Since signing from Coventry City last summer, Viktor Gyökeres has been a revelation for Sporting. His form has led to links to many of Europe’s biggest clubs, but in the short term, it looks like he could fire his current club to silverware.
I can’t guarantee anything, what I can say is that if any player leaves [this window] it’s through a release clause. Our idea is to not sell anyone in January… I’m calm about it.Rúben Amorim
Those are the recent words of Sporting CP manager Rúben Amorim, who was addressing the growing interest in star striker Viktor Gyökeres. The 25-year-old Swede has only been in Portugal since August and already his name has been strongly linked with a moves to some of Europe’s elite, and for very good reason. Gyökeres has been in phenomenal form since arriving at the Estádio José Alvalade, scoring 20 goals and providing nine assists in 23 matches.
With Sporting perched at the top of the Primeira Liga, one point clear of city rivals Benfica and five clear of Porto in third, and into the knockout stages of both domestic cup competitions and the UEFA Europa League, it is Gyökeres that has given the Sportinguistas belief that he can be the man to drive them to their 20th top-flight title and their first since 2020-21.
The Sporting faithful have fallen in love with their new man, serenading him with a song each time he steps on and off the Alvalade turf.
Back in the summer, his move to Sporting felt somewhat surprising. The Sweden international was heavily linked to clubs in the Premier League after a stellar season in the Championship with Coventry City that saw him not only find the back of the net 21 times, but also finish the season with 12 assists – with no player in the league providing more. His overall goal involvement tally (33) was three more than any other player in the division. So, what Coventry had on their hands was a ruthless goalscorer who is equally adept at creating for teammates and has a physical profile that is unquestionably suited to English football. At this point, a step up into the Premier League seemed almost inevitable.
That was until Sporting, one of Portugal’s Os Três Grandes – or ‘big three’ – threw their name into the hat; a club willing to smash their transfer record to bring this dynamic talent to Lisbon. Sporting offered the lure of European football, something the Swede had yet to taste, and a project guided by Amorim with lofty aims of once more capturing the league title – something they have only done once since 2002.
Sporting pulled the trigger and splashed out big, paying €20 million plus a possible €4 million in add-ons to secure Gyökeres’ signature. It was the first time the club had paid €20m or more for a single player.
Sporting have consistently been outscored by their big-three rivals, Porto and Benfica, especially in recent times. In their title-winning campaign in 2020-21, their first since 2001-02, Sporting scored 65 goals to Porto’s 74 and Benfica’s 69. In the seasons that have followed, Sporting finished second in the Portuguese top flight (2021-22), scoring 73 goals, 13 fewer than winners Porto and five fewer than Benfica. Last season, Sporting dropped to fourth, finishing 13 points behind league winners Benfica and finding themselves (71) outscored by Benfica (82), Porto (73) and Braga (75).
Across the last four seasons, Sporting haven’t seen many players hit 10+ goals: two players in 2022-23: Francisco Trincão (10) and Pedro Gonçalves (15); two in 2020-21: Paulinho (11) and Pablo Sarabia (15); one in 2020/21: Pedro Gonçalves (23); and none in 2019-20.
In February 2021, Sporting broke their then-club record to bring Braga’s Paulinho to the club with the hope that he would help share the goalscoring load with Gonçalves, but since he signed for the club, he has found the back of the net just 26 times in 80 appearances. Seven other players in the division have outscored him in this period. In the two-and-a-half year period between him and Gyökeres joining, few players scored consistently for Sporting.
In Gyökeres, Sporting saw a solution to their goalscoring issues, a player who could help shift the club away from an overreliance on Paulinho and Gonçalves and be the standout star to fire them back up the table and to Primeira Liga glory. So far, he is doing exactly that.
This season, Gyökeres is currently averaging a goal or an assist every 70.8 minutes, which is the best average for a Sporting CP player (500+ mins played) in a single season since Opta’s full coverage of the Primeira Liga started in 2016-17.
In the league alone, the 26-year-old has scored 11 goals from an expected goals (xG) of just 7.16, giving him an overperformance of 3.84 – the biggest overperformance of any player in the division. Of players to have had at least big chances this term – chances the player would be expected to score – Gyökeres has the joint-best big chance conversion rate in the league, boasting a very healthy 66.67%, having scored eight of his 12 big chances so far this season.
