Thursday, September 24, 2009

Weekend Preview: the Clássico (Porto - Sporting Lisbon)

The biggest match of this weekend for the neutral fan is in the Portuguese Liga: F.C. Porto - Sporting Lisbon. The match kicks off at 7:30 PM local time, 8:30 for the central Europeans, 2:30 Eastern in the United States. Unfortunately for Americans, the game will not be broadcast here, at least through traditional means.

A look at the last four years shows why this should be a great match. Each of those seasons, Porto won the league and Sporting finished second. Two of those seasons Porto finished well clear but in two others the point gaps were just 4 points (last season) and a single point (2006-2007).

Summer Transfers

This summer was very big, particularly for Porto. Unfortunately if you are a Porto fan it was overwhelmingly going out; they lost some big names. The biggest transfer was Argentine winger Lisandro López who went to Lyon for 24 million euros. He scored 16 goals for them in 35 matches in all competitions. Perhaps more important was the loss of Lucho González. The influential captain who usually played in right midfield was sold to Marseille for 18 million euros. The other big name was Aly Cissokho who also went to Lyon. He got them 15 million euros. The left back only played 19 matches for Porto last season. To replace them and the other players that left they went the usual route and brought in lower-profile players, including several from South America. The only name I recognized in the list was Uruguayan left wing back Álvaro Pereira, though apparently Falcao, Colombian forward from River Plate, had garnered the interest of other European clubs. Since he's already scored 4 goals this young season that's not looking like a bad deal at under 4 million euros.

Down in Lisbon they were far less busy. The only players that left were lost because their contracts were up. Two of those played a significant amount: right midfielder Fábio Rochemback and forward Derlei. Both Brazilians played 18 matches for them last season, Derlei put in 7 goals. To help their attack they brought in attacking midfielder Matías Fernández who was at Villarreal.

Location, Location, Location

As you can see from the listing, the match is going to be in Porto. Last year Porto actually played better on the road. They were 9-5-1 at home and 12-2-1 away. They also scored 15 more goals, exactly one per match, away from home! While I'm sure they are a better team at home, that shows you how weird things can look when you have small samples at play. Sporting were a very good away team last year, second only behind Porto in that category. In comparison to their home matches, they appear to have been more defensive, they scored 13 fewer goals and allowed 6 fewer. Not much to read into it for either team. Porto should have an edge, but if anything smaller than what one might expect for a home side.

Form, Injuries and Suspensions

Despite the teams having the same records 5 matches into the season, they seem to be in different places as far as form goes. After drawing in their first match Porto won three in a row but lost last Saturday in Braga. They also lost 1-0 at Stamford Bridge the midweek prior. Sporting started out with a draw and then lost at home against the same Braga team that would later beat Porto. Since they have won their other three matches. Last Monday was particularly confidence boosting as they won after being down 0-2 to Olhanense. While it may be a bit of a reach, I'd give the slight edge to Sporting here. It may be a little weird given that we're talking about one loss, two if you count the one to Chelsea, but it's also weird that players would be asked if the team is in crisis because of it, as has happened here.

Both teams are relatively injury free. Porto will be without the services of Varela. The left winger, who arrived at the club this last summer, had played in all five matches this season. Sporting will not have left forward Postiga, who strained his thigh last Monday. They will also not have Caicedo, who sprained his knee when he came on as a substitute for Postiga.


As last week showed, the model probably isn't all that reliable at this stage since not a lot of matches have been played - just 40 for the entire league thus far and 5 for each club. So take this with a grain of salt.

The predictions of the PLM are drastically different than what we saw last week. While it had the two Manchester clubs rated as having excellent defense and good attacking power, it rates both these teams as very strong at scoring and mediocre at preventing goals. Porto rank second best at scoring and Sporting just behind them. In case you're curious, Benfica is the team rated as having the best attack. Defensively Porto rank 8th and Sporting 10th. As a result, the model predicts a fun, high-scoring match. It also suggests that Porto should win. It gives them a 78% chance, Sporting only a 9% chance with just a 13% chance of a draw. The most probable scoreline according to the prediction is 2-1 to Porto.

Personally, I have no prediction. To be honest, I have not seen either team this season. I'm hoping I can, ahem, find it somewhere either during or after because it should be good and I'll be interested to see how these teams look given that they may well both get out of the Champions League group stage. While Benfica and Braga have gotten good results, I suspect these two will take the top places again in some order. If you pinned me down and asked for a prediction, I'd just go with the PLM one and say 2-1 Porto.


  1. Interesting reading something about Porto and Sporting.

    Unfortunately not on tv here either :(

  2. Yeah the tv situation is unfortunate. I think the problem is that the Portuguese league is so dominated by the big three - even more than England and Spain for example are dominated by their big clubs. Since the league started in 1934-1935, Benfica, Porto or Sporting have won all but two of the league titles. TWO! Even looking at the top two positions, other than those three, only four other clubs have ever finished in the top two.

    I think that creates the impression that the rest of the league is terrible. I personally have no idea but suspect as much. Unfortunately, that means that we don't get to see the big three play. They've all had some success in European competitions recently and it's too bad that we can't watch them play each other because the rest of the league is apparently weak.