Matchday 13: Title race going down to the wire

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Round 13 Results: Mon Dec 14: Belenenses 0-1 Vitória Guimarães.Sun Dec 13: Académica 2-0 Leixões, Marítimo 0-1 Rio Ave, Braga 0-0 Naval, FC Porto 2-0 Vitória Setúbal. Sat Dec 12: Sporting 0-1 União de Leiria, Olhanense 2-2 Benfica. Fri Dec 11: Paços Ferreira 2-1 Nacional

What was supposed to be just another day at the office for the top teams soon transformed into an emotional rollercoaster that shook things up at the top of the table.

The first half of the season is almost over and next week we’ll have the mouth-watering clash between Benfica and Porto.

But before we get carried away with 'O Clássico', let’s see what happened last weekend.

On Saturday, Sporting hosted União de Leiria and were surprisingly defeated 1-0.

Two weeks before against Benfica they looked like they could turn things around, but once again they were pretty much the same side that struggled under Paulo Bento: disjointed and lacking both creativity and passion.

Leiria’s goal came from a corner in the 27th minute, but it could have been worse as the away side had one goal disallowed.

The Lions now sit in a disappointing seventh place with just 18 points. The result provides Carlos Carvalhal more food for thought as he will be looking to make some adjustments to the squad in January.

Mozambican defender Mexer is on his way to the club, but rumour has it that he will be loaned out for the remainder of the season.

With Carvalhal only certain to stay till the end of the season, though, The Portugeezer wonders what the rationale behind such a signing was.

Benfica went to the Algarve to play against an Olhanense side supposedly downbeat after a series of poor results.

The Eagles were naturally favourites and were looking to make a statement before the next match, but The Portugeezer has to tip its hat to the Olhanense players, because they fought hard and were unlucky not to get all three points.

It was a thrilling game that ended 2-2 draw and saw three players being sent-off.

Veteran forward Nuno Gomes saved Benfica’s blushes in injury-time, but the club lost Di Maria (sent-off), Fábio Coentrão (fifth yellow card) and almost certainly Ramires (twisted knee).

Could they have picked a better time to lose key players?

On the other hand, Olhanense can take plenty of positives from the match and, provided they show this attitude week in week out, they can beat the drop.

Braga failed to capitalize on Benfica’s slip up by being held to a goalless home draw against Naval.

Naval adopted a similar strategy to the one used against the Eagles three rounds ago as they were happy to 'park the bus' and collect a single point from the match.

Such a negative approach frustrated the Arsenalistas who dropped points at home for the first time this season.

Still, Domingos Paciência's side continues to set the pace at the top of the league and will hope to benefit from the meeting between their title rivals next week.

On Sunday, FC Porto had the last laugh as they beat Setúbal 2-0 at home, courtesy of goals from Ernesto Farías and Silvestre Varela.

Setúbal, arguably one of the worst teams in the league, had no arguments against the Dragons who cruised to a comfortable victory.

Porto now trails Benfica and Braga by just one point, making this weekend's fixture much more interesting.

On the up

FC Porto and Académica.

FC Porto now look much closer to their ruthless selves and are closer to reclaim their usual top spot as Benfica and Braga.

They crushed Atlético Madrid 3-0 in their last Champions League fixture and are high on confidence ahead of facing Benfica this Sunday.

Académica have won their last three matches at home and since André Villas-Boas took of club they look a completely different side.

They are now out of the relegation zone with 13 points and will look to climb to the top half of the table.

Next up they have a stern test at Nacional, but if they perform like they have done recently they have every chance of getting something from the match.

Going down

Benfica and Sporting.

The Eagles churned out their worst performance of the season and looked like the side that so-often disappoints their supporters almost every year.

They appear to be losing steam, but next Sunday they will have the opportunity to redeem themselves against FC Porto.

If they win, they’ll open up a four-point gap over the Dragons and will regain momentum. However, should they lose they will hand the psychological edge to their arch-rivals.

Sporting lost at home and the title is just a mirage. More than the bad results and the poor performances, it is the sense that things are not going to change any time soon that is a worry.

Carvalhal and Bettencourt will try to pull off some good deals in January, but regardless of who arrives or leaves, they should prepare for next season and not resort to panic-buying.

Goal of the round

Académica midfielder Emídio Rafael scored a good goal to open the scoring against Leixões.

Rafael beautifully nutmegged a Leixões defender, before firing in a well-placed shot that gave the keeper no chance.

Talking points

Without Di Maria, Coentrão and, presumably, Ramires, are Benfica favourites for the clash against FC Porto?

Are Sporting in real danger of losing a Europa League place?

Do Olhanense possess too much quality to go down?

And with the transfer window about to re-open, what will the top trio do to ensure they are better equipped to clinch the title?

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