A combined Porto-Benfica XI
It’s the game we’ve all been waiting for; 1st versus 2nd, the title decider, the classic of Portuguese football. With stakes as high as they have ever been, the match on Saturday evening is sure to be one to watch.
And in preparation for one of football’s most highly-anticipated competitive derbies, we take a look at the Benfica and Porto teams, constructing what we believe to be the best possible combined starting eleven.
The options: Iker Casillas or Odisseas Vlachodimos
Two solid goalkeepers to kick off the article - Porto’s experienced shot-stopper and former World Cup champion, or Benfica’s summer signing Odisseas Vlachodimos. Not an easy call, and the overall decision will likely change depending on who you ask.
As a direct comparison, Casillas has kept 15 clean sheets this season across all competitions, conceding 21 goals in 31 matches. Vlachodimos, by comparison, has also kept 15 clean sheets across all competitions, but has conceded 34 goals in 35 appearances.
Stats, though, don’t tell the full story, and in a league where the big sides are expected to dominate, the goalkeepers of the likes of Benfica and Porto are never the busiest. In any case, Benfica’s 24-year old shot-stopper has undoubtedly impressed with his reflexes and ability in one-on-one scenarios.
Under Rui Vitoria particularly, Odisseas saved Benfica on numerous occasions in the Champions League, impressing against PAOK in the play-off and AEK Athens and Ajax in the group stage. Odisseas gets the nod over the 37-year old veteran.
CHOICE: Odisseas VLACHODIMOS.
The options: Eder Militao or Andre Almeida
Almeida is one of Benfica’s longest-serving players, but is still a player that several fans would consider as the weak link in the team. Militao, by contrast, arrived at Porto in the summer, and has already been attracting interest from some of the biggest clubs in Europe, including Real Madrid.
Almeida struggled quite substantially in the Champions League, particularly against AEK Athens, although generally he’s been relatively solid this campaign, and has even picked up a handful of assists from his deep starting position.
Militao has played as a centreback for a large portion of this season, but after the arrival of Pepe, he has shifted to right back.
CHOICE: Eder MILITAO
The options: Pepe, Felipe, Ruben Dias, Jardel or Ferro
Ferro has been phenomenal since being introduced to the Benfica senior team, looking incredibly solid at the back while also chipping in with a couple of goals, and he has been rewarded with a new long-term contract with Benfica that comes with a huge 100 million euro release clause.
However, since he has only played 5 games for the Lisbon club in all competitions, he really cannot be considered for a best eleven. Maybe in a couple of months time, especially if he continues this form, but not right now.
Ruben Dias is almost universally recognised as Benfica’s best centreback ahead of Jardel, while Porto boast two exceptional options of their own with 35-year old Portugal international Pepe and 29-year old Brazilian Felipe.
Porto’s defence has received admiration amongst vast swathes of the media, and both on paper and in reality it looks incredibly strong and hard to beat. To illustrate that, Porto have only conceded 12 league goals all season, while Benfica have conceded almost double (20).
CHOICE: Felipe and Pepe
The options: Alex Telles or Alex Grimaldo
Two top class left back options here, and it seems harsh to have to leave either of them out of this combined XI.
Both have shown terrific attacking prowess, Telles picking up a couple of goals and 9 assists already this season, Grimaldo by contrast notching 6 goals and 5 assists. They have both also impressed in the defensive department when required, though due to the quality of Porto compared to the rest of the league, that part of their game is rarely tested.
It’s difficult to envisage either of these players staying in the Primeira Liga beyond next season, two players who are constantly linked with the very best clubs across the continent, and ultimately this may be the most difficult decision of them all to have to make.
CHOICE: Alex TELLES.
Options: Jesus Corona, Otavio, Rafa, Eduardo Salvio or Pizzi.
A fair bit of depth on the wings here, as you would expect in the Portuguese League. And really, you can narrow it down to three options: Corona, Rafa, or Pizzi.
Corona has been very impressive for Porto this campaign, having shown his versatility, predominantly playing right midfield, while also being used on the left and at right back too. His trickery on the wing was crucial in Porto’s excellent Champions League group stage, scoring 3 and assisting 1 in 5 games, and his presence was sorely missed against Roma in the Champions League first knockout round.
Rafa, on the other hand, has also been exceptional, grabbing 8 goals and 2 assists in just 17 league outings.
The man that has been particularly impressive, though, is Pizzi. He played a large portion of this season in central midfield, but has been equally terrific on the right since Bruno Lage was promoted to first-team manager, scoring 10 and assisting an outstanding 16 goals in 40 matches across all competitions. It would be a crime not to include him in the team.
The options: Danilo Pereira, Hector Herrera, Oliver Torres, Andreas Samaris, Gabriel, Ljubomir Fejsa or Florentino Luis.
Lots of options in central midfield for this hypothetical combined eleven, as you would expect. Three from Porto, four from Benfica. Lots of options, but perhaps an easy decision overall.
The first battle is between three for that more defensive role - Danilo, Fejsa or Florentino. The latter, as outstanding as he has been for Benfica so far this season, has only played 4 times for the Lisbon outfit this season, and as such the 19-year old can’t really be considered in this team - alethough he has a very bright season indeed.
As such, you then have to choose between Danilo and Fejsa, both of are terrific defensive midfielders and who is better is certainly up for debate.
In the other position, you have to choose one of Hector Herrera, Oliver Torres and Gabriel. Andreas Samaris, for similar reasons to Florentino, can’t really be considered for this team because he hasn’t played regularly for his side, even if he has been performing well in recent games. Of the other three, Mexican Hector Herrera has arguably been the standout.
CHOICE: Danilo PEREIRA and Hector HERRERA.
Options: Yacine Brahimi or Franco Cervi.
Only two real options for this position, and really the decision isn’t too difficult for this one. You could have the likes of Rafa and Oliver Torres in this category too, but they usually play in a different position, so can’t really be included here. As such, it’s out of Brahimi and Cervi.
While both play very regularly for their clubs when fit, Cervi hasn’t set the world alight this campaign, while Brahimi has continued to impress.
CHOICE: Yacine BRAHIMI.
Options: Moussa Marega, Tiquinho Soares, Vincent Aboubakar, Haris Seferovic or Joao Felix.
Porto have three outstanding strikers at their club, which is why it seems extraordinary to suggest that none of them would make a combined eleven.
However, with injury having ravaged Vincent Aboubakar and, to a much lesser extent, Moussa Marega, Porto have had a difficult time with strikers this season, although the latter has been outstanding this season nonetheless, particularly in the Champions League.
Tiquinho Soares has also been very good, with 16 goals in 26 games all season.
But one cannot dispute that it is Benfica’s duo of Seferovic and Felix that have impressed most this season. Swiss international Seferovic has been the surprise package this season, stepping up after a disappointing first campaign with the club, and has a remarkable 15 goals in 20 league outings. His teenage strike partner, Joao Felix, has been equally impressive.
CHOICE: Haris SEFEROVIC and Joao FELIX.