Portugal’s UEFA 2020 European Championship qualification campaign got off to a lacklustre start with two home draws against Ukraine and Serbia at the Estádio da Luz. Despite creating more than enough chances to win both matches, Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to the squad failed to have the desired effect, and four dropped points had many reaching for the panic button.

One thing Seleção supporters have understood over the years when it comes to qualifying is the hard way is the only way. Many questions have been raised about Fernando Santos’ personnel and formation decisions. Let’s try and dissect some of the biggest decisions he must make and get the glass half full. 

 

Sort out the midfield

Santos started with a midfield three of João Moutinho, Rúben Neves and William Carvalho against Ukraine. Rafa replaced Neves in the 62nd minute and Moutinho made way for João Mário late on.

The Wolverhampton pair were axed against Serbia with Danilo and Rafa getting starts. Pairing Danilo and William together is a new strategy for Santos, partly enabled by the former Sporting player converting from a holding midfielder to a box-to-box role since his summer switch to Real Betis.

Danilo scored a fantastic equaliser and William showed that he is more than a one-trick pony, but questions remain. Is this the way forward? What is Portugal’s most effective formation? What about Moutinho and Neves? João Mário? Bruno Fernandes? Pizzi?

 

Dyego Sousa?

Dyego Sousa earned his first Portugal cap off the bench against Ukraine and replaced André Silva in the starting XI against Serbia. The 29-year-old Brazilian-born forward has been prolific since his move to Sporting Braga but hadn’t scored in six appearances for the Arsenalistas.

André Silva appeared to have turned the corner at Sevilla before a downturn in goals, but he went closest to scoring against Ukraine and shouldn’t be playing second fiddle to Dyego Sousa. Brought off the bench against Serbia, it was Silva’s header onto Rukvina’s arm that almost resulted in the winning penalty.

Sousa’s inclusion in the squad raised some eyebrows especially considering the blistering form of 19-year-old João Félix, the call-up for 22-year-old Diogo Jota not to mention 19-year-old Rafael Leão who recently scored six Ligue 1 goals in seven matches for Lille.

Have we seen the last of Dyego Sousa in a Portugal jersey? With so many young talents coming through, Santos should allow them playing time to show what they can do.

 

Where does Bernardo Silva fit?

Santos has had a difficult time getting the best out of Bernardo for the Seleção. Playing predominantly in a midfield three at Manchester City, he has shown flashes of brilliance for Portugal but not as consistently as necessary.

With Ronaldo’s early departure against Serbia it was Bernardo who was afforded the limelight. The 24-year-old had every opportunity to dictate from a free attacking role, he was influential and unlucky on occasions but also guilty of overplaying his hand.

Santos’ duration as Portugal manager may hinge on his ability to get the most from Bernardo. Although it’s early days, there are shades of the way several Seleção coaches singularly failed to get the best of Miguel Danny in a Portugal shirt, despite the Zenit player’s consistently magnificent club form. Finding the solution to allow Bernardo to shine for his country is perhaps the most crucial decision for Santos and one he needs to get right.

 

Portugal can compete without Ronaldo

The Seleção have been assumed to be a one-man team but have repeatedly proved they can get it done without their captain. The 2016 European Championship Final win against France was secured despite Ronaldo suffering an injury in the 25th minute.

He then decided not to participate in the inaugural UEFA Nations League following his summer move from Real Madrid to Juventus. Portugal still managed to get past Italy and Poland to reach the finals.

He was eager to make an impact against Ukraine in his first appearance since the World Cup, forcing two good saves from Pyatov in the first half. Ronaldo couldn’t break the deadlock however, he and his teammates unable to turn a dominant performance into all three points.

Ronaldo looked keen to make amends against Serbia but was forced off injured in the 28th minute with his side 1-0 down. The spirit and quality in the side remained, Danilo Pereira equalised but the winner was not forthcoming despite the largely one-way traffic when Ronaldo was not on the pitch.

 

Don’t panic

The Portuguese panic button needs a refurbishment, but there no need to drown your sorrows in Medronho just yet. The European champions can still qualify for the 2020 tournament if they fail to finish in the top two in their qualifying group by winning the UEFA Nations League playoff in March 2020.

Failing that, away matches in Ukraine and Serbia could be favourable for the Seleção. The hosts are unlikely to be as defensive as the first legs which will suit the Portuguese.

The emergence of Rúben Dias has often been overlooked. Portugal’s central defence appears much more solid with the Benfica player in the ranks, highlighted by his crucial block in the final minutes against Ukraine after Rui Patrício’s parry.

João Cancelo showed he can defend as well as attack which is a positive sign moving forward. Raphael Guerreiro needs to adjust to the left-back role after playing as a winger for Borussia Dortmund, but if the full-backs are granted enough cover they can be extremely effective going forward.

Santos has previously shown an ability to learn from his mistakes and make the correct adjustments. Let’s see what happens in the UEFA Nations League Finals before abandoning him just yet.

By Matthew Marshall

 

Comments (6)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Santos should really consider playing a 3-5-2, more like a 3-2-3-2 formation having the full backs pushed up high. Have Bernardo in the middle behind the forwards, where he should be to get the best out of him in a Portugal shirt. Ronaldo up...

