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Darwin Núñez Tops List of the Primeira Liga’s Evolving U21 Stars

By: Miguel Tavares

Darwin Núñez tops our writer’s illustrious list of young stars to watch in Portgual. After analysing the hottest prospects in the Premier League, LaLigaSerie A, Bundesliga, and Ligue 1 we draw our attention to Portgual’s crop of exciting starlets.

As the most expensive signing ever by a Portuguese club, Darwin Núñez landed in Lisbon with the expectation and the pressure that comes with every record transfer. But as soon as the Primeira Liga kicked off, he began to prove why Benfica brought him from Almería – scoring or assisting in each of his first five league appearances. Although he hasn’t been involved in a goal in any of his last three games in the Primeira Liga, there is still no player with more assists than him in the competition.

Even if he has scored only one goal in the Portuguese top tier, he has produced in every other area of the game. Of all forwards, he’s created the third-most goalscoring chances (13) and ranks second for winning possession in the final third of the pitch (13).

His scarce goal production in the league hasn’t been replicated in Europe, with Núñez scoring five goals in the Europa League group stage, a tally only Yusuf Yazici and teammate Pizzi can better (6 each). In fact, Núñez has a better minute-per-goal rate than Yazici, averaging one every 68 minutes, the fourth-best rate of any player to feature for 180+ minutes.

Angel Gomes is having a tremendous debut season in Portugal. He made an immediate impact after arriving from the Manchester United academy, with the young Englishman directly involved in five goals in his first five matches with the Panteras in the Portuguese top tier.

In fact, no other player under the age of 21 has scored more goals (3) and delivered more assists (2) than Gomes in the Primeira Liga this season. He has also created more goalscoring chances (12) than any player in that age group in the top-flight in 2020-21 and of his 12 chances created, nine were from open play.

Angel Gomes comes alive in the final third. He’s dangerous when shooting from range: two of his three league goals have been scored from outside of the box – only Sporting CP’s Pote has scored more than him from that range (3) – and he has also won more fouls in the final third of the pitch (6) than any other player aged 20 or younger, highlighting his threat on the ball.

In 2019-20, Samuel Lino appeared in 20 games with Gil Vicente in the Primeira Liga. He started just five times, and the remaining 15 appearances saw him come off the bench. He scored just two goals in the entire season.

In 2020-21 the Brazilian youngster has already scored three times in eight appearances, and he’s started in seven different games. His three goals this season are a joint-high alongside Angel Gomes among all U21 players.

Although he is still taking his first steps, his opponents are already aware of what he can do with the ball at his feet. After nine rounds of the Primeira Liga season, only one player has been fouled more often than Samuel Lino (29) while he has also completed 10 dribbles past an opponent, a joint-high among all players aged under 21 in the Primeira Liga this season (tied with Sporting CP’s Nuno Mendes).

Lino’s progression and impact on Gil Vicente is as clear as day. He has already taken more shots this season (18) than he did in the entire 2019-20 campaign (17) and it’s also worth noting that his 18 total shots are the most for any player under 21 old in the competition in 2020-21.

Nuno Mendes has become one of the most important pieces in the Portuguese league leader’s squad this season. His average of 83.3 minutes per game in the Primeira Liga in 2020-21 is the highest of any U18 player with more than two games across the top six leagues in Europe.

Mendes has played and started in eight of Sporting CP’s nine games in the Primeira Liga this season with the Leões winning seven of those eight games. The only game in which Mendes wasn’t on the pitch, Sporting CP failed to win – a 2-2 draw away to FC Famalicão.

The left-footed defender has been very active in both defence and attack in the Primeira Liga as he ranks third for most interceptions in the league this season (25) and is the fourth-best defender for most dribbles completed (10).

David Carmo’s season with SC Braga has been something of a rollercoaster. Some of his performances have been excellent and he has caught the eye of clubs from the top five European leagues.

But then, there is always a moment of madness for Carmo, with the defender being the only player to have been sent off in multiple Primeira Liga games this season (2) – both times with a straight red card.

However, the central defender has put in some solid performances in the Primeira Liga. He’s been dribbled past by an opponent only once in the season – only six other defenders have been on the pitch for more than 500 minutes without being dribbled past by an opponent.

Only two defenders to have played three or more games have won 90% or more of their tackles and 75% or more of their aerial duels in the Primeira Liga, and with David Carmo completing 92.9% of his attempted tackles (13/14) and winning 76.9% of the aerial duels he has been in (26/20) it can be easy to understand why he might be the next Portuguese youngster to move abroad.

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