We’re just about at the halfway point in the 2018/19 Portuguese Primeira Liga campaign and the usual suspects make up the top four, but its Braga that are the closet contenders to the reining champions Porto. At the other end of the table Chaves, who finished sixth last season, occupy last place after picking up just nine points from their sixteen games, while Aves, Feirense, Maritimo, and Boavista all look set to be involved in the relegation battle. Battling it out for fifth spot and a place in the Europa League Qualifiers we have Moreirense, Vitoria Guimaraes, Belenenses, and Portimonense, all of whom are separated by just five points.
Porto to Win the Portuguese Primeira Liga
Porto are six-points clear heading into a possible season-defining league game away at Sporting CP. Porto claimed their twenty-eight league title by eight points last season, and the reining champions look good to make it back to back Primeira Liga titles for the first time since 2013.
So what has been the key to their success so far this season, well starting at the back credit must go to the former Real Madrid legend Casillas who at the age of 37 has started every league game for the club and commanded the defence in his fourth season with the Portuguese giants. Casillas has kept nine clean sheets in the sixteen league games so far this season, but obviously that’s not all down to the Spaniard. Pereira, Telles, and Felipe have used their experience and know how to allow the 20-year old Brazilian Éder Militão to establish a first team role in his first season at the club. The big news coming out of Portugal this week is the return of Pepe to Porto, where the 35-year old former Real Madrid stalwart will only tighten another already strong defence and lead them to glory. Porto have the best defensive record in the league prior to Pepe’s arrival, with just ten goals conceded in their sixteen games.
Mexican international Herrera commands Porto’s midfield and allows the likes of Brahimi and Tiquinho to venture forward to create and score goals, while Marega has stepped up in the wake of first choice striker Aboubakar’s injury to score one goal every two games. Corona and Otavinho provide even more creativity to the Porto midfield, while Pereira and Torres have done their part on a regular basis both defensively and in terms of getting the ball forward to the playmakers. Porto have scored thirty-five goals in their sixteen league games this season, only Benfica have scored more, and their goal difference of +24 is easily the best.
Porto are a solid team all round, and when Aboubaker is back to full fitness nothing will stop them from lifting a twenty-ninth Primeira Liga title, but until that point it is imperative that Marega remains fit or that the champions elect invest in another striker to cover their African duo when needed. If Porto beat Sporting on Saturday then they will stretch their impressive winning streak in all competitions to nineteen matches, and could put a nine point gap between themselves and second placed Braga.
Portuguese Primeira Liga Dark Horses: Braga
Braga have never won the Primeira Liga title, have only finished as runners-up once in 2010, and in the 2013/14 campaign they finished as low as ninth, but this season looks to have more promise about it with Braga the nearest challengers to reining champions and table toppers Porto after sixteen games.
This season Braga have a solid defence and one of the strongest attacks in the Primeira Liga, conceding the joint second fewest goals so far (16) and scoring the fourth highest total (31). Leading the line for Braga we have the 29-year old Brazilian forward Dyego Sousa, once of Maritimo, who scored eight times in eighteen appearances in the previous campaign for Braga and who top scores in the entire league with eleven goals so far this season. Sousa hasn’t done it all on his own though, teammate Wilson Eduardo has chipped in with seven goals, equaling his tally of the previous campaign with half a campaign yet to play. The 28-year old former Sporting CP forward has formed a great partnership upfront with Sousa and keeping the two fit will prove key to Braga finishing in the Champions League places or even winning the title for the first time in their history.
In defence, a signing from last season, Bruno Vianna, has been a rock at the back with the Brazilian playing in all sixteen league games so far and is yet to pick up a single booking. The 23-year old is showing maturity beyond his years and if he continues in their vein he will surely earn a move to a bigger club and may even receive international recognition. Sequeira has also been a regular in defence and joined the club at the same time as Brunno Vianna. Ricardo Horta provides goals from a midfield five that shares the creative responsibility and allows their strikers to concentrate purely on putting the ball into the back of the net.
Obviously its going to be a tough ask for Braga to finish ahead of Portugal’s big three, but both Benfica and Sporting have been dropping points in unexpected matches this season, while Braga’s only two defeats so far came away from home against Porto and Benfica. If they can keep their key players fit and avoid losing any of them during the transfer window the Braga have a great chance of pinching the runners-up spot from under the noses of their faltering rivals Benfica and Sporting CP and might even go all the way and claim the title if the Champions League becomes a distraction for Porto.