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The Return of the Portuguese Primeira Liga: A Reminder of the Current State of Play

The organising body of Portugal’s Primeira Liga has announced that the top-tier football competition is set to resume its 2019/20 season behind closed doors on 3rd June. It has been almost three months since a ball was last kicked, but Stats Perform has all the data you need for a quick refresher.

By: Jamie Kemp, Oliver Hopkins
Primeira League Stars

Following on from the resumption of the Bundesliga, the Portuguese Primeira Liga has become the most recent European league to outline plans to return to action. The Portuguese government had originally given the green light for the league to resume on May 30th, but the June 3rd date has been selected to ensure that stadia can be inspected properly, and players properly tested for coronavirus.

It has been almost three months since Vitória Guimarães beat Paços de Ferreira 2-1 in what would become the last match to be played before the unexpected break, and a lot has happened since then. With the imminent restart of Portuguese football, Stats Perform is on hand to provide a data-driven reminder of the key narratives from the Primeira Liga.

Familiar Foes Battle For Top Spot:

The league will resume with just one point separating old foes Porto (60) and Benfica (59) at the top of the table. This marks a continuation of one of European football’s biggest duopolies, with the Primeira Liga having been won by one of these two teams in each of the last 17 seasons. Sporting Lisbon’s title win in 2001/02 was the last time a different team has tasted victory.

Having failed to win four of their last five league games (D2 L2) – a run started by defeat to Porto in early February – Benfica entered the break in poor form. This has allowed Porto to leapfrog them into top spot.

Before this run of results however, Benfica had only failed to win two of their first 38 games in the Primeira Liga under manager Bruno Lage (W36 D1 L1). Part of this run was a streak of 16 consecutive victories between September 2019 and January 2020, which is the longest winning run within a single Primeira Liga season since Porto between December 2010 and May 2011 (also 16 games).

Unsurprisingly, both sides have been dominant home and away this season. Porto’s home record is the best in the league with 31 points from their 12 games at the Estádio do Dragão. They have won more games (10), lost fewer (1) and conceded fewer goals (6) than any other side at home. On the road, it is Benfica who have been the strongest force, replicating Porto’s home record by winning 31 points from 12 away games.

Both sides are just as effective going forwards as they are in defence. Benfica (52) and Porto (50) have scored the most goals in the league so far. In fact, Porto have scored at least once in each of their last 38 games in the Primeira Liga – this is the longest such streak in the competition since September 2011, when Porto themselves saw a run of 43 consecutive league games scored in come to an end.

Cementing their places in the title race, Porto and Benfica have both been formidable units at the back. The two sides lead the league in fewest goals conceded, as well as expected goals against.

In Benfica’s case, this is typified by the strong performances of goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos and his 14 clean sheets. Despite playing behind an accomplished back four, we can assess the Greek’s role more closely using our Expected Goals On Target (xGOT) metric to deduce the number of goals he has saved his team.

By measuring the quality of each chance directed on target at Benfica’s goal, versus the actual number of goals Vlachodimos has conceded, the 26-year-old leads all goalkeepers in Portugal with a goals prevented tally of 8.8. Only Vicente Guaita, quietly having a brilliant season at Crystal Palace, has prevented more goals across Europe’s top five leagues (9.6). The grand sum is that Bruno Lage’s side have conceded a league-low 14 goals so far; their fewest after 24 games of a Primeira Liga campaign since 2016/17(13).

Odysseas Vlachodimo goals prevented 2019/20

Despite trailing Porto in the table at the time of the league’s restart, Benfica are the only team yet to drop points from winning positions in the Primeira Liga this season, while no side has won more than them from losing positions (11 – joint-most along with Moreirense). They will need to continue this ruthlessness as they seek to overturn Porto at the summit.

Surprisingly, the standout team of 2020 so far has not been either of the two teams locked in the battle at the top. Braga are the only team yet to suffer a defeat in the Primeira Liga this year, while they have taken maximum points in nine of their 10 games (D1), propelling them into third position. With a 13-point deficit between them and Benfica in second place, however, Braga’s form may still only be enough to mark them as the ‘best of the rest’ in Portugal’s top-flight.

