It’s early on, for sure, but there have been plenty of great performances in the Liga NOS this season already.
Much has been written about the impact of in-form players at Portugal’s biggest clubs, such as Bruno Fernandes and Aboubakar at Sporting and Porto respectively, but in this article PortuGOAL turns the focus on some of the stand-out performers in the Primeira Liga’s more modest teams.
Football analyst Tiago Estêvão lists his top four players (with a bonus two honourable mentions) outside of the Big 3 who have done most to impress in the opening six matchdays.
First off, a reminder that it really is early so the sample being analysed is extremely small and should be thought of carefully, even more so when it comes to anything stat-related. The players in this list are in no specific order and I used only players who have at least 200 league minutes in their legs – a little bit over a third of the total that has been played so far.
Lucas Evangelista (22 - Estoril)
Estoril’s biggest signing of the summer was undoubtedly Lucas Evangelista (pictured above). Heralded as one of São Paulo’s biggest talents a couple of years ago, things didn’t work out great for the Brazilian at Udinese where he didn’t get many minutes and he ended up arriving a loan deal. Upon Matheus Oliveira’s departure, Estoril needed someone to replace him as the midfield’s creator and the deal has worked out so well so far that if he manages to carry similar form until the end of the season he’ll prove vastly superior to his predecessor.
While he has been deployed as more of a No8 early on, Lucas is now the more advanced of Estoril’s midfield trio where he is more comfortable. His technical ability is obvious for anyone who watches him, but his numbers have been solid too. Despite not having an assist yet, his 2.6 Key Passes (passes that lead to a shot) per 90 minutes put him in the league’s top 10 (for players with 200' +) for that metric. Combine that with the fact 57% are forward passes and his passing accuracy of 85.6% (if we include attacking midfielders onwards only, it’s the best percentage in the league) you get an impressive passer of the ball.
He does have a goal to his name but 90% of his shots have come from outside the box so don’t expect that to improve much. While his attacking influence may more or less end there, he’s still putting in work defensively (2.5 Tackles p/90), something also still heavily influenced by his minutes in a deeper position, and these have also added up due to him moving back to launch attacks when Estoril is in a losing position.
Still well in time to fulfil what he promised with São Paulo, he’s one to follow, even more so now upon getting extra midfield support from new arrivals Kyriakou and Pêpê.
Nuno Sequeira (27 - Braga)
Nacional’s last season that saw them get relegated was dreadful but both of their full-backs managed to individually perform way above average and move elsewhere. At 27, Sequeira is the oldest player on this list after signing for Braga this summer. It was a smart, cheap, signing that would offer a club a reliable second option to Jefferson at left-back. While that seemed to be the case at the very start of last month, it isn’t anymore as he is exceeding all expectations.
Known for being solid defensively, what has surprised me is how well he has transitioned into a team with a completely different standard and very different demands from its full-backs. More comfortable in possession than I thought he could be, he has kept his great crossing numbers and went from 0.7 completed dribbles per 90 to 1.7, adding a key weapon to his game. Often taking over a wing that is there for himself due to playing with a drifting attacking mid ahead of him, he has now won the spot and is the complete full back.
At 27, this late bloomer could still make a jump at the end of the season if he keeps this up, especially if shows himself in the Europa League.
Paulinho (23 - Portimonense)
Portimonense arrived in the top level of Portuguese football with a front six way above average for the second half of the table, the promise of positive football and Paulinho as their star man. So far they’ve been delivering, getting two wins and leaving lots of positives in their four defeats against four of last season's top 7.
The Brazilian plays as the most offensive of the three midfielders used by Vítor Oliveira and is a constant offensive threat. Just like the previously mentioned Lucas, Paulinho also has 2.6 KP p/90 which is great as previously explained and he complements it with being an actual goal scoring threat. Often appearing close to the striker to finish plays, he actually takes more than half of his shots from inside the box which is very positive.
A solid dribbler, he’s pretty much the entire package to play in any attacking mid role and is young enough to make the jump. If he perfects his game, improving on the fact that he has one of the league’s highest amount of unsuccessful touches p/90 (3.5) for example, I’m sure he’ll earn himself a bigger contract elsewhere in a year, even if he doesn’t match the 9 goals and 9 assists he finished his 2nd division campaign with.
And judging by his comments after the Benfica match, he certainly does not lack ambition to reach greater heights…
Oghenekaro Etebo (21 - Feirense)
A full Nigerian international (9 matches and a goal) at 21 and a star in their development squads, Etebo arrived in Portugal under a lot of promise and hype. A starter for Feirense last season, he wasn’t as productive as his talent promised and ended up being a bit too inconsistent for my liking. But boy has he made a flying start to this season. Having manager Nuno Manta with them from the get-go helps the team and helps him specifically, too.
While last season he divided his time between the wing and a central area, this time around he has been clicking on the wing (even if he started the season as a false nine). Very quick and athletic, Etebo is also a great ball carrier, which is also the main reason to justify his time as an attacking mid, but has been adding a lot to his game. Not only has he already scored more than last season (3 goals in 500 minutes as opposed to 2 in 2000’) but he’s not overperforming massively, either. While his shooting numbers only went up from 1.7 p/90 to 2, his shots from inside the box went from 0.7 p/90 to 1.8 p/90, an outstanding increase that could be the key to jump-start his career.
Not only has he been more dangerous in front of goal, but he’s been putting up great dribbling numbers too, with 2.5 successful dribbles p/90 (0.5 in 2016/17), the 3rd best in the league only behind elite dribbler Brahimi and Paciência. Now the performances are matching the hype, let’s see if he can keep this up.
Honourable Mentions – Ryan Gauld (21 – CD Aves) & Shoya Nakajima (23 – Portimonense)
They’ve both played under 200 minutes, but I just couldn’t finish this article without giving them a mention. With two outstanding matches for each, the sample is tiny, but it looks exciting. The agile, tricky, winger Shoya Nakajima got an assist and raised eyebrows all over the place with his performance in the country’s biggest stadium v Benfica as he was thrown to the wolves on his debut.
The Japanese then became the first Japanese player to score twice in the league (and the second to score at all) as he got Portimonense a win on Monday. Still a bit too trigger-happy when it comes to his shot locations, Shoya looks extremely talented and will be looking to thrive in the Portuguese club that most explores the Japanese market.
Gauld got the starting spot for Aves and was key in both matches he played, contributing a ton defensively while also being the creator from the left side of Aves’s 4-4-2. Their top player in both the defeat to Boavista and in their first win in the league over Belenenses (in which he scored the decisive goal and his first in the league overall) he fell victim to Marítimo’s pitch conditions this weekend and will be out for around two months.
After what happened last year, and right when fate seemed to be changing for the talented Scot, bad luck struck again.
By Tiago Estêvão