Sporting would have been delighted with Champions League qualification this season — but they are on the verge of a first Primeira Liga title in 19 years instead.
Having romped into a 10-point lead at the summit, Sporting know victory over second-placed Porto tonight, in a game you can watch for FREE on the LiveScore app, will leave them with one hand on the trophy.
The Lisbon outfit's success has been built on a rock-solid defence, conceding a miserly 10 league goals throughout 2020-21.
Here, we take a look how head coach Ruben Amorim has made his side so secure at the back.
It may sound simplistic but often the best way of stopping the opposition is simply to deny them possession.
That was evident during Sporting’s 2-0 victory over Portimonense last Saturday, when they scored two quickfire first-half goals before retaining the ball and seeing out the match at their tempo.
Sporting had 57.1% possession in that game, largely thanks to midfield duo Joao Mario and Joao Palhinha, who completed 90% and 88% of their passes respectively.
One of the challenges of being a goalkeeper at an elite club is that you are called into action less frequently than at weaker sides, so staying alert is a key attribute of any first-class stopper.
Sporting keeper Antonio Adan (pictured above) only had one save to make in that Portimonense clash but was up to the task when called into action, recording a 12th clean sheet of the season.
Incredibly, 60% of Sporting's league games this term have seen their opponents fail to score and that is in part down to Adan, whose 73.8% save percentage is fifth overall in the Primeira Liga.
Amorim has been keen to praise the 32-year-old keeper for the impact his experience has had on his young squad.
He said: "Because our team is so young at certain moments in the game, he brings us calm.
"He has been doing very well, he has already won two goalkeeper awards of the month, even in a team that suffers less shots.
"This is a sign of quality — he is always attentive and he is very focused when he needs to intervene."
Playing high up the pitch
When Sporting lose possession, they are constantly looking to win it back in advanced positions.
This has the obvious benefit of regaining the ball in areas that can lead to goalscoring opportunities. But when done correctly, it can also help alleviate pressure on their backline.
In-form midfielder Joao Palhinha has been crucial to this process, winning an impressive 2.34 tackles per 90 minutes this season, mostly in the middle third of the pitch.
It is not hard to see why the 25-year-old is reportedly on the verge of a first Portugal call-up.
The old adage ‘if you don’t shoot, you don’t score’ is certainly applicable to Sporting’s backline — they have only allowed 7.5 shots against them per 90 minutes in 2020-21.
Former Liverpool defender Sebastian Coates, 30, has relished denying opponents chances this season.
He has made 0.6 blocks a game and uses all his experience to maintain order at the back.
The biggest test yet?
With Benfica below-par, Porto will present the biggest test of Sporting’s backline tonight.
They are the Primeira Liga’s top scorers with 2.25 goals per 90 minutes and star forward Mehdi Taremi has netted three in his last four matches in all competitions — including a fortuitous opener against Juventus in the Champions League.
If their meetings earlier this season are anything to go by, the omens are good. The teams drew 2-2 in the league before Sporting beat Porto 2-1 in the Taca da Liga semi-final.
A repeat of that scoreline and it is hard to see anyone catching Sporting at the top of the table.
Watch Porto vs Sporting live for FREE on the LiveScore app tonight at 8.30pm (UK and Ireland only).