Battle at the Bottom:

At the wrong end of the table, bottom side Desportivo Aves have won just 13 points in the Primeira Liga this season – the fewest of any team after their first 24 games of a campaign since Tondela in 2015/16 (also 13). Their season so far has also featured a worrying 19 defeats, which is just one fewer than the two teams who suffered the most losses in the competition in the 2018/19 campaign – CD Nacional and Feirense (20).

As they look to mount a run at survival following the Primeira Liga’s restart, Desportivo Aves will be leaning on their talisman Mehrdad Mohammadi for inspiration. The Iranian has been directly involved in 52% of his team’s goals in the Primeira Liga this season (12/23); the highest ratio of any player for his club in the competition this season.

Elsewhere in the relegation fight, Portimonense find themselves with six points to make up on Paços de Ferreira in 16th position. Portimonense’s season has been marked by a lack of threat in front of goal, having scored the fewest goals (16) and owning the league’s lowest shot conversion rate (5.5%). They will resume the season on a run of 12 games without a victory in the Primeira Liga (D5 L7), the longest current run in the competition.

With Desportivo Aves struggling to maintain contact with the teams above, the battle to avoid the second relegation spot looks like it will go to the wire. Adding to the drama, the two teams above the bottom side – Portimonense and Paços de Ferreira – are slated to face each other on the penultimate day of the season, in a game that could have huge implications in the fight for survival.

Newly-Promoted, but Right at Home:

Famalicão are currently the highest-placed of the three promoted teams in the Primeira Liga, sitting in seventh position at the time of the restart. Their current haul of 37 points is the most by a promoted team in the competition since the 2007/08 season, when Vitória Guimarães had collected 44 points after as many games.

With their starting XI’s boasting the league’s youngest average age (23 years and 349 days), Famalicão have been among the competition’s biggest entertainers in 2019/20. Thanks in part to such youthful exuberance, their games have seen more goals scored than any other team in the league (78), while they’ve also managed to take a number of impressive scalps so far this season – most namely recording a league double over Sporting CP.

Fellow promoted side Gil Vicente find themselves just seven points behind the swashbuckling Famalicão. Likewise, they have also managed to perform well and record some impressive victories along the way, led by their top scorer Sandro Lima with 10 goals. In fact, they opened the season with a victory over Porto, in what was the current league leader’s first defeat in a season opener in the Primeira Liga since August 2001 (v. Sporting CP).

Predicted Finish:

Looking towards how the competition’s restart may unfold, the Stats Perform AI team has provided a simulation to generate a predicted Primeira Liga table. This statistical model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team’s attacking and defensive quality. These ratings are allocated based on four years’ worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for changes in form and personnel over time.

Based on this data, here are the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table:

Simulated Primeira League Table

The outcome of the season is simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position. Click to enlarge.

Porto led by just a solitary point over Benfica when the season was brought to a halt and our model has them holding onto that slender advantage to clinch their 29th title. However, this outcome is only slightly favoured over the 43% chance that Benfica take the crown.

In the chasing pack, the model has both Braga and Sporting CP holding their current positions to quality for the UEFA Europa League.

Unsurprisingly, with their tally of 13 points from 24 games, the simulation has Desportivo Aves finishing at the foot of the table, with the model giving them just a 2.9% chance of survival. The simulation also predicts that Portimonense will join them in the second tier of Portguese football next year, with a 73.6% chance of relegation.

The Scoring Charts:

Carlos Vinicius is the top scorer in the Primeira Liga this season, netting 15 goals in the competition for Benfica. Among players who have netted five or more goals, the striker owns the best minutes per goal ratio in 2019/20, averaging a goal every 87 minutes played.

Looking at his performance using expected goals, the Brazilian’s reputation as a lethal finisher is further enhanced. Having scored his 15 goals from an xG total of 10.6, his overperformance of 4.4 is the biggest positive margin of any player in the competition this season.

