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Sporting CP’s Young Lions Are Roaring Once Again

By: Miguel Tavares

The Primeira Liga has been completely dominated by FC Porto and SL Benfica in the last 18 seasons, with the Dragões winning 11 league titles and the Águias the remaining seven in that span. In the meantime, Portugal’s ‘third’ team, Sporting CP, have had to settle for runners-up in six of those seasons and none in the past four campaigns.

But the early indications this season are that Sporting are as well-positioned as they’ve been in recent memory to end that unwanted trend.

The Leões have got off to one of their best league starts in years. Still unbeaten after 13 games (W11 D2), you need to go all the way back to 1990/91 to find a better start to a Primeira Liga season in Sporting’s history (W12 D1) after the first 13 matchdays.

In fact, that 1990/91 season is the only one in the last 39 years in which they have tallied more wins after the first 13 matches than in the current campaign.

And, as with so many times in the past, Sporting have relied on their youngsters to propel them to the top. The Leões have the fifth-youngest starting XI on average in the league this season (26 years and 64 days).

Looking further back, since Rúben Amorim took over as manager, Sporting’s average starting XI is just over 25 years old (25y 86d), the third-youngest in the league in that span, with only FC Famalicão and Desportivo das Aves fielding more youthful sides on average.

Sporting have been excellent at both ends of the pitch so far. Only Porto have scored more goals (35) than them in the Primeira Liga this season (30), and only Porto (27.5) and Benfica (27.0) have amassed higher Expected Goals totals. Remove penalties from that list and Sporting jump up to second.

But it’s at the other end of the pitch where the Leões’ are a class apart. They’ve conceded the fewest goals in the league this term (8) and kept the most clean sheets of any team (7). Looking further into those impressive defensive numbers shows that Sporting have allowed the fewest shots (108) and the fewest shots on target (31) of any team, while also conceding the fewest Expected Goals Against (xGA) in the competition this term (9.6) – no other team has an xGA of lower than 12.

Despite being one of the youngest teams in the league, Sporting have demonstrated great maturity in the key, closing moments of games. They have conceded the fewest goals in the last 30 minutes (1) and have scored the most in the last 15 minutes (10) among all Primeira Liga teams this season.

Going forward, summer signing Pote is having a memorable start to his debut season. He leads the goalscoring charts with 11 so far – no other player has more than 10. Together with his two assists, his 13 goal involvements lead the league. The Portuguese striker has been in red hot form of late, registering either a goal or an assist in eight of his last 10 league appearances.

But Pote hasn’t been the only shining light in Rúben Amorim’s squad.  Nuno Santos has been bright in his first season at Sporting, notching four goals and assisting another four. Together with Pote, the duo rank among the top five for goalscoring chances created per game.

It’s still early and Sporting have a long way to go to hold off the title challenges of perennial winners Benfica and Porto, who between them have 66 Portuguese top-flight titles. There have been five instances of Sporting starting their league campaign with 13 games unbeaten (including 2020-21). Such is the strength of Benfica and Porto that they’ve not won the league in any those seasons. It will be a challenge, but could this be the Lions’ year?

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