Key takeaways following the first four matches of UEFA Nations League play

Portugal as advertised. Capricious and unwaveringly averse to making sense while periodically competent and at times, dare I say, a joy to watch. After four matches in the UEFA Nations League, the Seleção relinquished pole position to the Spaniards yesterday after its 0-1 defeat to Switzerland.

But while discussions about the table and our Nations League fate are relevant, I wrote last month that what matters more is the character and identity of the team at the conclusion of the group stage. Of preeminent concern is our footballing personality, our readiness for the World Cup.

To that end, these four matches left plenty unresolved, but here is what I believe we do know.

The 4-3-3 is finished, at least for now 

Portugal began the opening match of the international window and concluded it by fielding a 4-3-3 starring Rafael Leão on the left and André Silva through the center. Neither against the Spanish nor the Swiss did this formation yield much in the way of attacking invention let alone end product.

That Leão is still young and Silva continually flatters to deceive could perhaps disguise the more obvious conclusion – that this Portugal needs another midfielder, not an additional forward, to take best advantage of its arsenal of talent. The 4-4-2, whether a double pivot or a 4-1-3-2 or some other variant affords the structural concept necessary to balance the harmony of defence and attack. Against a quality opponent, our 4-3-3 never reaches functional equilibrium; there is neither enough offense nor enough defence. Save for a few moments, Spain were relatively untroubled by our 4-3-3, and Switzerland – though beleaguered at times – weathered the storm and were arguably under more duress in the second half after substitutions redefined our shape into a 4-4-2.

Our midfield belongs to Bernardo Silva 

Several contrasting looks, some which will be discussed later and one which pitted a Bruno Fernandes-driven midfield against that of Bernardo Silva, were introduced across the four matches. If the evidence to this point had been in any way unclear, this four-game span exposed with brute effect the necessity of Bernardo Silva in the center of our midfield – at Bruno’s expense.

While some might contend Bruno was fielded more commonly in the under-efficient 4-3-3, I would argue that configuration labored in part because of his inclusion. I understand the immense emotional appeal surrounding Bruno Fernandes, both its positive and negative aspects, but the empirical facts are these – Bruno Fernandes cannot run Portugal’s midfield with anywhere near the efficiency and purpose of Bernardo Silva. And the two in combination are a zero-sum affair.

Bruno drifts. He is out of position. And yes, he is wasteful, though by now this critique lacks originality. He lets opportunities go begging by insisting upon high risk passes, and whatever charm might adhere to this particular style of play, it simply does not work for Portugal. He allows unnecessary pressure to accumulate on the remaining midfielders, asphyxiating their contributions in attack.  

Portugal’s central midfield belongs to Bernardo Silva. It always has, evidence to the contrary exists, but is scant and inconclusive. And it is not only that Bernardo was statistically better, recording three assists in four matches, out-dribbling and out-passing Bruno. Playing them both, as against Spain, only demonstrates their contradictory qualities. They are a mutually-exclusive proposition.

In a 4-4-2 variant with Bernardo in the middle, there is a menacing ambiance, a threatening snarl radiating across the pitch. There is synchronization, commitment – we are actually going somewhere. Namely, toward the opposition goal, which was under siege for long stretches against both Switzerland and the Czech Republic. Bernardo Silva understands what this team needs and has the technical skill to deliver it. He assembles what is otherwise chaos in midfield into an attacking ensemble. He is our maestro in the lineage of Deco and Rui Costa.

Age before beauty

Even more obvious than the aforementioned is that Fernando Santos has little respect for Portugal’s up-and-coming centrebacks. Going forward, Danilo will be third-choice after Rúben Dias and the eternal Pepe. And while this revelation is confounding and leaves the door open for speculation as to when, if ever, a new centreback will be incorporated, Danilo was superb in all four matches.

Since leaving Porto, the natural defensive midfielder has undergone a transformation at PSG, regularly anchoring the defence in what is a very front-leaning side. For me, this experience was what had been missing. Danilo has the physical tools, but he lacked positional and tactical nous owing to his inexperience with the role of CB, a nuanced role best executed by masters of the art of football. Like Pepe, like Ricardo Carvalho. But Danilo irrefutably proved himself, having hardly put a foot wrong across four matches while proving himself a useful threat on set pieces.

As for David Carmo, Tiago Djálo, and the rest, their time will have to wait until after the World Cup, when Portugal will be lead by a new manager for the first time since 2014.

Moutinho is not a holding midfielder

Need there be further elaboration? I said what I said. The attempt was made against Serbia – and failed – and again versus Spain – and failed miserably. João Pahlinha, meanwhile, never saw the pitch. Neves was medicore, again, in both the 4-3-3 and in a double pivot, overshadowed by William in the latter. But the bigger question may be – what will happen to Danilo when Rúben Dias recovers from injury? Will he be ushered back into defensive midfield? Will he be partnered or alone? And what of Pahlinha? These questions remain unanswered and will be of utmost significance when the Nations League resumes in September. 

