Estoril Praia – On Their Way Up

Seven seasons ago this small club from Estoril, a town 15 miles east of Lisbon, finished in fourth place in Portugal’s top-flight under the tutelage of Marco Silva, making it the clubs highest ever Primeira Liga finish.

Just four years later, they finished rock bottom in the Liga and dropped once more to the Segunda Liga. For the last two seasons, the club attempted to come back up, falling short on both occasions, finishing in third and fifth place respectively.

This Season Will Be The One

For the 2020/21 season, Estoril Praia hired 44-year-old Bruno Pinheiro as manager. A return to Portugal for the coach who had been working with the Qatar National Team coaching the U18, U19 and U20 teams during his period in the Middle East. His arrival in Estoril has had an immediate impact on the team.

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After 17 games played so far, Estoril sit at the top of the table with 38 points – 11 wins, five draws and only one defeat, boasting the best numbers in the division both in terms of goals scored (28) and goals conceded (10).

In the Taça de Portugal, the club is overachieving as well. So far, they have overcome 2 sides from Primeira Liga, beating Boavista 2-1 in the fourth round and beating Rio Ave by the same scoreline in the Round of 16. They will face their third consecutive Primeira side in the competition in the form of Marítimo in the Quarter Final.

The Tactics

They are a very organised team based on simple processes. They don’t create too many opportunities, but the ones they create are usually well-executed, giving them a better chance of scoring. The average age of the squad is just 24.5 years old and only 2 of their first-team players are over 30, in addition to being a very young side, this is also a squad which has very little experience in the top flight, with just three players who have played in the Primeira Liga which makes their progress in the Taça de Portugal all the more impressive.

The team plays in Bruno Pinheiro’s favoured 4-3-3 system, with a more defensive midfielder in Joāo Gamboa and the two other central midfielders, Crespo and Zé Valente, who play in front of him. 

If the team requires it, Gamboa drops between the 2 centre backs to form a back three, the right and left-back move higher up the pitch, taking up a wing-back position and the wingers help to give full width to the attack.

Without the ball, the wingers drop to stay in line with the 2 central midfielders, creating a 4-1-4-1. When playing against a team which has 2 central strikers, Gamboa often drops in between the 2 centre-backs.

In Possession

The team prefers to build up from the back and when Estoril are up against a team who presses high up the pitch with intensity, they try to play behind the opposition back-four, using the speed of both wingers. This is only possible thanks to the centre-backs, especially Hugo Gomes with his great quality of pass to find the wide men.

If the opposition team doesn’t press high and instead chooses to sit deep, Estoril builds their attacks slowly and precisely, trying to play the ball into the 2 central-midfield players, their position is in the half-spaces to split the opposition’s midfielders. When the ball gets to them, their first option is to turn and face the defenders.

Sometimes, when playing against a team who spends most of its time in a defensive structure with a low-block, Estoril shows some problems to create chances. In this situation, Bruno Pinheiro’s team has room for improvement. When the opposition has a numerical advantage in the midfield area, Pinheiro’s men often struggle to find a rhythm and connect their game.

Without Possession

Very well-organised, Estoril normally doesn’t press high on the pitch, they let the ball go to the midfield areas before starting the press. 

The team can drop deep and defend in their own half, in a structure of 4-5-1. However, when the ball gets in wide areas, the team is faced with two issues which are linked. Joāozinho on the left, can at times have difficulty defending 1 vs 1, which in turn gives the central-defenders trouble clearing the ball when the opposition winger manages to beat Joãozinho and provide a cross. At the top level (Primeira), the opposition wingers are of higher quality and their end-product is significantly better, this is something both Estoril and Joãozinho need to be wary of, should they get promoted. When recovering possession, they try to counter quickly using the speed of their front players.

Key Men

Daniel Figueira – Goalkeeper

One of the best goalkeepers in the Segunda Liga. He arrived from Vitória SC B in 2019/20, he is only 22 and already demonstrating a great skill set, he also has good potential to improve further.

One of his key strengths is that he is a very good shot-stopper but he can still improve other elements of his game, including his defending of crosses. With his contract at the club set to run out in July 2021, other clubs will certainly be interested in him. 

Hugo Gomes – Central defender

His greatest assets are both his quality of pass and vision, as well as his reading of the game. Very calm on the ball, he could be used with more efficiency if he had the freedom to drive with the ball as he has the ability to beat an opposition player. Gomes is also a threat from set-pieces, as evidenced by the fact he has four goals in all competitions so far this season.

Miguel Crespo – Midfielder

A central-midfield player who Braga didn’t use this full potential. The 24-year-old understands well what Bruno Pinheiro wants him to do, both offensively and defensively. 

André Vidigal – Forward

The 22-year-old is a very quick and creative player. He is on loan at Estoril from Fortuna Sittard and is a former Portugal U21 international. He is comfortable playing on both the left and the right of the attack, he also has experience playing as a right-wing back.

Final Thoughts

Estoril can go back up to the Primeira Liga, that much is clear. They are, at this moment in time, the best team in the second division, with a good group of players and a young manager who demonstrates high quality in his work. 

The results in the Taça de Portugal also shows that if they keep the same group of players, they will do well next season in the Primeira Liga.

Words by Filipe Melo

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