As the league is primed to return, Carlos Vinicius will now have his sights on the total amassed by the Primeira Liga’s top scorer in 2018/19 – teammate Haris Seferović – who netted 23 times last season.

Carlos Vinicius Benfica Shot Map

However, since the turn of the year, the Primeira Liga’s most in-form striker has been Moreirense’s Fábio Abreu. The Angolan striker has scored more league goals than any other player in 2020 (7), while boasting an impressive shot conversion rate of 35% in this period.

In fact, Abreu’s seven goals in the competition this year have been scored from just eight shots on target. If the Moreirense striker can hold onto this type of form following the league’s restart, the 27-year-old might well be a contender to chase down Carlos Vinicius as the top scorer in 2019/20.

Primeira Liga 2019/20 - Top Scorers

RankPlayer  Team  Goals  
1Carlos ViniciusBenfica15
3 =Fábio AbreuMoreirense10
3 =PaulinhoSporting Braga10
3 =Sandro LimaGil Vicente10
6 =Toni MartínezFC Famalicão8
6 =Bruno FernandesSporting CP8
6 =Mehdi TaremiRio Ave8
6 =Alex TellesFC Porto8

The Creators:

With Bruno Fernandes since departed for Manchester United, the Primeira Liga now has a unanimous number one when it comes to creative ability. Benfica midfielder Pizzi has been in fine form once again in 2019/20, recurring in his role as the chief creator for the reigning Primeira Liga champions.

Pizzi has provided more assists than any other player in the Primeira Liga this season (8), taking his total since the start of last season up to 26 assists in the competition – also a league-high figure.

Primeira Liga 2019/20 - Most Assists

RankPlayer  Team  Assists  
2 =Bruno FernandesSporting CP7
2 =CoronaFC Porto7
4Alejandro GrimaldoBenfica6
5 =Ricardo EsgaioSporting Braga5
5 =Alex TellesFC Porto5
5 =Carlos ManéRio Ave5
5 =Moussa MaregaFC Porto5
5 =PoteFC Famalicão5
5 =Mehrdad MohammadiDesportivo Aves5
5 =OtávioFC Porto5
5 =Bruno DuarteVitória Guimarães5
5 =LincolnSanta Clara5

The Benfica man has been the catalyst for much of his team’s play once again this season, aiding them in a number of different areas. Along with his total number of assists, Pizzi is highly influential within Benfica’s general play, whether it be controlling possession or constructing attacks. Using Stats Perform’s sequences – which are defined as passages of play which belong to one team and are ended by defensive actions, stoppages in play or a shot – we can also highlight the effect that Pizzi has within this Benfica side.

The 30-year-old has been directly involved in 17 open play sequences that have ended in goals in the Primeira Liga this season; the most of any midfielder, and second only to teammate Carlos Vinicius (19) in the competition as a whole.

Pizzi Benfica Assist Map

Future Star:

One of the main factors aiding Braga’s form in 2020 has been the emergence of midfielder Francisco Trincão. At just 20 years old, Trincão has already established himself as one of the Primeira Liga’s biggest attacking talents, capable of scoring and creating in equal measure.

Since the start of 2020, the midfielder has been directly involved in eight goals in the Primeira Liga (six goals and two assists) – only Moreirense’s Fábio Abreu has had a hand in more in this period (nine). Indeed, Trincão’s tally of six goals is second only to Abreu, who has seven.

Trincao Sporting Braga Shot Map

As previously mentioned, the Braga man offers much more beyond goalscoring though. Trincão has three assists to his name in the Primeira Liga this season, while he leads the league in Stats Perform’s ‘secondary assists’ metric, providing six of these. These are defined as the number of unique goal-ending sequences in open play where a player made the pass to the player who then assisted the goal.

Next door to Portugal, Spain’s La Liga will return from its suspension in June. Stats Perform will again be on hand with the latest on that league, as well as a number of others around the world as football begins to ramp up again.