Dragons emerge as title fight tightens

ROUND 12 RESULTS Mon Dec 7 Vitória Setúbal 0-2 Sporting, União de Leiria 1-2 Nacional Sun Dec 6 Marítimo 5-2 Olhanense, Benfica 4-0 Académica Sat Dec 5 Naval 1-0 Paços de Ferreira, Rio Ave 0-0 Belenenses, Leixões 1-1 Braga Fri Dec 4 Vitória Guimarães 1-4 FC Porto

We're fast approaching the end of the first half of the season and the picture is becoming clearer at both ends of the table. Let’s recap what happened at the weekend.

On Friday, Vitória de Guimarães hosted FC Porto. Mid-table but buoyed by a series of good results, the home side was looking to upset the Dragons.

But Porto were in no mood to let their title rivals get further away and started the match in dominant fashion.

Goals from Varela and Falcao gave Porto a comfortable advantage, and although a goal from Andrezinho just before the break could have complicated matters, the Dragons would score two more in what was a very polished performance from Jesualdo Ferreira’s men.

On Saturday, leaders Braga went to Leixões hoping to claim three more points and keep their distance over Benfica (two points behind with a home game on Sunday) and Porto (also two behind after their win at Guimarães).

But it didn't work out as they might have planned.

The relegation-haunted Matosinhos club held the title-chasers to a 1-1 draw, but it could have been worse.

Goalkeeper Eduardo made a mess from Moisés’ backpass and the own-goal gifted Leixões the lead (You'll be seeing that in this week's Video Stars - chuckling Ed.), but Alan would rescue a point for the Arsenalistas in the 88th minute.

On Sunday, there were two goal-fests. Marítimo trashed Olhanense 5-2 at home; the sorry Algarvian side twice came from behind but eventually collapsed to the Islanders.

Marítimo now sit comfortably in fifth while Olhanense raised their alert level after another loss.

Benfica returned to their free-scoring ways with a 4-0 win over Académica, but the Estudantes (Students) were thought-provoking opponents for long periods in the match.

Despite a fifth-minute Óscar Cardozo opener, Académica were undeterred and their passing game posed problems for Benfica until Javier Saviola’s wonder-goal.

In the second half, two goals down on a rain-sodden pitch, Académica couldn't get back in the game and Cardozo added gloss with two more goals. The Paraguayan now boasts an impressive tally of 14 in the league.

Newish Sporting boss Carlos Carvalhal was anxious to hear star man Liédson declare last week that he was finding it difficult to adapt to the new formation, going as far as to suggest the team would benefit if he was dropped.

But Liédson was in the line-up on Monday when Sporting visited Setúbal and the “Slender One” scored two goals to put a smile back on the faces of the Lions’ faithful.

There’s still a lot of work to be done but they’re also aware they have already hit rock bottom, which means the only way is up.

On the up

The Portugeezer has said many times that FC Porto haven’t been their usual ruthless selves this season.

Fernando Belluschi is struggling to fill the void left by Lucho González, and Hulk still isn't firing on all cylinders despite his Brazil call-up.

The Dragons have yet to breathe fire but they only trail joint leaders Braga and Benfica by three points, while having qualified with ease for Champions League last 16.

After such a resounding win at Guimarães, the Dragons are definitely on the up and will set their sights on reclaiming the first place they've ended up in for five of the last six seasons.

Going down

Surprise, surprise, it’s Olhanense! There’s no shame in losing at Marítimo, but it is a problem when a manager admits his team morale is very low.

They’ll host Benfica next week and should they fail to put in a good performance, the axe is likely to fall on Jorge Costa. He has done wonders for the club, but life goes on for both club and manager.

Talking points

Forgotten Benfica striker Ariza Makukula said this week he still harbours some hopes of going to South Africa.

The former Bolton hit-man has scored 12 goals in 12 games for Turkish outfit Kayserispor. With the Seleção das Quinas needing more options upf ront, can Makukula still force his way to Carlos Queiroz's side?

Valencia legend Miguel Ángel Angulo left Sporting after a mere 97 days at the club. He amassed more than 300 appearances for the Spanish side, but was only able to record 177 minutes in the Portuguese League.

With Liédson asking for better support in the attack, what will Sporting do in the January transfer window?

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