Portugal: A goalscoring problem? A Closer Look

Yesterday, Raphaël Guerreiro became the 2nd top Portuguese scorer across Europe’s Top 5 leagues behind Cristiano Ronaldo. One side of the coin is that Raphaël has done extremely well, excelling in his more advanced role for Dortmund. Since the resumption of the Bundesliga following the enforced break, he has managed to find the back of the net 3 times in 2 matches and has taken his contribution total in the league to 8 goals and 3 assists. The other side of the coin is that a wing-back who isn’t yet in double figures is currently outscoring every Portuguese attacking midfielder, winger or striker across the Top 5 European Leagues, Cristiano Ronaldo aside.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

This apparent lack of attacking potency has perhaps come at a good time, Portugal’s defence of their 2016 European crown has been postponed until next year. This enforced delay gives those attacking players another season to, in some cases, develop as players and in other cases, to get over injuries that have hampered them this season.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers (League only):

Cristiano Ronaldo – 22 games | 21 goals | 3 assists

Raphaël Guerriero – 22 games | 8 goals | 3 assists

Gonçalo Paciência – 22 games | 7 goals | 3 assists

Diogo Jota – 25 games | 6 goals | 1 assist

Bernardo Silva – 24 games | 5 goals | 5 assists

André Silva – 16 games | 5 goals | 3 assists

João Félix – 20 games | 4 goals | 1 assist

Ricardo Pereira – 28 games | 3 goals | 2 assists

Renato Sanches – 16 games | 3 goals | 1 assist

Pedro Neto – 21 games | 2 goals | 1 assist

Rafael Leão – 21 games | 2 goals | 1 assist

Both Pedro Neto and Rafael Leão are uncapped at senior level but have been included due to the fact they’ve played 20+ senior games in an elite league.

The first thing that jumps out is that no player (aside from Cristiano) has reached double figures for goals.

Gonçalo Paciência and André Silva: The battle to be Frankfurt’s starter

Gonçalo Paciência (25) and André Silva (24) are two strikers battling it out for the same spot, the number 9 position at Eintracht Frankfurt.

Image via Getty Images

Out of the 22 Bundesliga appearances Paciência has made this season, 15 have been starts. All 7 of his league goals have come from games he has started. When you take into consideration that he has 7 goals in 15 starts, those numbers begin to look a lot better and indicate that when he is selected in the starting XI, he is providing just under a goal every other game. The keyword, however, is when.Gonçalo is competing at Eintracht with Bas Dost and André Silva for a place in a team that predominantly plays with 1 striker. Earlier in the season, Adi Hütter initially set Eintracht up with a 2-man strike-force, alternating between both a 3-4-1-2 formation and a 3-5-2. However, on Matchday 15 Hütter decided to change things up, reverting to a 3-4-2-1. Since then, he has stuck with a lone-striker formation, alternating between a 3-4-2-1, a 4-4-1-1 and occasionally a 4-2-3-1. The main issue facing both Silva and Paciência, is that these now-favoured formations only accommodate one striker. Since the 15th of December, Hütter has utilised a formation with two strikers just once in fifteen matches. Gonçalo’s priority has to be convincing Hütter that he is the man to start in the Bundesliga and get the goals. He has performed well so far this year, as evidenced by his numbers and has shown that when he is starting, he is reliable. He needs to continue in this vein when he is back from injury and next season, in order to secure a Seleção spot for next year’s European Championships.

We now move on to Gonçalo’s club-mate, André Silva.

André has had a somewhat tumultuous time since leaving FC Porto in 2017. A permanent transfer from Porto to AC Milan brought with it little playing time and even fewer goals. A loan to Sevilla was next for André and a strong start to the season looked to indicate that he had put his poor form behind him, that was until he hit another slump in the second half of the season, poor form coupled with an injury meant that Sevilla declined to make the transfer permanent. He started the season with the Rossoneri before Silva was once again on the move. This time, a 2-year-loan to Eintracht and it has been here where he has come closest to replicating his FC Porto form.

