It’s not long now until the first Lisbon derby (Derby de Lisboa) of this new Portuguese Primeira Liga season in which Sporting Clube de Portugal make the incredibly short journey to take on their major rivals, Benfica, in one of the games of the European football calendar.
Benfica have won five straight games over Sporting Clube de Portugal and haven’t lost to their city rivals in seven and yet Sporting will feel more hopeful than ever they can put one over their more successful rivals.
In the first league game after the international break (26th November, 20:15 GMT to be exact) Sporting be aiming successive 8th league game in an arena in which they haven’t won since January 2006. Meanwhile Benfica will want to remain unbeaten as they have in the first ten league games so far this season.
Both clubs in recent years have been overshadowed by the qualities of FC Porto. Porto’s incredible season last year, in which the Northern club won a treble and remained unbeaten in the league, left both Lisbon clubs knowing they had some catching up to do.
This is the first time in years in which Sporting can feel competitive in the league after a major investment of sixteen new players and one new manager, Domingos Paciência and this will be his first major test.
The former Porto player and Braga coach has, after a wobbly start, breathed new life in the green and white side of Lisbon. Their football has improved massively and they now site just one point behind second place Porto and leaders Benfica.
There will be a selection headache for Benfica manager Jorge Jesus as to which striker he selects out of the prolific Óscar Cardozo and the young up and coming Rodrigo. With Benfica often playing in a 4-5-1 position with Pablo Aimar as the man behind the striker the Paraguayan and the Spaniard are rivals for the starting spot.
Rodrigo looks to be another player to benefit from a loan move to Bolton Wanderers like Daniel Sturridge and Jack Wilshere. The Spain U-21 international has scored five goals in his last seven games including the equaliser against Braga in their last match.
Óscar Cardozo has the history and experience in the fixture and the Paraguayan has scored five goals in the last five meeting between the two teams and has got seven goals in total against Sporting. Cardozo did begin the season in blistering form and has already got nine goals in all competitions but he has not managed to find the target in his last three games.
Domingos Paciência too has a problem in which first team selection, the Argentine destroyer Fabián Rinaudo picked up an injury in the Lions’ 1-0 defeat (their first after a ten match winning streak) away to FC Vaslui in the Europa League and will be out until at least January.
The choice will depend on how ambitious Paciência is about the possibility of picking up all three points in the Estádio da Luz. In Sporting’s last game, a 3-1 win of over União de Leiria, Paciência chose a very forward-thinking midfield trio of record summer signing Elias, Stijn Schaars and the in-form Matías Fernández.
If Paciência’s tactics are anything to go by it may mean the more defensive-minded André Santos will take up that role. Although Sporting do play attractive passing football Paciência has not been afraid to shut up shop in matches – and that instinct may win out in the derby.
Defence may well be the best option for Paciência when you consider that even the best defence will have trouble coping with the in-form Nicolás Gaitán. The former Boca Juniors player has started to come into his element within the past year and looks like he’ll be the latest to make a big money move away from the club.
When you add his talents mixed in with the likes of Axel Witsel and Pablo Aimar – a sometimes-shaky defence like Sporting’s can have life made very hard for them.
For both clubs this could be a defining game in the league so far. A Benfica win would give them confidence to go on and perhaps push for yet another league title and reclaim the title that Porto won last year. Beating their confident local rivals could send them on their way.
Meanwhile for Sporting this is perhaps an even more important encounter, although this is their best team since perhaps 2006-2007 (in which they finished 1 point behind Porto) they have yet to face a top team like Benfica. A win at the home of their arch-rivals could be a massive shot of self-belief into the newly formed team and convince them, and perhaps most importantly the fans, that they are back to being a contender with a serious chance of winning the league in 5 years.