceicao finding a long-term replacement for him and even integrate him into the first team next season.

Diego Leite, for one, is already a strong candidate, so it will be important from Pepe’s start to finish the season on a strong note as he hopes to earn the trust of Conceicao once again next season.

Prediction

FC Porto 1-0 Belenenses

FC Porto usually are the undisputed favourites when they face Belenenses. However, the visitors have enjoyed a terrific upturn of fortunes and could make the job way more difficult for the Portuguese giants, so it won’t be surprising to see this game go down to their wire. Although we do expect Porto to seal a narrow victory, they do need to remain cautious on the counter.

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