Porto stumble as Sporting build momentum

Round 16 Results: Sun Jan 17: Belenenses 1-3 Leixões , Rio Ave 0-2 União Leiria, Académica 0-2 Braga, Marítimo 0-5 Benfica; Sat Jan 16: Olhanense 1-0 Naval, Vitória Guimarães 2-2 Vitória Setúbal, Porto 1-1 Paços Ferreira, Sporting 3-2 Nacional

Unlike the previous round of fixtures, this was an enticing weekend filled with interesting match-ups and goals.

We’re now entering the last two weeks of January and many teams were again given food for thought as to whether or not to delve into the market.

On Saturday, Sporting and Nacional – both with 24 points before the match – contested an action-packed five-goal thriller.

Rúben Micael put the Islanders in front with a header, but there was little time to celebrate as Miguel Veloso scored just a minute later.

In the second half, Liédson came off the bench – he had been injured for a month – and scored two spectacular goals that tipped the scales in favour of the Lions.

Edgar would grab a late goal to ensure a dramatic finish, but in the end the Lions would prevail with a deserved 3-2 win.

They looked more comfortable and confident on the pitch, as if they still believe it’s not over. Too little too late though?

Académica hosted Braga with a good chance of denting the leaders’ momentum.

After all, under André Villas-Boas, they had won every game at home without conceding a single goal.

But the Arsenalistas didn’t crack under pressure and edged out the Students 2-0 thanks to goals from Meyong and Matheus.

The fairytale goes on and there are no signs of it ending anytime soon!

Benfica may have hammered Marítimo, but the scoreline is rather deceiving.

In the first 30 minutes, the Eagles struggled to create an opportunity as the home team were in control of the match.

Against the run of play, the in-form Saviola scored - his seventh in seven matches - and two minutes later, Di María was fouled on the left and Olberdam protested too much, with the referee giving the Marítimo midfielder his marching orders.

Don't hurt him: Maritimo get stuck into Di Maria

It was a harsh decision and a key moment. With their numerical superiority (doubled when Marítimo had another man sent off in the second half), Benfica cruised and built another big result.

Though they will have no complaints, it would have been interesting to see how they would have coped without that dodgy call.

On the up

União de Leiria went to Rio Ave to settle which team was the real surprise package of the league.

And cementing their status as European hopefuls, Leiria grabbed an impressive 2-0 win courtesy of goals from Cássio and Ronny and are now in sixth place with 23 points.

Not bad for a team who only returned to top flight this season!

Going down

Belenenses and Porto.

In a match between the bottom duo, Belenenses hosted Leixões and were looking to grab a morale-boosting win against their fellow relegation candidates.

It wasn’t meant to be though as their weaknesses were exposed and they suffered a heavy defeat. There’s still time to beat the drop, but the future is grim for the Blues.

Porto hosted Paços de Ferreira and surprisingly repeated the result of their first encounter back in August.

The Dragons dominated but an inspired performance from the Paços goalkeeper combined with many squandered chances kept the scoreline goalless.

...that is, until the 75th minute when Paços hit the home side on the break and stunned the home support.

Radamel Falcao rescued a draw, but the two points dropped may come back to haunt Porto, who now trail Benfica and Braga by six points and they need to regroup fast if they want to catch them before the Champions League distractions begin again when Arsenal visit on February 17.

"Stop him!" Paços surround scorer Falcao

Goal of the round

It’s a toss-up between two great strikes from Castro and Liédson.

The Olhanense midfielder gave his team a crucial win – the first since September! – with a long-range curling shot that gave Naval keeper no chance. The goal alone should be enough to lift the Algarvians’ spirits.

As mentioned above, Liédson returned to hand victory to Sporting.

His first goal was pure predatory instinct, but the second one was a bit more than that.

After a good initiative from the Lions, Miguel Veloso crossed and The Slender One hit a superb volley that would make any world-class striker proud.

Talking points

Porto have acquired Nacional’s Rúben Micael for a bargain fee of €3 million (for 60 percent of his sporting rights). Is he the missing piece in the Dragons jigsaw?

A Maniche type of player, Micael certainly deserves to be playing at a higher level and this move will also increase his chances of playing in South Africa. What do you think?

The next fixture (in two weeks) will see Braga entertain Sporting at home.

Can Sporting build on their better performances and claim a win to keep their title hopes alive?

Braga have added depth to their squad by bringing in five reinforcements so far: Tiago Pinto, Rafael Bastos, Miguel Garcia, Rentería and Luis Aguiar.

Are they now well enough equipped to continue their assault on the title?

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