On the back of an excellent win at home to big-spending Paris Saint-Germain in midweek, Porto return to domestic action on Sunday (8.45pm, BST) when they host struggling Sporting Lisbon at the Estadio do Dragao.
Porto played superbly well in their defeat of PSG, defending solidly and breaking quickly through the pace of wingers James Rodriguez and Silvestre Varela. Joao Moutinho was outstanding in midfield, distributing quickly and effectively and making well-timed runs in support of the forwards.
Having won 2-0 away to Dinamo Zagreb in their opening Champions League fixture, Porto are now in a strong position to reach the knockout stages, even at this early stage of group play.
Domestic performances have yet to reach the same level, but Porto are currently undefeated, with three wins and two draws to date. They are second in the table, level on points with leaders Benfica and a point ahead of third place Sporting Braga, the two teams they triumphed over in last season’s title race.
The departure of Hulk to Zenit Saint-Petersburg is yet to be particularly keenly felt, with Porto scoring nine times in the five matches since his big-money move. They will, though, need to start getting more out of Colombian striker Jackson Martinez, who has scored four in five in the league but is not yet functioning effectively in general play.
With Benfica losing both Javi Garcia and Alex Witsel in the summer transfer window, Porto are, on paper, the best team in Portugal. Former assistant Vitor Pereira now looks fully comfortable in the head coach position and is beginning to stamp his mark on the team. They seem set for a good season, domestically and in Europe.
That certainly cannot be said for Sporting, Porto’s opponents on Sunday. The Lisbon giants have taken just six points from their opening five league fixtures. In the Europa League they have just one point from two group stage matches and suffered an embarrassing 3-0 defeat away to Videoton of Hungary on Thursday.
Sloppy, error-strewn defending was again in evidence, as it had been in the 2-2 draw at home to Estoril in their previous league match. However, despite Sporting’s best efforts there was to be no repeat of the late comeback that had salvaged a point in that fixture. Qualification for the knockout stages of the competition now looks a tall order.
The performance displayed all of Sporting’s worst traits. Coming, as it did, at the end of a generally poor run of form it was always likely to lead to a change in the dugout. It was therefore little surprise when the club announced on Friday that Sa Pinto had been relieved of his duties, with B team coach Oceano taking temporary charge for Sunday’s match.
Sa Pinto had arrived at the club in February 2012, replacing Domingos Paciencia. Sporting were fourth at the time, with 32 points from 18 matches, a rate of 1.77 points per match. His appointment precipitated an improved haul of 27 from the final 12 matches of the season, at a rate of 2.25 points per match, but still left them fourth come the end of the campaign.
Despite quite an active summer transfer window, Sporting have been unable to continue similar form into this season. Sa Pinto tinkered with the team’s formation on a couple of occasions, but none of his changes had the desired effect.
Sporting have struggled to get sufficient service to their primary striker Ricky Van Wolfswinkel and have looked susceptible to rapid counter-attacks. Were they not so adept at scoring late goals – three of the five they have scored have come in the final 15 minutes – their points total could be even worse.
Porto vs Sporting Lisbon Betting Tips
The speed with which Porto attacked was one of the key facets of their victory over PSG. Oceano is unlikely to find an immediate cure to Sporting’s vulnerability to quick breaks and therefore a Porto victory looks likely.
Porto are strong favourites (best @ 4/7 with Blue Square) and have the requisite attacking talent to ensure a comfortable margin of victory.