Santos should really consider playing a 3-5-2, more like a 3-2-3-2 formation having the full backs pushed up high. Have Bernardo in the middle behind the forwards, where he should be to get the best out of him in a Portugal shirt. Ronaldo up front with Andre Silva, or a false 9 either or. Neves and William as is or swap sides, together can clean up most messes. 3 in the back with Danilo in the middle, Pepe can certainly provide proper cover on that left side and Dias on the right side. Share your thoughts, would love to hear some feedback. Any criticism is welcomed, so long as it's constructive criticism.

Ronaldo - A. Silva
R. Guerrero - B. Silva - J.Concelo
R. Neves - W. Carvalho
Pepe - Danilo - R. Dias

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I appreciate all good articles on PortuGOAL, and I have a deep respect and gratitude to Tom and all the contributors to this great web-site.

I feel the need to clarify something, on my own behalf, and perhaps I can even speak for a few others...

I appreciate all good articles on PortuGOAL, and I have a deep respect and gratitude to Tom and all the contributors to this great web-site.

I feel the need to clarify something, on my own behalf, and perhaps I can even speak for a few others who are devotees of this site: what I feel, and maybe others, is not panic. Winning the Euro after being a long-suffering Seleccao fan filled me with 2 things. First, a sense of joy and relief, because we had finally gotten the monkey off our back. Secondly, a sense that this was enough for now, but that eventually, we would have to use this trophy to catapult ourselves to the status of perennial contenders to any and all titles.

This is a goal the FPF should have concocted from day one. If that was their goal, they must have understood that this is a multi-step process. Fernando Santos completed the first stage, but cannot be considered to be the architect for the whole project.

As a result, I do not feel panic regarding these first 2 games. I feel frustration and loss of patience. I feel this because winning takes a certain mentality, and Santos brought that to the team at the perfect time. But building a pedigree requires much much more. It requires long-term planning, new people (certainly at the administrative level, as well as players), and it requires investment.

I see several of these individually but not as a whole. For example, Santos invests in giving new layers opportunities. But he does not implement them carefully, or slowly. Rather, he tosses them in with little to no game preparation and even less tactical planning. The result is a groundhog-day like repitition of "cross it in" for entire games, hoping someone will eventually head in a goal.

Santos is not adapting, is not providing new ideas and worst of all, seems to be clueless on tactics. I revere the man greatly, but if I was the FPF, I would be preparing a sweet pot of cash for Leonardo Jardim or even give Emilio Peixe from the U-19's a chance, as he has been molding young teams on the international level for over a decade.

Please don't misconstrue ambition for panic.

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A very good analysis. Fernando Santos going forward needs to focus on developing youth rather than sticking with his preferred players that had success with the Seleção in 2016.

My critiques of the team

GOALTENDING:
Solid. Patricio as a firm...

A very good analysis. Fernando Santos going forward needs to focus on developing youth rather than sticking with his preferred players that had success with the Seleção in 2016.

My critiques of the team

GOALTENDING:
Solid. Patricio as a firm first choice, and Anthony Lopes (when he returns from injury) is also fantastic, would like to see him get some appearances here and there.

DEFENCE:
It seems we have an abundance of right backs at the moment, I believe João Cancelo and Nelson Semedo are our best options going forward. Ricardo Perreira has also been having a good season with Leicester, and has made a few appearances as a winger (left and right wing). He could be a valuable call-up considering his versatility and pace which the Seleção lacks at the moment.
Our left back options as well are not bad, Raphaël needs some time to adjust to playing LB because he has been a solid starting for Dortmund at LW. For this reason, I would consider starting Mário Rui.
Centre-backs. Pepe and Ruben Dias are both definite starters in the back for me, but I would like to see Ferro on Benfica he called up. As Pepe transitions into retirement I would like to see Ferro start here and there, Ruben Dias and him have formed an impressive back line for the Eagles.

MIDFIELD:
Lots of questions to be asked here. We have 3 solid CDMs. William, Danilo, and Ruben Neves I believe are important to the squad, and should remain. Danilo and William are interchangeable more or less, William offering a little more creativity going forward. I’ve always thought of William as “the insurance policy” of the Portuguese team, I think he is indispensable. João Moutinho brings experience to the team and should stay with the Seleção. Also contingent on Bruno Fernandes health and fitness, he is a valuable player going forward. This guy is versitaile and can operate as a CM, CAM, CF or even on the wing. Unfortunately, I think Pizzi needs to be dropped from the squad. He is aging and has never had much successs with the Seleção. João Mário too has to go, he has had a bad run of form. Until he starts playing with Inter, he shouldn’t be called up, he hasn’t played like he used to in the Euro 2016.

WINGERS:
Bernardo is the key to success. He is our most creative player, and Fernando Santos needs to get the best out of him. He has arguably been the best Man City player, and Pep has hailed him as the “best player in the Prem”. He needs room to operate, for this he should be able to operate in the center or on either wings. Gonçalo Guedes is young, maybe not worth a starring role but should be included in the bench. I think Gelson Martins and Rony Lopes deserve to be called up. They have been in great form and have helped to get AS Monaco out of the relegation zone.

