Sports Mole previews Friday’s Primeira Liga clash between Braga and Benfica, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
This will be the second meeting between the sides this season after As Aguias stormed to an emphatic 6-1 victory back in November’s reverse fixture.
Braga returned to winning ways in the Primeira Liga two Sundays ago when they edged out a resilient Portimonense side 2-1 at the Estadio Municipal de Portimao.
Os Arcebispos raced into a two-goal lead inside the opening 22 minutes through Francisco Moura and Yan Couto before David Carmo inadvertently turned the ball into his net shortly after the hour mark to pull one back for the hosts.
Prior to that, Braga failed to win any of their previous three league outings, playing out successive draws with Santa Clara and Boavista before losing 1-0 at the hands of Gil Vicente on March 13.
Carlos Carvalhal‘s side, who progressed to the quarter-finals of the Europa League by claiming a 3-1 aggregate victory over Ligue 1 side Monaco, are currently fourth in the Primeira Liga standings after picking up 49 points from 27 games.
However, Braga head into Friday’s game without a win in any of their last two home outings and while they will be looking to end this dry spell, they face an opposing side who have won 15 of the last 20 meetings between the teams since 2012.
Elsewhere, Benfica ensured they remain within touching distance with Sporting Lisbon when they claimed a 2-1 victory over Estoril Praia just before the international break.
Goals from Rafa Silva and Goncalo Ramos put As Aguias on course for all three points at the Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica before 23-year-old Andre Franco grabbed a consolation for the Canarinhos in the third minute of added time.
This followed a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Ajax on Match 15, when Darwin Nunez struck in the 77th minute to condemn the Eredivisie champions to an aggregate defeat and a round-of-16 exit from the Champions League.
Benfica head into Friday’s game unbeaten in each of their last nine games across all competitions — their second longest run since going 12 games without defeat at the start of the season — claiming six wins and three draws since a 2-1 home loss against Gil Vicente on February 2.
Nelson Verissimo‘s side have won 19, drawn four and lost four of their 27 games this season to collect 61 points and sit in third place in the league table, six points adrift off reigning champions Sporting Lisbon in second.
Benfica follow Friday’s game with a mouth-watering Champions League quarter-final tie with Liverpool at Anfield, while Braga play host to Scottish outfit Rangers in the first leg of their Europa League last-eight clash.
Braga Primeira Liga form:
Braga form (all competitions):
Benfica Primeira Liga form:
Benfica form (all competitions):
Couto opened his account for Braga with his strike against Portimonense last time out and the Manchester City loanee should retain his place on the far right of the four-man midfield.
Meanwhile; Benfica have several players returning from international duties and they could be rested having retired for their nation in the just concluded World Cup qualifiers and international friendly games.
One of them being Nicolas Otamendi, who played the full 90 minutes for Argentina against Venezuela and Ecuador respectively, but Nunez should start in attack after sitting out Uruguay’s final qualifying game against Chile on Wednesday.
On the injury front, Verissimo will be unable to call upon the Brazilian duo of Rodrigo Pinho and Lucas Verissimo, who continue their long journey to full fitness after suffering muscle and knee injuries respectively.
Haris Seferovic is another player on the As Aguias injury table after the Swiss forward came off with a severe leg problem in January’s game against Moreirense.
Ramos has been in superb form at the attacking end of the pitch, scoring one and assisting one for Portugal Under-21 in the U21 Euro qualifiers and we expect the 20-year-old, who has scored seven goals in the Primeira Liga this term, to start in attack once again.
Braga possible starting lineup:
Matheus; Tormena, Carmo, Oliveira; Moura, F Silva, Al Musrati, Couto; R Horta, Medeiros, Ruiz
Benfica possible starting lineup:
Vlachodimos; Gilberto, Morato, Vertonghen, Grimaldo; Weigl, Bernardo; Silva, Ramos, Everton; Nunez
We say: Braga 1-2 Benfica
With their European commitments on the horizon, we expect both sides to take the game to each other in search of a morale-boosting result. However, looking at past results between the sides and their current form, Benfica are clear favourites to come away with the desired results and we predict they will do just that.