The hype over the past week has mostly surrounded Ã¢ÂÂEl SuperclasicoÃ¢ÂÂ between Barcelona and Real Madrid, but in Portugal there was another massive grudge-match in prospect as Sporting hosted FC Porto.
LATEST RESULTS Fri Nov 26 VitÃÂ³ria SetÃÂºbal 0-1 Academica Sat Nov 27 Sporting 1-1 FC Porto, MarÃÂtimo 2-0 Vitoria Guimaraes, PaÃÂ§os Ferreira 1-0 Olhanense Sun Nov 28 Braga 2-0 Nacional, Beira-Mar 1-3 Braga, Naval 0-1 Rio Ave, Portimonense 1-2 Uniao Leiria
Several ingredients made the build-up to Sporting's clash with Porto a rather intriguing one: for the Lions, it was an opportunity to start to rebuild their image and make amends with their supporters for their poor start to the season by beating the current leaders. For the Dragons, it was an excuse to flex their muscles and underline exactly why theyÃ¢ÂÂve appeared all but invincible so far. And naturally, the match also featured the return of Joao Moutinho, who was greeted with jeers (and apples, by the way!) from the start by the self same people who had worshipped him as the club's hero and poster boy barely seven months previously.
It's a game of two halves...
Trailing the leaders by 13 points, Sporting had nothing to lose and approached the match with a positive mindset from the very beginning.
Paulo SÃÂ©rgio opted for a 4-3-1-2 formation with three deep-lying midfielders Ã¢ÂÂ Maniche, AndrÃÂ© Santos and Pedro Mendes Ã¢ÂÂ giving Chilean midfielder Jaime Valdes more freedom to roam around the pitch and support striking duo Helder Postiga and Liedson.
That structure helped Sporting produce a very solid first half during which they exposed PortoÃ¢ÂÂs backline and managed to quell the attacking threat of Hulk and Varela. By closing down their opponents inside their own half, the home side didnÃ¢ÂÂt allow Porto time to think, and thus restricted their free-flowing football.
At that stage of the match, Fernando, Moutinho and Belluschi were being choked by SportingÃ¢ÂÂs more dynamic midfield and hence the Lions were in complete control of the match.
Still, each team had a good chance to break the deadlock. Radamel Falcao in the tenth minute missed a great opportunity with just Rui Patricio to beat, while Pedro Mendes hit a ferocious long-range effort against the woodwork 15 minutes later.
It wasn't until the 38th minute that Sporting would get in front. In a direct Ã¢ÂÂ if unorthodox Ã¢ÂÂ fashion, Rui Patricio kicked the ball from his area and as Maicon fails to deal with it, Jaime Valdes is quick to pounce and send the home fans into raptures.
The second half however would be a different affair. Porto returned from the locker room determined to fight back and SportingÃ¢ÂÂs midfield quartet quickly ran out of steam. Therefore, it wasnÃ¢ÂÂt too much of a surprise when Porto leveled in the 58th minute courtesy of Falcao.
If the tide was about to turn we will never know, as Maicon was then sent-off 10 minutes later, promopting Porto to sit back and hold out for the draw, while SportingÃ¢ÂÂs impact subs couldn't live up to their name, failing to bring the desired impact to the field.
Bottom-line, 1-1 is a fair result that pretty much reflects the balance of play, regardless of the many voices whining about the Ã¢ÂÂrefereeÃ¢ÂÂs pivotal role on the outcome of matchÃ¢ÂÂ.
Of course, this wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt be a Ã¢ÂÂClassicoÃ¢ÂÂ without a light smattering of controversy and therefore letÃ¢ÂÂs just analyze the major points of contention:
SportingÃ¢ÂÂs goal: Jaime Valdes is off-side the moment Rui Patricio kicks the ball, though he doesnÃ¢ÂÂt handle it after. Of course the linesman could have called offside, but why did Maicon - and the rest of the team for that matter - stop? It was a tough call and you canÃ¢ÂÂt really put the blame on the man in black this timeÃ¢ÂÂ¦
MaiconÃ¢ÂÂs dismissal: The Brazilian defender took a lot of time to pass the ball and allowed Liedson to joust for it. Living up to his Ã¢ÂÂThe Slender OneÃ¢ÂÂ moniker, he made the most of the contact to get his team 21 minutes with a man advantage. However, this one should have never been a red card and it may have cost Porto the chance to fight for the three points.
ManicheÃ¢ÂÂs violent behavior: It's not the first time the player has acted like a thug and either the club or the league should take matters into their own hands to prevent these kind of instances from re-occuring.
Had these three calls been ruled in favour of Porto, would the outcome of the match have been different? Perhaps, but given Sporting controlled the first half of the match and also saw a few niggly fouls against them go unpunished, neither side can really complain too strongly.
Benfica got their act together after their shocking defeat in Israel [link] and beat Beira-Mar away with two goals from the returning Oscar Cardozo. The second was a beautiful shot curled from the right, just inside the box, that gave the keeper no chance.
The Eagles managed to pull away from Guimaraes who lost to Maritimo. Manuel MachadoÃ¢ÂÂs men went to Madeira hoping to extend their rich vein of form, but their run was halt by the ever-tricky Islanders.
Naval woes show no sign of stopping as the Figueira da Foz outfit lost at home to Rio Ave. With only five points gathered in 12 matches, can they realistically climb their way to safety?
And last but not least, the Portugeezer has to tip his hat in the direction of Jorge Costa and his Academica side, who are enjoying a very comfortable league campaign. They claimed a win at Setubal and currently sit in fifth position, one point shy of Sporting and well above their own expectactions.