Primeira Liga XI of the season: The best of the best in Portugal’s top flight so far

At the midpoint of what is proving to be an intriguing 2023/24 season in Portugal’s top division, football journalist Andrew Batista selects the top individual performers to create the Best XI of the Liga Portugal thus far…

Halfway through and it’s been a season of surprises, serious stakes, and super Swedes, we’ve had it all in the Primeira Liga setting the stage for an exciting second half of the campaign.

Here are the standout performers in my best XI of the season so far. 

Goalkeeper | Diogo Costa | FC Porto

Diogo Costa stands out as one FC Porto’s brightest jewels, a beacon of brilliance in a team that’s weathered a few recent storms. Costa has pulled out some strong performances in games where Porto were struggling. Epitomising the modern-day goalkeeper, boasting exceptional shot-stopping skills, lightning-quick reflexes, and incredible distribution. Porto owe much of their strong defensive record to Costa, having only conceded one less goal than Benfica who have conceded the fewest.

Right-back | Costinha | Rio Ave

Rio Ave have faced a challenging season, marked by their transfer ban in the summer and a string of unfortunate results. Costinha however has been one of the bright sparks for the Vilacondenses. His impressive contribution includes two goals and four assists, a great return from a single player for a team that has only found the net 19 times. He’s no slouch in defence either, leading the league in blocks.

Centre-back | António Silva | Benfica

The young, prodigious defender has had a stand-out season so far for Benfica. With just 11 goals conceded in the league, Benfica has proven a tough nut to crack, with Silva playing a significant role. Acting as Jekyll to Otamendi’s Hyde, the duo have formed a formidable defensive partnership. Antonio Silva’s remarkable defensive attributes stand out, which finds him in the top 5 in the league across almost every defensive metric – a testament to his impressive ability at such a young age.

Centre-back | Ousmane Diomande | Sporting CP

Sporting have conceded a fair few goals this season, a consequence not of defensive vulnerabilities but rather their daring, all-action style of play. Diomande emerged as a dynamo in defence, blending his imposing physicality and quickness with impressive vision and ability on the ball. In a league landscape increasingly marked by pressing tactics, Sporting is certainly the gold standard for how to play out of tight situations, with Diomande playing a vital role in this aspect of Sporting’s game.

Left-back | Nuno Santos | Sporting CP

One of Sporting’s more important players, Nuno Santos has been a staple in this team since his move from Rio Ave in 2020. Offering a wealth of experience, filling a crucial role in guiding this young Sporting team. Santos brings intelligence, trickery, and remarkable vision, particularly with cutbacks and early crosses, adding a layer of finesse to Sporting’s attack.

Centre Midfielder | João Neves | Benfica

Everyone is talking about João Neves. He’s become a bedrock in that Benfica midfield justifying Roger Schmidt's unwavering faith in him. This exciting young player possesses buckets of potential whose ceiling is hard to predict. Neves showcases the perfect blend of ferocity and quality and oozes maturity. His remarkable ability to carry the ball from deep into the attacking third, coupled with his stellar tackling skills (leading the league in tackles won), and that emotional equaliser in the Lisbon derby have catapulted João Neves into high demand across Europe.

Centre Midfielder | Alan | Moreirense

A player who has maybe flown under the radar, Alan, now in his second season at Moreirense, has become a pivotal figure in a team that’s quietly having a great campaign. Alan possesses exceptional vision and precise passing, challenging defences and contributing to Moreirense’s great run which saw them unbeaten for over three months until recently. If he keeps this form up, the sky’s the limit for where Moreirense might finish this season.

Centre Midfielder | Gustavo Sá | Famalicão

Famalicão are an exciting, attack-centric team with a squad boasting talents like Chiquinho, Théo Fonseca, and Jhonder Cadiz. However, Gustavo Sá has emerged as a standout becoming a lynchpin in midfield, orchestrating with his remarkable vision and along the way scoring one of the contenders for goal of the season.

Left Wing | Ricardo Horta | SC Braga

Ricardo Horta is the best player outside of the big three in Portugal, that’s no secret. In yet another stellar season Horta continues to shine brightly in a team that are improving each season and a manager who knows how to get the best out of Horta. With an impressive tally of seven goals and two assists, he’s been their most important player and an important part of how Braga do what they do so well.

Striker | Viktor Gyökeres | Sporting CP

Sporting’s phenomenal talisman, Gyökeres, has been a revelation this season. He makes this list despite not being the league’s top scorer (sorry Simon Banza) and also what he provides for Sporting besides goals. Gyökeres’s dynamic runs into wide areas create space for wingers Marcus Edwards and Pedro Gonçalves and disrupt defensive structures. It’s not often the legendary Pepe is made to look so average in this league, but he was against Gyökeres, who has racked up thirteen goals and seven assists which is just incredible for someone who was on nobody’s radar.

Right Wing | Marcus Edwards | Sporting CP

To cap off this Sporting-heavy XI of the season is the exciting Englishman Marcus Edwards. In his fifth season in Primeira Liga, Edwards is playing the best football of his career. His trickery, pace, and adept finishing add an exciting edge to Sporting’s exciting style of play.

Final Thoughts

Squeezing the standout performers into just eleven spots feels almost unfair with the brilliance displayed by some other great players, a few honourable mentions like Moreirense’s hard tackling Gonçalo Franco, Braga’s goal machine Simon Banza, Arouca’s crafty Spaniard Jason, the enigmatic Rafa Silva from Benfica or Porto’s pillar in midfield Alan Varela.

There are sure to be a few twists in store in a title race poised to keep us on the edge of our seats and a fierce battle for European spots – with most of these players set to play a pivotal role in the dramatic conclusion to this season.

 

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