In football, no two teams play the same way. Whether the differences are as major as the team’s philosophy or formation, to whether the striker drops deep or not, all teams play differently. We can observe these differences though, not just by watching countless games of every team but using statistics to establish the differences.
Firstly, let’s take a brief look at the overall style of all 18 teams in the Liga NOS, by looking at some coxcomb charts.
Coxcombs can visually tell you if a team is amongst the highest or lowest percentile for any major aspect of play. In these coxcombs, we look at direct play (average pass length), crossing (% of chances from crosses), possession (average possession), positional play (% positional attacks), set pieces (% of chances from set-pieces), high pressing (PPDA), defending deeper (average distance of defence), and counter-attacking (% counter attacks). Let’s now highlight some of the stand-out teams.
Porto – Currently top of the league, the Dragons have had some great performances in crucial games throughout the season, including doing the league double over Benfica, which has massively helped in getting them into first at the moment. However, they have had their own hiccups, including failing to pass through the Champions League qualifiers at the beginning of the season. In relation to their coxcomb chart, they stand out in numerous areas including their pressing and positional play, which usually indicates a fit and well coached side. Additionally, as to be expected from the side with the best PPDA value (5.82), they also have the highest duel intensity in the league (7.2), showing that when they go in for a tackle high on the pitch, they usually do not hold back.
Benfica – Considering they lost one of their best players in Joao Felix to Atletico Madrid over the summer, Benfica started really well winning 18 games and picking up one draw up to match week 19. However, they then fell down a slippery slope in their results and consequently, their league position, with one win in their last six games. Nonetheless, they sit one point away from Porto in first, and have the two highest goal scorers in the league, Carlos Vinicius and Pizzi, with 15 and 14 goals respectively. Benfica’s coxcomb is quite similar to Porto’s, showing their similar situations that they face in games due to being big teams, but Benfica often find themselves engaging with the opposition in the middle and defensive thirds, and looking to counter, as shown by 83% of their recoveries coming in the first two thirds.
Braga – Braga can at the moment, be said to be at somewhat of a no-man’s land. They are comfortably above Sporting in fourth who have just lost their best player Bruno Fernandes to Manchester United, but quite far away from Benfica and Porto. Barring lethal set pieces, Braga’s playing style is very reminiscent of Porto’s, with an emphasis on possession retention, using it to create attacks and creating wide numerical superiorities, and having a high press. Indeed, their average PPDA per 90, which is used to measure pressing rate, is 6.97, second in the league only to Porto.
Vitoria Guimares – Probably the team that has gone under the radar to the greatest extent in Portugal this season is Vitoria Guimares. They currently sit in sixth and stand out due to their positional play and crossing levels (20.68 crosses per 90, highest in the league). Their deep-rooted positional play approach can perhaps be seen in their unwillingness to play direct football, (with them averaging a pass length of 21.09m) and their touches in the penalty area (20.49 per 90, highest in the league).
A deeper look – Benfica
Apart from their recent blip, Benfica have looked great this season, and Bruno Lage has undoubtedly set up his team well offensively. Let’s take a look at their attacking team radar and one in-game situation which will help us understand why their statistics look the way they do.
The radar above shows Benfica’s in-depth attacking stats compared to the rest of the league. Immediately what we notice from the radar is how well Benfica rank in terms of the expected goal (xG) metric, including xG per shot which we will be focusing on here. In order to have a high xG per shot, a team must consistently take shots in good positions. With Benfica ranking highest in the league with their xG per shot, we can take away that they create great shooting opportunities with a high level of regularity. Also, the fact that they rank fourth for shots with 12.9 per 90 shows they also release a lot of shots.
At this point, you may be wondering the relevance of xG per shot in our coxcombs. Well, it helps in understanding their positional play value and their counter-attacking value. In positional play, teams attempt to create numerical advantages and await the right opportunity to break through, in order to have the highest chance of scoring, hence elevating their xG per shot value. This means that Benfica’s high xG per shot is reflective of their success using positional play, and shows they are one of the best sides in Portugal for positional play when also looking at the positional attacks stat.
In regards to the relevance of counter-attacking, you are often afforded a lot of space due to defensive deficiencies numerically during the transition. This makes it easier to get into better positions, and therefore increase Benfica’s xG per shot.
Other stand-out teams
Outside of the coxcomb charts, there are a few teams with some rather interesting pieces of data that we will now look at.
Boavista – Sit right in the mix with the other mid-table teams, Boavista, at a glance, only seem to stand-out due to their high level of directness and set-piece chances, and consistency in placing in the bottom three in the league for most metrics (16th for touches in the penalty area and last for offensive duels per 90 just to name a few). However, a striking feature of Boavista’s statistics is their goal spread. As the visual below shows, their goal output is very evenly spread between defenders and attackers. This coincides with their high % of chances created from set pieces, showing that they are a team with a relatively high dependence on set pieces. Indeed, they have actually scored 42% of their goals from set-pieces, compared to 47% from open play and 11% from own goals.
Famalicao – Having just been promoted to the Liga NOS for the first time since 1994, Famalicao have been one of the stand-out teams on the whole in Portugal, having topped the league at match week seven and currently only being two points away from a Europa League qualification spot. They stand-out for three reasons. Firstly, they have impressively scored the fifth most goals in the league (37), only four goals away from third-placed Braga. Secondly, they only lose the ball 90.19 times per 90, which is the second-best in the league, only behind Sporting (85.53). Additionally, no team in the league has better numbers in both metrics than Famalicao, showing their uniqueness in goal scoring and possession retention in key areas.
The third interesting point about Famalicao is their centralised output. In the visual below, the colour and size of a line indicates an increasing or decreasing of the expected goals (xG) and expected assists (xA). We see that for Famalicao, most of the output is coming from the striker and the central midfielders, as opposed to other teams such as Benfica on their right, and Porto on their left.
Similarities in approaches
So far, we have looked at some of the key differences between teams in the Liga NOS. However, like almost every league across the globe, there are certainly similarities between the teams. One of these similarities is the expected goals per shot in the league. Another is the intensity, and another is the number of middle third recoveries. Although scatter plots are usually used for correlation, in this case, we are using the one below to show how close the Portuguese teams are for both metrics, with the range of the axes being the highest and lowest values in Europe’s top five leagues.
What we can say from this is that, on the whole, teams in Portugal play at a very similar pace to each other in regards to match tempo (which is calculated by the number of passes per minute of pure possession) and also where they will regain possession (and therefore lose the ball) the most, two very interesting statistics to be similar, despite the differences we spoke about earlier.
Across this data analysis, we have looked at the unique teams in the Liga NOS such as Benfica, Porto and Famalicao, and what they have done to differentiate themselves from the rest of the teams in the league, whilst also looking at the inevitable similarities within all the teams in Portugal’s first division. From here, in analysing differences within the league, full tactical analyses should be done to assert the statistical differences, however, the data has undoubtedly given us a very solid base to start with, and hopefully aids us in our analysis.