When looking at how he has fared across all competitions, the numbers are even more impressive.
In the UEFA Europa League, the former Coventry man has three goals and one assist in five matches; in the Portuguese League Cup (Taça da Liga), he has three goals in one match; and in the Portuguese Cup (Taça de Portugal) he has three goals in two appearances. Add those numbers to the 11 goals and eight assists he has amassed in his 15 league matches and he ends up with a very impressive total of 29 goal contributions (20G 9A) in just 23 matches.
Fans of the big three in Portugal will tell you that a surefire way for a player to become adored by the supporters is by making an impact in the matches against the other big sides. On Gyökeres’ first ever visit to the Estádio da Luz, the home of fierce city rivals Benfica, in November, he fired his side ahead on the stroke of half-time, and as the match went on, it looked like he had secured Sporting all three points. That was until Benfica scored a dramatic double in injury-time to snatch the victory from the Lions.
Fast forward to December, and Sporting welcomed Porto to the Estádio José Alvalade. Once again, Gyökeres was on hand to score the opening goal, the only difference being that this time the Swede made sure he ended up on the winning side, helping his side further by providing an assist for Pedro Gonçalves in the second half to seal a vital 2-0 win. It meant that in two league games against Benfica and Porto, he has two goals and one assist.
His opening goal against Porto served as the perfect example of what the Swedish international is good at. He was able to use his pace to burst down the left channel to latch on to a pass, had the composure to bring the ball under control while under pressure from veteran Pepe, was able to feint before taking the ball to the side of the Porto defender before unleashing a fierce effort in at the near-post past Portugal’s number one Diogo Costa. Gyökeres was already well on his way to becoming a hero at the Alvalade, but goals like this one only serve to expedite the process.
It’s not just for his goalscoring exploits that Gyökeres has gained plaudits; the striker has firmly established himself as someone who can also create high-quality chances for others, leading the Primeira Liga assists charts this season (eight). In his most recent league match against Estoril, Gyökeres became the first player to provide a hat-trick of assists in a single Primeira Liga match this season, and also the first Sporting player to achieve this feat since Bruno Fernandes versus Portimonense back in 2019.
With a strong physical presence and a desire to get on the ball and run at the opposition, Gyökeres is a nightmare for defenders when he picks up the ball and drives forward into attacking areas, whether that be through the middle or down the left flank, where he likes to drift. It’s from out wide that Gyökeres will often look to cut the ball back across the penalty area, usually aiming for someone at the back post or on the edge of the box.
Two of his three assists against Estoril came in this manner – one from the left and one from the right – after he’d made his way into the box and had the intelligence to pick out Marcus Edwards, who was in a better position on both occasions. The two lines closest to the opposition’s goal on the below graphic represent these two assists vs Estoril.
The 25-year-old ranks top of the Primeira Liga this season for carries with a take-on – moving at least five metres with the ball and then taking on an opponent – with 46, fourth for carries ending in a shot (14), and second for carries ending with an assist (3), rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ángel Di María, Rafa Silva and Edwards in all three columns. His willingness to take on players is a huge asset for Sporting. In fact, only Estoril’s Rafik Guitane (54) has completed more dribbles this season than Gyökeres’ 36.
So, what next for the Swedish hitman?
In Gyökeres, Sporting have a player that is more than capable of leading them to a league title. They paid big money in the hopes of finding a difference-maker in the final third, and so far that is exactly what they have got. Sporting have a Taça da Liga semi-final at the end of January against Braga, are into the quarter-finals of the Taça de Portugal and have a UEFA Europa League knockout playoff tie against Young Boys to come in February.
If their star man continues in the form he’s been in of late, Sporting will certainly fancy their chances of ending this season with some silverware. It’s safe to say Gyökeres, a player who has yet to win major silverware in his career – and none at all since winning the Swedish second division in 2017 – needs no extra motivation. Beyond that, there is no reason to say he couldn’t end up in one of Europe’s big five leagues before long.