- Portugal’s League Cup churns towards its climax this week, with Sporting facing COVID-ravaged Porto on Tuesday (2:45 pm ET) and Braga clashing with Benfica on Wednesday (2:45 pm)
- Both matches will take place at Leiria’s neutral Estadio Dr. Magalhaes Pessoa — home of third-division Uniao Leiria — with the winners set to do battle in the Taça da Liga final on Saturday
- Get a breakdown of all four clubs, the matchup odds and a few value picks below
It’s no surprise to see Portugal’s four largest clubs still standing for the ‘Final Four’ of the country’s League Cup, the Taça da Liga.
Three of the four teams competing in Leiria this week reached this phase of the competition last season, with this exact foursome replicated in the 2018-19 edition as well.
The competition records are stark for Benfica and Porto.
Benfica has lifted the Taça da Liga in exactly 50-percent of its 14 editions, with a 7-0 record in the competition’s final. Jorge Jesus’ side has struggled in recent weeks, dropping points in two of three league matches since the calendar turned to 2021.
Fresh off a 2-0 SuperCup win in December over Benfica, Porto has surprisingly never lifted the trophy — and gone 0-4 in the final in the process, including a pair of narrow defeats in 2018 (penalty loss to Sporting) and 2019 (0-1 to Braga).
With 2-1 and 2-2 records in the final respectively, Braga and Sporting have less eye-popping records in the competition’s final stage but both boast quality squads capable of stringing two wins together to lift silverware come Saturday.
Taça da Liga Semifinal Odds
|Sporting vs Porto||SPO -0.5 (+150) | POR +0.5 (-200)||SPO +160 | POR +162 | DRAW +220||Ov 2.5 (-106) | Un 2.5 (-123)|
|Braga vs Benfica||BRA +0.5 (-149) | BEN -0.5 (+110)||BRA +190 | BEN +125 | DRAW +240||Ov 2.5 (-149) | Un 2.5 (+110)|
Odds taken Jan 17 at William Hill
It’s worth noting that penalties are a common occurrence when Sporting and Porto collide in cup play; each of the clubs’ last four competitive non-league meetings — including the 2019 Taça da Liga final — have been decided on penalties.
While Wednesday’s matchup has typically been dominated by Benfica, it’s actually Braga that has had the upper hand in the past two meetings (1-0, February 2020, and; 3-2, November 2020) — though the Aguias from the capital rattled off five straight wins prior to that.
Sporting: Gut Check Time
Sporting is in uncharted territory.
For the first time in years, Sporting looks to be a real title contender; Ruben Amorim’s side is four points clear of Benfica atop the Primeira Liga — in which the Leoes remain undefeated (11-3-0).
It’s not all rainbows and lollipops for the young Sporting team, though, as a 2-0 loss at Maritimo last Monday sent it spiraling out of the Taça de Portugal and a disappointing 1-1 draw on Friday against Rio Ave was an opportunity missed.
FT Sporting 1-1 Rio Ave. Disappointing draw for the Lions who are punished for a pallid performance lacking in creativity and energy. Sporting will remain top of the table but will have to recapture their form rapidly if they want to stay there.
— Tom Kundert (@PortuGoal1) January 15, 2021
Times are good at Sporting, but a loss or two could shine a light on Amorim’s team’s inexperience and derail what has the makings of the first positive season at the Estadio Jose Alvalade in a long time.
Porto: Squad Management
Like Benfica — which it drew 1-1 last matchday — Porto is four points behind Sporting in league play but will be dealing with some serious COVID absences.
? | Sérgio Oliveira, Evanilson and Luis Díaz have tested positive for COVID-19.
All three will miss the Taça da Liga semi final vs Sporting on Tuesday. pic.twitter.com/FJCXzx9zWm
— Próxima Jornada (@ProximaJornada1) January 17, 2021
Captain Sergio Oliveira is the most noteworthy of the COVID positives, and manager Sergio Conceicao is going to have to manage a threadbare squad through a fixture-heavy next few weeks that include a Taça de Portugal quarterfinal at Gil Vicente on January 24.
Both Sporting and Porto will need to make key personnel decisions, because as it stands neither of their squads are deep enough to ensure a starting-caliber XI throughout multiple competitions.
Braga vs Benfica: Goals, Goals, Goals
Wherever Braga and Benfica meet, goals nearly always follow.
Scorelines between the two from the past three seasons include: 3-2 Braga, 4-0 Benfica, 6-2 Benfica.
The Over 2.5 has been a near-lock, hitting in 85-percent of meetings since fall 2017.
Braga is out of sorts under Carlos Carvalhal, with losses in two of three league matches, and the Over 2.5 has hit in three of the Guerreiros‘ last five overall matches.
Taça da Liga: Semifinals Best Bets
Sporting has had Porto’s number in cup competition in recent years, winning/advancing in their last four meetings; that trend, combined with the fact this is the best Sporting team in at least one player cycle, makes the Leoes’ +250 odds to lift the trophy intriguing.
The Over 2.5 has hit in six of the last seven meetings between Braga and Benfica, and we expect the two sides to live up to that recent history on Wednesday.
Tuesday Pick: Sporting DNB (Draw No Bet) (-125) / Wednesday Pick: Over 2.5 (-149) or Over 3.5 (+162)