FEATURE | Cristian Portu: Real Sociedad’s underrated star

A match-winner in a historic, fiercely-contested derby in LaLiga is usually the hot topic in football. But not Portu – he has very much been given the cold shoulder.

And it’s hard to see why. Real Sociedad’s advanced midfielder has notched seven goals and as many assists since moving to the Reale Arena from relegated Girona in the summer.

The 27-year-old’s 14 goal contributions this season fall behind only Lionel Messi (25), Karim Benzema (19) and Luis Suárez (18), making him – statistically – the most pivotal Spaniard in LaLiga. High praise indeed.

Included in his 14 returns are a goal and an assist in a 2-1 win against local rivals Athletic Club on Sunday.

He calmly finished Alexander Isak’s cutback to put his side in front just after the hour mark, before their roles were reversed for the winner: Portu’s expert backheel set up the Swede to seal the game for Imanol Alguacil’s side after Iñaki Williams had equalised.

Isak and Martin Ødegaard have taken most of the plaudits this season, during the Spaniard’s side’s assault towards Europe, but Portu has been consistent behind Isak in attack.

Playing on the right side or in a number 10 role, he has featured in every league match since missing the opening weekend defeat to Valencia with a muscle injury.

In that time, he has scored against Sevilla and assisted against high-flying Getafe, before his man-of-the-match display against La Real’s Basque rivals, Athletic.

It’s amazing, then, that he is rarely mentioned as one of LaLiga’s more dangerous players – particularly considering his exploits in his two previous full seasons in the Spanish top flight.

He played a key role in Girona’s first promotion to LaLiga in 2016-17 after joining from second-tier Albacete, before scoring 11 goals in the following season as Pablo Machín’s side made a genuine challenge for the Europa League qualification places.

It was not to be, and despite Cristhian Stuani and Portu’s goals – including in a famous 2-1 win against Real Madrid in February 2019 – they were eventually relegated last season.

Whilst Stuani remained in Catalonia, Portu moved to La Real. His side currently sit in sixth place, ahead of Valencia on goal difference.

If Portu remains pivotal in a return to European competition for La Real, Portu will, you would imagine, be among the contenders for a place in Luis Enrique’s Spain squad for the European Championships this year, alongside fellow rookies Williams and Adama Traoré and other stand-out Spanish talent.

Perhaps then Portu will get the recognition he deserves, and make his first senior Spain appearance. Indeed, he last wore a Roja shirt as an under-17 in 2009.

But Sociedad will be thankful. They managed to sign him from relegated Girona with little competition for €10m, and there was no chance of him leaving in the January transfer window. He truly is one of the most underrated players in Europe’s elite leagues.

Ryan Plant

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