Preview: Braga vs. Porto

Preview: Braga vs. Porto

Second meets third in a tantalising Primeira Liga podium battle on Sunday evening as Braga welcome fellow title outsiders Porto to the Estadio Municipal de Braga.

The hosts put four past Vizela without reply in a romping success last weekend, while Sergio Conceicao’s crop enter the contest off the back of a Champions League last-16 exit at the hands of Inter Milan.

Empathising with Porto when it comes to early European exits – having fallen to Fiorentina’s superiority in the Europa Conference League last 32 in February – Braga have recovered from their dose of continental disappointment to remain in the driving seat for Champions League football next term.

Artur Jorge’s side went down 2-1 to Vitora Guimaraes when the European hangover was well and truly in effect, but they have since reverted to type, claiming a pair of comfortable 2-0 and 4-0 wins over Rio Ave and Vizela respectively.

Al-Musrati and Ricardo Horta made the net ripple either side of an Iuri Medeiros brace during Braga’s four-goal win over the latter, giving them a five-point cushion over Sporting Lisbon in third place and enabling them to overtake Porto with victory in Sunday’s headline encounter.

While Benfica continue to ride off into the sunset for the time being – sitting 10 points better off than Braga – the Primeira Liga title race is not a foregone conclusion just yet, and Jorge’s goal-happy crop can still dream of clinching the club’s first-ever top-flight title.

Os Arcebispos welcome Porto to their headquarters having won each of their last five home matches in the Primeira Liga – conceding just one goal and keeping four clean sheets in the process – and just six goals conceded on their own turf all season is the best defensive record of its kind that the league has to offer.

How the ball stayed out of Andre Onana’s goal during Inter’s Champions League last-16 second leg with Porto is anybody’s guess, as Conceicao’s side packed their bags and departed the continental stage with a 1-0 aggregate defeat to their name.

Romelu Lukaku’s strike in the first leg ultimately proved decisive, but in a chaotic period of second-half injury time at the Estadio do Dragao, Porto hit the woodwork twice, Marcano’s effort was cleared off the line by Denzel Dumfries, and attacker Pepe saw red for two bookable offences before the final whistle blew.

Goals were always expected to be at a premium between two of the most resilient backlines in Europe, although Porto have slightly lost their way defensively in recent weeks, failing to keep a clean sheet in three domestic affairs and edging past Estoril 3-2 on March 10.

Having survived that scare, Conceicao’s champions remain entrenched in the runners-up spot – only two points better off than Braga and eight worse off than Benfica – but not since August’s loss at Rio Ave have Porto suffered an away defeat in top-flight action.

Since that 3-1 beating, the visitors have gone unbeaten in their last 10 away contests in the Primeira Liga – winning each of their last four – and they thumped Braga 4-1 at the Estadio do Dragao earlier this season, but Os Arcebispos are on a six-game streak without defeat against Porto on home soil.

Braga Primeira Liga form:

Braga form (all competitions):

Porto Primeira Liga form:

Porto form (all competitions):

We say: Braga 2-2 Porto
With Porto’s defence not as watertight as it once was, a free-scoring Braga outfit should feel confident of chalking up a couple of goals, especially with the wise old head of Pepe potentially not being available.

However, Conceicao’s side could have easily racked up a few themselves against Inter on another day and can also exploit the hosts’ inexperienced centre-back pairing, so Sunday’s podium battle should live up to the billing in a high-scoring draw.

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