The Liga NOS is on competitive break this weekend, but after six days off for the Holiday, the Big 3 resumed training on Saturday.
Benfica and FC Porto each had closed-door sessions, while Sporting CP hosted an open training session in Alvalade for fans as part of their traditional holiday toy drive.
Benfica will be in action next Saturday night up north at Guimaraes, which helps set the table for next weekend’s viewing.
A Benfica win throws more pressure on Porto heading into Alvalade down seven points, while a loss gives Porto opportunity to get a close as one point in the two-team race.
Sporting CP, on paper, is still mathematically alive in the race, but a 13 point gap is likely too much unless they go perfect the rest of the way.
However, a win against Porto would help cut the deficit to six points for second place, which still has the honor of qualifying into the preliminaries of the lucrative Champions League next summer. (Portugal only gets three teams in the Champions League the following summer of 2021).
Bruno Fernandes has stated the challenge his team faces in 2020.
“All the games from this point on are all or nothing. We have to be realistic,” he said. “The point difference is big. The difference between our rivals and ours is big. We don’t have much margin for error.”
Third place in Liga gets direct entry into the Europa League group stage next season.
Benfica is in the news with transfer links to various players in South America and even domestically. The news of reported interest in Tapsoda of Vitoria Guimaraes forced Benfica into making a public statement that they do not have any interest in players currently in the Liga NOS.
Lately, Benfica has bested Guimaraes with 12 wins and 1 draw in their last 13 matches, but the one draw (0-0) took place this past September in the League Cup in Luz and that will weigh heavily on the minds of both teams.
Many fans have not been pleased with Lage’s choices for the XI in Europe or the elimination from the League Cup, but three points in Minho will calm any disappointment.
Guimaraes has played well this season, despite early elimination from the Taca de Portugal. They almost beat Arsenal twice in the Europa League.
Guimaraes knows a positive result will also help them either tie or get closer to Liga sensation Famalicão in the battle for fourth place. In addition, it would help them set the tone for their confidence in next month’s League Cup where they play FC Porto in the Final 4.
FC Porto is the only team competing in four competitions thus far and face a busy slate of matches right through early March, almost two per week.
Sérgio Conceição has said in the past that playing in many competitions is part of being a big club and they will be tested in the coming weeks.
Earlier this season in their first trip to Lisbon, FC Porto won at Luz. The second trip they beat Casa Pia but drew at Belenenses SAD.
Porto can’t afford to drop any more points and they have most of their squad fit for selection to the match.
Pinto da Costa, FC Porto’s heralded President, turned 82 years old Saturday and will soon seek another term as President, which he is likely to get.
He was asked what was his most memorable match as the boss. Die-hard Porto fans will remember the snow match in Japan in 1987 against Uruguay’s Penarol.
“It is not easy to choose, there are so many, but what I chose is the one on December 13, 1987, when FC Porto were the World Champions,” PdC said. “First, because it was unimaginable to anyone that a Portuguese club could be a World Champion. No one had ever done it, even our rival (Benfica) had already competed for this title, but had failed to win it. It is memorable also because of the conditions in which it was played, with a lot of snow.”
New manager Ruben Amorim, whose hiring as manager has drawn controversy over his lack of the level 4 manager’s license, will make his senior manager debut with SC Braga at Belenenses SAD in Jamor next Saturday.
This week will also signal the start of the January transfer window and the silly news month that comes with it. Bruno Fernandes. Ruben Dias. Danilo. These are the names likely to get some front page rumor attention.