As with any Primeira Liga season, we are seeing young gems come to the fore and impress with their performances. Aaron Barton for Próxima Jornada looks at the top six under-23 performers so far this season based on their average WhoScored ranking.
Key: Name – Age – Club – Nationality – Position – WhoScored rating out of 10.
Pedro ‘Pote’ Gonçalves – 22 – Sporting CP – Portugal – Attacking Midfielder (7.91)
Chaves-born Pote is in the form of his life at the moment and his performances have been integral to Sporting’s wonderful start to the season. Rúben Amorim’s men sit top of the Primeira Liga table and at the time of writing, they are the only unbeaten team in the top two divisions in Portugal. After a stint in Spain with Valencia followed by a move to England with Wolverhampton Wanderers, Pote’s breakthrough campaign came last season after returning to Portugal to play for Famalicão. He was one of the standout stars in João Pedro Sousa’s squad but it is this season where he has taken his game, and his numbers, to another level.
Pote has already matched last seasons goal tally after just five games, scoring five goals. It’s not just his goal return that has improved either, although the sample size of matches is small at this point in time (five games), the difference in the numbers in comparison to last season are clear. Last season he averaged 1.5 key passes per game, this term this has jumped to 2.6 per game. The 22-year-old is also taking more shots on with an average of 2.8 per game compared to 2.2 last season, perhaps due to Amorim utilising him further up the field in comparison to his time at Famalicão.
The graphic on the left shows Pote’s average position for Sporting. When deployed as part of an attacking-two behind the striker, he has the license to drift across and interchange with Nuno Santos. On the right is during his time at Famalicão, operating deeper in midfield.
Nuno Mendes – 18 – Sporting CP – Portuguese – Defender – (7.45)
The second Sporting CP player and the youngest man on the list, Nuno Mendes. Rúben Amorim has shown great faith and confidence in the young left-back, starting him in every Primeira Liga match so far. Operating as a left-wing back in Sporting’s back three/five, Mendes has license to maraud forward and display his tenacious, direct style. He is currently averaging 1.7 dribbles per game, the second-most out of any Sporting player. Defensively he is doing his job also, averaging the third-most tackles at Sporting per game with 1.7 and leads his team with interceptions with a whopping average of 3.2 per game, which is also the second highest in the entire league.
Portugal have been blessed with right-backs in recent years with left-back becoming a bit of a problem position in terms of depth, however if Nuno Mendes continues in this vein, it won’t be long before Fernando Santos comes calling.
Darwin Núñez – 21 – SL Benfica – Uruguay – Striker – (7.35)
Uruguayan Darwin Núñez has taken Portugal by storm. Last season he was scoring and assisting goals for fun for UD Almeria in LaLiga2, Spain’s second tier and he has continued this form in Portugal. Jorge Jesus spoke glowingly about his Uruguayan striker, claiming if sold, he will become Benfica’s most expensive ever sale.
He has started all six of Benfica’s matches in the Liga, forging a terrific partnership with Luca Waldschmidt during that time. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Darwin so far is his unselfishness, in his first four Primeira Liga games, he assisted a goal in each game, demonstrating that he has much more to his game than finding the back of the net (He is currently top of the Primeira Liga assist table). Despite not getting his name on the scoresheet during these matches, he continued creating chances for those around him, namely Waldschmidt. His first goal then came during a Europa League clash against Lech Poznan and it was promptly followed in the same game by his second and then his third, a hat-trick on his European debut. He got his first goal in the Primeira Liga just four days later against Belenenses SAD and we have a feeling it won’t be his last.
Wenderson Galeno – 23 – SC Braga – Brazil – Midfielder – (7.30)
Galeno is a wonderfully talented player who continues to go from strength to strength. Two seasons ago, Próxima Jornada listed him as one of the young talents to watch during his time on loan at Rio Ave, where he racked up a very impressive 11 assists and nine goals in 36 matches. There was speculation regarding whether Porto, who were his parent club at the time, would keep hold of him and integrate him into the first-team but that wasn’t to be the case. He was sold to SC Braga and in his first season (19/20), despite performing well in the UEFA Europa League (most assists in the competition) he didn’t feature as much as he had hoped domestically, starting just 16 of Braga’s 34 Primeira Liga matches in a season that saw him play under four different managers (Sá Pinto, Amorim, Cústodio and Artur Jorge).
Carlos Carvalhal joined Os Guerreiros do Minho in the summer and placed great trust in Galeno, who has went from being a slightly peripheral figure to one of the key components of this Braga side. He has featured in all six of their league matches, starting four and coming on as a substitute in the other two, scoring two and assisting two in the process. Carvalhal has been deploying Galeno on the left-hand side, either as a left midfielder when playing a 4-4-2 or on the left-hand side of a front 3 behind Paulinho in a 4-2-3-1. It’s still early days in the season for a player that in the past has often displayed moments of genuine quality mixed with inconsistency, but if he can keep this current form up, it may end up being his best season yet.
Stephen Eustáquio – 23 – Paços de Ferreira – Portugal – Midfielder – (7.27)
A defensive midfielder with an eye for a pass, Eustáquio has started every game for Paços so far this season and has been impressive, particularly in his last two matches for which he was given consecutive WhoScored Man of the Match awards. Sitting just in front of Paços’ back four and operating as the sole defensive midfielder, Eustáquio is able to affect the game both defensively by picking up second balls and making timely interceptions (he made 4 v Porto, most of any player) and offensively because of his position on the pitch, when there is a turnover in possession he is able to pick out long range passes and start counter-attacks for his side who generally do not have a lot of possession.
In the match v Porto he frequently joined in on the attacks, either by carrying the ball forward and driving his team upfield or joining the attack late and arriving late on the edge of the box, as we saw him do for his goal which put Paços 2-0 up. He also managed to hit the woodwork with a wonderful effort and can count himself a little unlucky he didn’t get a brace.
Angel Gomes – 20 – Boavista – England – Midfielder – (7.23)
The supremely talented Gomes, who recently left Manchester United for Lille OSC before being loaned to Boavista for the season, is enjoying his senior breakout season and after being talked about for so many years, he is now demonstrating exactly what he can do. He has played the least of any player on the list, featuring in four matches and missing the other two through injury, when he has played however he has been magnificent. His Primeira Liga debut v Nacional was the Angel Gomes show. Operating in the number 10 behind Njie, everything Boavista did went through him and he ended the match having assisted all three of his sides goals.
Against Moreirense he scored a goal that won the Golo da Jornada (Goal of the matchweek) for a stunning strike just inside the opposition half.
In the match against Benfica, a 3-0 rout in which he was the stand-out performer, he demonstrated that he can do it against the top sides as well as the so called “lesser teams”. He scored a very well-taken goal and contributed an assist in what was an emphatic performance from Vasco Seabra’s men.