Portugal returned to action with three straight wins which sees the Seleção pull two points clear of Serbia in Group A of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. A late Ronaldo double clinched a 2-1 win against Republic of Ireland, Qatar were beaten 3-1 in a friendly before a one sided 3-0 win in Azerbaijan.
Before we turn our attentions back to club football, PortuGOAL looks at some talking points from our assessment of Portugal’s performances during the international break.
Santos tests different formations
Fernando Santos had Portugal line up in a traditional 4-3-3 against Republic of Ireland. With Rafa Silva ineffective out wide in the first half, André Silva was introduced at half time which saw Ronaldo switch to the left wing.
Against Qatar we saw Santos set the Seleção up in a fluid 4-2-2 formation. It was a throwback to tactics that contributed to the successful Euro 2016 campaign.
Santos went with a 4-2-3-1 formation in Azerbaijan with Bruno Fernandes pulling the strings in the playmaker position.
Bruno Fernandes was unproductive against Ireland before coming off the bench against Qatar and scoring a late penalty. Unable to replicate his club form on the international stage, we saw him back to his best in Azerbaijan.
Playing in the playmaker position in a 4-2-3-1 where he flourishes at club level, he was simply sensational in Baku. The level of opposition must be considered, but he was unplayable in the first half and involved in almost all of Portugal’s chances and both goals.
With and without Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo’s suspension against Azerbaijan meant that he was released early from the squad.
The 36-year-old is a polarising figure, with many observers attempting to argue that Portugal can potentially play better without him due to a perceived lack of effort in pressing, tracking back and inability to beat players in 1 on 1 situations.
In the end it’s inconsequential. For so long as Ronaldo is fit, the highest international goalscorer in history is going to be the first name on the team sheet.
Rúben Neves has found chances hard to come by for Portugal. Santos has tended to prefer William Carvalho, Danilo Pereira and João Palhinha, but we might have seen a slight shift in his assessment of the Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder.
Neves brings energy to Portugal’s midfield, and his exceptional passing range means he is always in danger of creating an attacking opportunity.
There is no reason a 4-2-3-1 can’t work for Portugal, and pairing Neves with Palhinha or João Moutinho could be something we see more of in the future.
Old timers still getting it done
João Moutinho still has plenty to offer Portugal despite turning 35 this week. His versatility, experience and composure are of real benefit to the squad as is the club connection with Rúben Neves.
Pepe turns 39 in February but is still competing at the highest level. Some of his performances for Porto in the Champions League were a reminder that guile, intelligence and experience can compensate for a decline in pace.
With the lack of depth in central defence a long-standing issue, Pepe’s ability to continue playing has been incredibly important for Portugal.
There have been many players born outside Portugal represent the Seleção which have increased the quality of the squad.
Otávio made a positive impact in his debut, scoring a goal and gaining confidence in new surroundings.
With fellow Brazilian-born midfielder Matheus Nunes likely to be given a chance of pledging his allegiance to Portugal in the near future, Santos has a multitude of options and players with a diverse range of attributes and mentalities.
World Cup qualifying approaching crunch time
Fernando Santos’ side return to action against Qatar on 8 October, before hosting Luxembourg at the Algarve Stadium on 12 October. In that same week Serbia play two World Cup qualifying matches, away to Luxembourg and home to Azerbaijan. Should they win both, the Serbs will head into the final international break of the calendar year, in November, top of the Group A, albeit having played a game more than the Seleção.
The crunch games for Portugal will be those November matches, with a trip to Ireland before the all-important showdown against Serbia in Lisbon on 14 November.
by Matthew Marshall