Sporting Clube de Portugal‘s season is on course to be historic. With two games to go in the Portuguese championship, the team coached by Ruben Amorim has managed to regain the Liga NOS crown, which it had not held since 2002, with Mario Jardel as centre-forward. What’s more, they can do it without losing a single match. Amorim and his team are currently undefeated and can finish the season unbeaten.
The 36-year-old Portuguese coach has built an impenetrable Sporting, with defensive numbers that are simply unbeatable.With 15 goals conceded in 31 games, the Liga NOS leaders play a 3-4-2-1 formation that allows just 7.1 shots per game, second only to Manchester City in Europe’s top five leagues. Indeed, the Lisbon team last season conceded 10.3 shots per game.
Inseparably, offensively, over and above productivity and attacking volume, Sporting stand out for their effectiveness, getting a lot out of their 56 goals, including 18 goals from 22-year-old star playmaker Pedro Gonçalves, another of the great gems of Braga’s youth academy and of Portuguese football. Of all the other characteristics we can point to, none have a similar impact to his shooting and finishing ability. His ratio of goals to xG (expected goals), as well as his 10 goals in the first six rounds of the championship, bring Sporting closer to the title.
His 2020/21 season demonstrates his enormous progression despite the leap from a more modest team like Famalicao to one of the big three clubs in Portugal. The confidence in Amorim has been rewarded with growth on the part of Gonçalves, mainly in his goalscoring output and presence in the opposition penalty area.
We are talking about a playmaker with great freedom to appear on the step before his area of greatest influence, which is behind the midfielders. In order to get forward and make the final pass, two particularly notable attributes in Gonçalves, the Portuguese player drops from the midfield towards the central area and the right flank (see map below) to then attack the spaces generated when he comes to receive, either for the final pass or the shot on goal as a finisher. He is a player who enjoys and makes a difference when finds his attacking team-mates.
Pedro Gonçalves’s zonal passing map 2020/2021
To do this, Amorim releases his wing-backs, Nuno Mendes and Pedro Porro, very powerful and disciplined, ensuring the width for both Gonçalves and Nuno Santos to make all kinds of movements inside: driving, combinations with the midfielders or with the wing-backs. The depth of Sporting’s flanks allows Gonçalves the necessary height to reach goal with the advantage of time and space.
His very high production has a direct reflection between his performance and that of midfielders in the top five leagues (Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1), being the second player in scoring contribution, only behind Aleksandr Golovin. Like other leading Portuguese players, such as Bruno Fernandes or Diogo Jota, Gonçalves could be worth a lot of money in the future thanks to his quality in shooting.
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