So far this season, André Silva has 5 goals and 3 assists despite only starting 8 matches. 4 out his 5 league goals have occurred in games where he has started the match, the other coming after he was brought on at half-time, showing that just like Gonçalo, André’s by far at his most productive when named in the starting XI. He was really getting into his groove before the Bundesliga was postponed:

“Sure, I was in top form lately,” he told Bild. “But at a time like this, when everyone is fighting against a virus, I can’t just look at myself. Human safety is the only thing that matters.”

It is easy to see why both Silva and Paciência do not have higher G+A numbers, to get the best out of them, ideally, they both need to be starting, which again to reiterate, is nigh on impossible when playing in a system that for the most part, only allows for a solitary striker. Then, when it is factored in that Frankfurt also have Bas Dost in the squad, who according to TransferMarkt has started 46% of matches, it’s clear to see that the same striker playing each week in the Bundesliga for Eintracht, just isn’t going to happen. Both André and Gonçalo, for the time being, will have to continue to work on the training ground and in games to prove they are worthy of a starting position, as well as hoping that one day, Hütter decides to revert to a 2-striker formation.

João Félix: A season of injury and adaptation

The Atlético man has had somewhat of a strange first season thus far. An ankle injury in October put the end to 9 successive Liga starts and kept him on the sidelines until mid-November, he missed 4 La Liga games in total. In his return to the side, he played up-front with Alvaro Morata, playing off the Spaniard and often drifting out wide in-game. He played 8 successive games in La Liga before again getting injured. During these 8 games, he failed to hit the back of the net or make an assist and Atléti won just 2 games. He then missed another 3 Liga matches with a leg injury before returning late February with arguably his finest Atlético form so far. 2 goals in 3 La Liga games coupled with an assist in the Champions League against Liverpool shown that he is capable of adapting to Simeone’s system and simply just needs time. It is important to note that amidst all the media-driven hype surrounding his price-tag and name, he is still just 20 years old. Félix, who had only played just over half a season in the top flight for Benfica, is now at one of the biggest clubs in Europe, in one of the best leagues in the world and above all else, he has had to quickly adapt his game in order to perform for a side who play a more conservative style of football than he has ever played before. This is something that Félix is more than aware of, speaking after the Champions League tie against Liverpool he said: “I wasn’t used to playing for so long without touching the ball…so I had to get used to it”, “When I touched the ball, I made two passes, one gave a goal (an assist), the other was almost”.

Under Simeone, his chances in front of goal have been less frequent than if he were at a free-flowing, attack-minded outfit, João knows this. So João is working and working hard on his productivity. João returned to the starting XI with an increased attacking ruthlessness, taking better care with his touches and chances, knowing they come more at a premium than they did in Liga NOS with Benfica.

The timing of the league’s postponement came when João was really beginning to heat up and whilst there are remaining La Liga matches to play (the league resumes in June), it is next season where we will hopefully see João Félix flourish and if he can stay injury-free, expect those numbers for both goals and assists to rise.

Diogo Jota: Positional Sacrifice at Wolves

Diogo Jota is a relative newcomer to the Seleção set-up, but the 23-year-old is a player that many believe could be a valuable asset to Portugal in the coming years. This season in the Premier League for Wolves, he has been inconsistent, to say the least. 9 goals in 12 Europa League games (Qualifying and Proper) is a far cry from his 6 goals in 25 Premier League games.

