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Casa Pia, Portugal's latest fairytale

Updated: Mar 14

Last season, Casa Pia AC ascended, for the first time in 83 years and only the second time in over 100 years of history, to Liga Portugal, only 3 years after being stuck in Portugal's 3rd tier of professional football.

Their meteoric rise might come as a surprise to a lot but not to Tiago Lopes, Casa Pia’s CEO. In 2020 Lopes convinced Spezia Calcio’s owner Robet Platek to invest in the club and save them from an already announced relegation, under the premise of bringing the Lisbon's historic club to glory.

The goal of being promoted to the top tier has been achieved but can they survive there? We use some of the proprietary solutions developed at Four Nations Football Consulting to dive into Casa Pia's start to the 2022/23 season.

It is still very early in the Liga Portugal season but luckily our Team Strength Rating Solution takes into account all 45 games played and using a solver can bypass a sample shortage problem. The model uses Expected Goals for & against to predict teams' strengths in attack & defence based on who they've played and those teams' relative strengths. Therefore, the classic saying of "they've had a difficult start to the campaign" isn't true because the model takes fixture difficulty into consideration. With that being said, how have Casa Pia settled into life in Liga Portugal? Really well, as is illustrated below:

Casa Pia currently have the 4th best defence (better than FC Porto) & 10th best attack in the league - not bad for a newly-promoted club

Their defence has been conceding 26% less dangerous chances than the average Liga Portugal team this season. This success is largely built on a solid back five who have played every minute of the first five games, apart from Nermin Zolotic, who only missed 30 minutes.

Based on chances conceded, veteran goalkeeper, Ricardo Batista has saved 0.18 goals per game above what the average Liga Portugal goalkeeper would be expected to save. Over a season, this equates to him saving 6.12 goals above average, which would be an unbelievable return. However, his career shot-stopping stats equate to him saving 0.08 more goals per game (2.72 per season) than the average Liga Portugal 2 goalkeeper, so expect his save percentage to drop significantly from the 0.18 above average that it is currently.

In attack, Casa Pia have struggled somewhat but they still create better chances than 8 other teams in the league (12% below average to be exact - with Benfica, Braga & Porto dragging the average to dizzy heights). Each one of their front three have scored one goal this season, with Kunimoto accumulating the highest expected goal involvement per game (0.35 per game), followed by Godwin (0.26 per game) and Martins (0.15 per game).

To assess where Casa Pia's specific strength within their team lies we've created a final score for each of the 11 players who have played most minutes. The final score compares each player's contribution to the team in terms of Expected Goals scored and conceded to players in the same position from other teams in Liga Portugal over the last two years. This allows us to assess which players are performing best in Casa Pia relative to a two-year average of players in their same position. For instance, this allows us to compare Kunimoto's contribution to Batista's (an attacker with a goalkeeper) because they are being benchmarked against players in their positions. Here are the Casa Pia players, ranked from best to worst:

As expected, four out of the back five find themselves at the top of Casa Pia's rankings, with Joao Nunes' very low attacking contribution pushing him further down the list. It is interesting to see that six out of Casa Pia's starting XI are better than Liga Portugal average (final score of more than 0).

Lucas Soares, signed from Vitoria Guimaraes B and Kunimoto, signed from Jeonbuk Hyundai are both in the top five of Casa Pia performers this season, which indicates great summer transfer business by the club. Joao Nunes might be forgiven for his low attacking output due to the fact that he has to defend when the other two center-backs attack corners but Rafael Martins, signed from Moreinense (relegated to Liga Portugal 2 last season) will be of concern even this early in the season. He amassed 0.31 Expected Goal Involvements (Expected Goals + Expected Assists) last season in Liga Portugal but in a team that is more defensive minded than his former club, he will struggle to reach those heights.

The Liga Portugal season is a long one and not too many conclusions should be drawn from the first five games. However, using some of our solutions it is possible to identify where the strengths and weaknesses of a team lie and also within a team, into the individuals. To maintain their lofty position in the table, Casa Pia will have to create more chances because as mentioned, Batista's shot-stopping will regress to his mean and rotation will have to be implemented in the back five. Is Rafael Martins the answer at center forward? Probably not and it is definitely an area, along with the center of midfield where Casa Pia should be looking to strengthen in the future.

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