FORWARDS:
Ronaldo, Joao Félix, André Silva all should make the squad. With all do respect - Dyego Sousa has been performing well in the Liga, but it’s seems silly to call-up an almost 30-year old for his first cap for the national team. Félix needs to start with Ronaldo, he creates space and could start a good pairing with Ronaldo. He should have at least came off the bench at the Luz, I think the substitution choices in both games, especially the first were awful, Santos needs to do better. André Silva, hasn’t been in great form, but is valuable to the squad.

Conclusions:
Santos has to change his mentality. He has to get the best of his players because we haven’t had a team this talented in a long, long time, maybe ever.

Starting 11 IMO.
4-1-3-2

GK: Patricio (or Lopes)
DEF: Cancelo - Pepe - Dias - Mário Rui
CDM: William
MID: Bernardo - Bruno Fernandes - Raphaël
FW : Félix Ronaldo

Notes:
William can be changed for Danilo if needed
Bernardo should be given freedom to enter the centre, Félix dropping to RW or Fernandes even.
Guerreiro as LW could be the left midfielder we need.

Key subs:
Ferro (eventually, deserves some experience)
Moutinho, André Silva, Rony Lopes.

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I agree that Santos needs to change his style, as we now have an abundance of offense threats throughout the team. There is no need to panic as the team played well but couldn't finish. On any other day, we would have scored at least 2 goals on...

I agree that Santos needs to change his style, as we now have an abundance of offense threats throughout the team. There is no need to panic as the team played well but couldn't finish. On any other day, we would have scored at least 2 goals on both teams.

Due to the lack of pace we have at the moment I think the 4-3-3 doesn't work any more. A few years back, Ronaldo, Nani and Quaresma were a threat on the counter but that speed isn't included in the team at the moment. If Goncalo, Bruma or Martins were on the wings, then it would be effective.

I believe a 4-3-2-1 or 4-3-1-2(diamond middle) would be the most effective to get the best out of everyone.

Defense: Cancelo - Pepe - Dias - Raphaël
I believe Dias is a great long term CB with huge potential but Pepe isn't getting any younger. A new CB pairing should be in the works and Ferro would be a great option due to the connection formed at Benfica already. Cancelo with his speed and directness, then Raphaël on the left with his crossing ability and technical skills provide offensive firepower. The offensive quality of these on the wings would provide the width the team requires to space out the opposition. Not even mentioning Semedo and Perreira who are also great at both attack and defense.

Midfield: R. Neves - W. Carvalho - Moutinho
This is our biggest issue as Santos doesn't know who to start and which formation. Carvalho needs to start as he brings calmness and defensive cover. Moutinho has experience and his a great leader for the team. While Neves with his ability would be a great long term fill for the 3rd spot. Danilo and Pizzi are great to come off the bench. Joao Mario hasn't played enough to have been brought up.

Forwards: Ronaldo - Andre Silva - Bernardo Silva
If in the 4-3-2-1 Bernardo Silva should be given the role to roam to let his creativeness be unleashed. Ronaldo, who will always be roaming for the ball, will be the other second CAM leaving Andre Silva in the box who has proven he can score for the Seleção.
If in the 4-3-1-2 Bernardo Silva would be at the top of the diamond Midfield to be the orchestrator of the team. This will allow him to play the through balls to Ronaldo and Andre Silva.

We have been relying too much on crosses and need another way to score goals. These formations will provide the width and crosses from Raphaël and Cancelo but also the short through balls of Bernardo Silva. This allows different threats of attack which we don't have at the moment.

Bruno Fernandes could fill in at CAM/CM as he can create but also has proven he can finish.
Felix and Guedes provide pace and creativity to the offense.
Rony Lopes has proven for the past year and a half that he should have been called up and needs to be on the team

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I think Portugal needs to use players in the position of strength and Future. Especially where players are looking in good form.

Patricio

Cancelo Pepe Dias Guerrero

William Neves

...

I think Portugal needs to use players in the position of strength and Future. Especially where players are looking in good form.

Patricio

Cancelo Pepe Dias Guerrero

William Neves

B Silva

Felix A Silva Ronaldo


GK - Patricio, Lopes, Varela

Def - Cancelo, Semedo, Pepe, Dias, Ferro, Vezo, Guerrero, R, Perreira

Mid - Carvalho, Danilo, Neves, B Fernandes, B Silva, R Sanches

Fwds - Ronaldo, A Silva, G Martins, Bruma, D.Jota,

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Having Midfielders like Ruben Neves, Andre Gomes (In Def Mid) is like having an artillery Bombardment from the outside of the box. Build that with Bernardo Silva Cutting in infiltrating and feeding assists to the strikers in the midfield.

...

Having Midfielders like Ruben Neves, Andre Gomes (In Def Mid) is like having an artillery Bombardment from the outside of the box. Build that with Bernardo Silva Cutting in infiltrating and feeding assists to the strikers in the midfield.

ST- Andre Silva
CL - Ronaldo CR - Joao Felix

CLM - Ruben Neves CRM- Bernardo Silva

DM- Andre Gomes

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