Liga NOS 2017/18 is at the halfway point and ‘Os Três Grandes’ are dominating proceedings as is the custom.
Porto, Benfica and Sporting gather most of the headlines but there have been no shortage of extremely talented performers from the sides below them, who are well worth highlighting in their own right.
The following team of the season excludes players from the aforementioned trio, and PortuGOAL believes this hypothetical XI would give any of The Big Three a run for their money. Do you agree with Jamie Farr’s selection?
Goalkeeper - Cláudio Ramos (Tondela)
This position, like many, was hugely difficult to narrow down with the likes of Braga’s Matheus and Marítimo’s Charles showing great improvements this year. However, I’ve selected Tondela’s number one Ramos as he has been consistently excellent as ever. Without him they likely wouldn’t even be in the division at present, let alone enjoying their best ever start to a top-flight season, sitting in 10th place in Liga NOS. Ramos’ ability to pull off miraculous saves and come out on top in 1v1 situations is up there with the very best in the country.
Right-back - Ricardo Esgaio (Braga)
A talented player who has gone from strength to strength since leaving Sporting last summer. Involved in the deal that brought Rodrigo Battaglia to Lisbon, Esgaio has benefitted from a regular run in the team and become a vital cog in Abel Ferreira’s side. Although selected here at right-back, Ferreira has also used Esgaio further up the pitch on the right wing to equally good effect, this versatility being an important part of Braga’s superb season thus far.
Centre-back - Zainadine Júnior (Marítimo)
Former Nacional centre back Zainadine returned to Portuguese shores in January 2017 after a spell in China with Tianjin Teda and this season in particular has been a big reason as to why Marítimo have had one of the best defences in the country. There was big pressure on him to step up as a senior defender after the departure of central defenders Raul Silva and Maurício who performed so well for the islanders last season. He has responded with a series of composed displays at the heart of defence. He’s missed the last two league games for the team due to registration issues, in which they’ve lost both and conceded 7 goals in the process: not a coincidence.
Centre-back - Marcelo (Rio Ave)
The 28-year-old Brazilian has been a key part of Rio Ave’s defence since moving from Leixões in June 2012 but this season has seen him regain his consistency after arguably a couple of slightly mixed seasons of late. Whether he has been partnered with compatriot Marcão or talented youngster Nélson Monte, his leadership has been vital in Rio Ave currently occupying 5th place in the division, and having the 5th best defensive record along with it. He qualifies for this list but perhaps not for much longer: Jorge Jesus’ Sporting are reported as close to his signature.
Left-back - Lumor (Portimonense)
Another competitive area to choose from. Jefferson has regained his form since his move from Sporting, while Joãozinho has been a solid acquisition for Tondela. However, one full-back who has been quietly impressive is Ghanaian Lumor, for promoted side Portimonense. The player reportedly attracted interest from Nice in the summer and his displays this season have showed why. The team in general have struggled at times for consistency but the 21-year-old looks a good prospect for the future and will likely have no shortage of options if the club are unable to keep hold of him this year.
Defensive midfield - Idris (Boavista)
Another quietly effective player who deserves a shout-out in this team is Boavista captain Idris. The anchorman has been a big part of the side for the past few seasons and like his team-mates has gone up a level since the arrival of Jorge Simão as manager in the middle of September. Idris was particularly good in their memorable 2-1 victory over champions Benfica in Simão’s first game in charge. The Black Panthers currently occupy the top half in what has been a very good season for them. Rio Ave’s Pelé has been excellent this season too but with Rio Ave already heavily represented in this list, Idris makes the cut.
Centre midfield - João Novais (Rio Ave)
If this list was written at the end of October, João Novais’ name wouldn’t have been anywhere near consideration. Up until that point he had been limited to a handful of substitute appearances to little effect, but November onwards has seen a player transformed. A frankly staggering run of goalscoring has seen his name linked not only with Sporting but the also the Portuguese national team: at the time of writing he has 9 goals from his last 8 matches in all competitions. What’s more impressive is that a number of these goals have been spectacular efforts from distance: a last minute free-kick winner against Moreirense in early December a particular highlight.
Attacking midfield - Rúben Ribeiro (Rio Ave)
Cheating slightly with this entry as Rúben Ribeiro is now the property of Sporting after a transfer was recently agreed but they were persuaded to sign him after his sensational form for Rio Ave this season. He has been an obviously talented player for a few seasons but 2017/18 has been a breakthrough campaign for the 30-year-old, finally showing the consistency and end product that had been missing previously. Equally comfortable playing from central attacking areas as well as starting on the left flank, in terms of close control and ball retention ability there aren’t many better in the division.
Right wing - Raphinha (Vitória Guimarães)
A magnificent personal season from the 21-year-old Brazilian. Superb ability on the ball, with the ability to play on either flank. The main feature of his game that his improved this season however is his finishing. Having bagged 10 league goals already this campaign, only Jonas (Benfica), Bas Dost (Sporting), Aboubakar and Marega (both Porto) can better that record. Unsurprisingly this means Raphinha is a man in demand: Sporting and Porto are set to do battle for his signature, and Vitória will do well to keep him for much longer on current form.
Left wing - Shoya Nakajima (Portimonense)
The Japanese winger has proven an outstanding acquisition for Portimonense since his arrival on loan from FC Tokyo in September. What is notable about Nakajima is how little time it has taken him to adapt to Portuguese football. A substitute appearance for his debut in a 3-1 Taça da Liga victory over Chaves straightaway gave us a glimpse into what he is capable of: superb movement, knows when to pick out a pass, and a directness in his play that has proven a nightmare for opposing defenders to cope with. Like a number of the other attacking players on this list, he has not been short of goals either, his 7 strikes in the league put him level with Sporting and Selecão star Bruno Fernandes.
Striker - Gonçalo Paciência (Vitória Setúbal)
Arguably the hardest position to pick. Below the top 3 sides, goalscoring centre-forwards have been a little hard to come by, as well as a number of them going through patches of struggling for regular selection and/or fitness. However, on current form, and also future potential, the slot goes to Gonçalo Paciência, on loan at Vitória Setúbal from Porto. Paciência struggled for goals in Liga NOS loan spells with Rio Ave and Académica in the past few seasons but there are signs of things coming together for him in what is a struggling Setúbal side. Five goals from his last 6 games in all competitions, including a match-winning brace against Braga to reach the Taça da Liga semi-finals, suggests the talented 23 year old is finally heading in the right direction.
Honourable mentions: Charles (Marítimo), Matheus (Braga), Jefferson (Braga), Raúl Silva (Braga), Lionn (Rio Ave), Flávio (Feirense), Joãozinho (Tondela), Vukčević (Braga), Danilo Barbosa (Braga), Paulinho (Portimonense), Pelé (Rio Ave), David Simão (Boavista), Lucas Evangelista (Estoril), Pedro Tiba (Chaves), Murilo (Tondela), Rodrigo Pinho (Marítimo), Hélder Guedes (Rio Ave)
by Jamie Farr