Image courtesy of Wolves

After a slow start to the season for both Wolves and Diogo which saw Wolves go 6 consecutive league matches without a win, Jota was moved from centre forward to a left-wing role and Wolves’ overall performance improved. His positional change directly correlates with Wolves going from no win in 6 to a run of just 1 league defeat in 11 games. This transition from playing in a 2 with Raúl Jiménez to playing in a front 3, allowed the mercurial Adama Traoré to operate further up the pitch, going from wing-back to winger. For all of Wolves’ improvement since moving to a 5-2-3, Diogo’s own numbers dipped. In the 13 league games he played before getting injured, he played 11 of them on the left side of a this front 3, during this time he scored only twice, contributing 0 assists. He received a knock in the 2-1 defeat to Watford and then spent nearly a month on the sidelines, missing 2 Premier League and 2 FA Cup matches. His return to the side saw him again playing predominantly as a left-sided attacker. That was until the clash with Norwich. For this game, Nuno reverted to a 3-5-2, with Jota taking up a more central role alongside Jiménez, with Adama dropped to the bench, the result? Jota scored 2 of his sides 3 goals and was voted Man of the Match.

The previous season (18/19) was statistically Jota’s best of any top-flight campaign with 9 goals and 5 assists but just like the 19/20 campaign, it didn’t start this way. Diogo played as a left-winger for the first 10 league matches of the season and didn’t score a single goal or make an assist. Nuno then began deploying Jota primarily as a forward in a 2 with Jiménez. He then went on to score 9 goals and contribute 5 assists in 20 matches. Whilst it’s not complex to work out that Jota’s potency improves tenfold when he is played centrally, (the statistics clearly show that), an issue for Jota comes in the form of positional sacrifice. Nuno clearly sees that the best and most viable way of getting both Diogo and the at times unplayable Adama in the side is by deploying Jota as a winger. On the one hand, this is detrimental to Jota’s overall numbers (G+A) but this way Adama is also able to play and make an impact, not to mention Wolves’ team performance usually improves with a front three.

The solution? Diogo Jota will simply have to continue his ongoing work of becoming more productive from a wider position in terms of goals and assists. One of the biggest complaints from the Wolves faithful of Diogo, when he is out wide is his decision making, keeping hold of the ball too long and sometimes overcomplicating play. These 3 things will surely improve over time, Diogo is still only 23 and in his second season in the Premier League. Playing out wide requires, for the most part, a wholly different skillset to playing as a striker. It will take time for his productivity to improve from these wider positions.

Simply put, the longer he plays out wide, the better at it he should get.

Wolves and FC Porto supporters know especially that the talent is quite abundantly there, he has showcased it enough for all to see, for now, he has to keep improving and challenge for that Seleção spot, the blessing in disguise for Diogo is the postponement of the Euros. He now has until 2021 to really hone his craft and claim a spot on the plane.

The Absentee’s

You may have noticed the absence of Gonçalo Guedes on the list. The goal scorer in the inaugural Nations League final and a man who already has 6 goals for his nation despite only starting 10 games.

That is because he is on 0 La Liga goals for Valencia this season, in what has been an incredibly frustrating campaign for the former Benfica man. Guedes was absent for 14 straight games for Valencia with an ankle injury, his time on the sideline stretched from mid-November to February. After so long out, his time back on the pitch was sporadic as he attempted to gain fitness. Playing 31′, 60′, 45′ and 18′ respectively. Then with the spread of COVID and the postponing of La Liga, Guedes has been unable to get back on the pitch and have a strong end to a dismal campaign. With the postponing of Euro 2020 until 2021, it gives Guedes a chance to kick on next season, improve his numbers and retain his spot in A Seleção.

Bruno Fernandes is another man missing from the piece and missing from the scoring chart. This is simply because his sample size of league games in a top 5 league this season (5) is far too small to even attempt to critique. He has made a fantastic impact so far at Manchester United and if he had joined in the Summer as opposed to January, he most certainly would be appearing in the scorer charts and have a large enough sample size to analyse.

With the leagues returning in the not-too-distant future, let’s hope for a strong end to the season for those Portuguese players who have maybe found thee season difficult due to inconsistency or injury amongst other variables. The goal-scoring talent is there, that much is clear, for those strikers and attackers in question, it’s about continuing to demonstrate it.

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