The biggest derby of the weekend

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Amigos, this weekend will bring you one of the biggest matches in the footballing world.

And I'm not talking about Liverpool vs Everton, Arsenal vs Chelsea, Aberdeen vs Rangers or even Barcelona vs Real Madrid.

I'm talking about the mouth-watering clash between Sporting CP and SL Benfica.

Forget about the spotlight-hogging El Clásico between Barça and Real that will be shown on cinemas around Spain, because the Lisbon derby has all the ingredients that appeal to the real fan.

And it goes with beer, not popcorn.

The big one

Sporting vs Benfica

Looking at the table, pretty much everyone would say the Eagles are red-hot favourites.

They are joint leaders with 25 points while a disappointing Sporting have managed just 14 points.

Should Benfica win, they’ll have twice the points of their rivals, an incredibly unusual situation that would practically dent any title hopes the Lions still harbour.

The thing is that unlike other matches, derbies between fierce rivals have unique characteristics.

In these matches, morale, form and the overall quality of the squad are not as decisive as they usually are since the opportunity to defeat a familiar foe offers an instant psychological boost.

Often, the team in the worst position wins the derby.

Carlos Carvalhal faces his first league game as Sporting manager without any major concerns regarding team selection.

The absence of injured Russian midfielder Marat Izmailov is the biggest blow, but Sporting have plenty of good options in that department.

After crashing out of the Portuguese Cup, Benfica will be looking to get back on track and will welcome back star striker Óscar Cardozo after a two-match suspension.

Javier Saviola is a major doubt and that may give an opportunity to Brazilian forward Wéldon.

Keirrison could also play a role, but after failing to make any sort of impact against Guimararães, it is hard to believe coach Jesus will hand him another chance.

It's puzzling that a €14 million signing tipped to have a bright future can flop as hard as he’s doing, but at the moment he’s no better than Pedro Mantorras.

It will be decided in midfield.

Benfica lack balance in the middle of the park and Sporting are stronger: with Veloso, Moutinho and Matías Fernandéz, Sporting have a mix of creativity, passing range and ball control.

With the 'new coach' wildcard, The Portugeezer gives the upper hand to the Lions.

They know that a win here will provide them a much-need fillip and they’ll sweat blood to impress their new coach and defeat the Eagles.

Liédson will score and frustrate Benfica once again.

Prediction: Sporting 2-1 Benfica

The remaining games

Olhanense vs Guimarães

Guimarães have been on the rise lately with wins against Braga and Benfica.

Manager Paulo Sérgio seems to have injected confidence to the side and they’ll be hoping to pile more misery on their Algarvian opponents, who haven’t won a game since 14th of September.

Prediction: Away win

Nacional vs Naval

Both teams barely managed to survive in the Portuguese Cup. The Islanders currently sit in fourth place and are usually strong at home, which should be enough to see of their opponents.

Prediction: Home win

Académica vs Setúbal

In a match between two relegation contenders, the home factor may just be the key in the final result.

Despite having lost in the Portuguese Cup, Académica had played well in the previous matches and will hope to leapfrog Setúbal in the table.

Prediction: Home win

Paços de Ferreira vs Leixões

Paços de Ferreira are the only team in the league not to have won at home... but Leixões have failed to claim a single point away.

Having improved in the last few matches, Paços will register their first win in front of their suffering supporters.

Prediction: Home win (at last!)

Belenenses vs Marítimo

Seven out of Marítimo’s 15 points came against the Big Three.

The Islanders seem to be up to tough tasks, though ito’s a whole different story when they play against smaller opposition.

Belenenses are badly in need of a result, but will find it hard to get the three points.

Prediction: A lively draw

FC Porto vs Rio Ave

Porto will be entertaining Rio Ave knowing beforehand that they benefit from the outcome of the match between Benfica and Sporting.

Yes, they lost against Chelsea on Wednesday in a very even match, but will return to winning ways against one of the surprise packages of the season.

Rio Ave have been playing above expectations... but they’re still no match for the Dragons.

Prediction: Comfortable win for Porto.

Braga vs União de Leiria

Braga play against Leiria on Monday and looking at how they performed in the cup last weekend, there’s hardly a single person that would bet against them.

The Arsenalistas have a perfect record at home and will continue to be the competition pace-setters.

Prediction: Walk in the park for Braga

--------------------------------------------- More to read...

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