Left-back in limbo

Another interesting dyad involved the exchange between Raphael Guerreiro and Nuno Mendes. Going forward, Santos quite evidently intends to set apart one or the other and the results this term were indecisive. Guerreiro featured in the most difficult match and one in which the Seleçao were on the back foot. But while Cancelo is a fullback par excellence, neither left-back option comes anywhere near that standard.

Guerreiro had more touches than any other Portugal player vs Spain and was also very good against the Czechs with three key passes and four tackles. Nuno Mendes had more touches than any player but Cancelo in the 4-0 win over Switzerland and had bright moments in Geneva yesterday, but very much revealed his youth by delivering ill-advised crosses and making untimely decisions. For those still wondering, Nuno Mendes edged Guerreiro in most p90 metrics including pass accuracy, crossing accuracy, take-on success rate, interceptions, touches, and ball recoveries.

---

All said, two matches remain, and Portugal are in with a shout to bump Spain off its pedestal and secure passage to the playoffs next summer. But preparation remains the real prize.

Our identity is still taking shape and materializes in ephemeral cycles. Perhaps you missed it? The 4-3-3 may be an anachronism, but attacking into space is in our DNA. Laborious build-up and long stretches of possession may work for other nations, but this group of players reaches its performance zenith by drawing teams out and biting back hard on the counter.

No points awarded for guessing why that is. After almost 20 years, this is still Ronaldo’s Portugal. Pepe’s Portugal too - did your heart flutter a bit watching him drive the ball forward? Portugal are on song with Cristiano leading the line in a 4-4-2 with Bernardo Silva our playmaking metronome. And while João Cancelo may be our true X-factor – the player whose performance decisively tilts the outcome one way or the other – Cristiano Ronaldo’s panache for hurtling through open space to find that seam in which to receive the killer pass…this remains our most potent formula. Draw out, exploit the space, plunge the dagger deep. And that last part….that divine gift is what our young forwards struggle so badly to bring forth. In a low-possession, countering style, merciless finishing is indispensable, and no striker has ever been more brutal than Cristiano Ronaldo.

Until that day when another forward, be it Rafael Leão, João Félix, or some other emerges, Cristiano Ronaldo is the ember, and how blesssed we are to have him even in the twilight of his storied career?

How obvious the contrast in these four matches – with and without Ronaldo? The squad around him is now taking shape. Back-line so nearly set, Bernardo Silva rightfully ascending the midfield throne…

But there is much left unsolved as well. Holding midfield. Ronaldo’s strike partner. Left-back...

There will always be uncertainties. Choosing this player over that one is always a trade-off. There are no perfect solutions. But some clarity was gained in these four matches which can surely be refined in two months when the Seleção travel to Prague. That match and the following winner-takes-all affair with Spain matters for the sake of this tournament – an enthralling clash of top European sides.

But the fine-tuning of a sophisticated and mature playing identity is the ultimate goal. Come what may in the Nations League, it may be that our World Cup fate is decided by these six matches. Decided by how well or ill we react to the evidence presented us as we look ahead to September, our next and final opportunity to marshal and design a World Cup-winning side. 

Força Seleçao.

 

by Nathan Motz

Comments (33)

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Nathan,

Regarding Bruno

In the 4-0 win he looked good and was involved in the all three first half goals.

In the build up to the first goal(a rebound off a free kick), he drifted into space in the middle right behind the midfield line. After...

Nathan,

Regarding Bruno

In the 4-0 win he looked good and was involved in the all three first half goals.

In the build up to the first goal(a rebound off a free kick), he drifted into space in the middle right behind the midfield line. After a double line splitting pass from Danilo, he tapped it down to Ronaldo, and then proceeded to cross back to the right, drawing a defender. The Swiss back-line was being attacked 3 on 3, and resulting in a foul on Octavio.(He went into the middle)

In the second goal, he broke the back-line and slid passed it to Jota, who marked by the last two defenders, wisely passed it to Ronaldo for the goal.It was effectively a 3 on 3 attack.(He was on the right)

In the 3rd goal, he held up and perfectly timed the pass to Mendes, who flew into the box unmarked. Who passed it to an open Jota, whose rebounded shot was tapped in by Ronaldo.(This time he was on the left).

As you can see he helped put us in very good positions that led to goals.

For him to be effective, he needs to roam. But as you mentioned, it hurts the other midfielders who have to make sure an assignment isn't missed.

Of course Bernardo, directly assisted the next 3 goals, 2 to Cancelo and Guedes.

So, while I think Bruno can be effective, if allowed to play his game, I agree with you, both shouldn't play at same time and Bernardo works better in almost all situations. Bruno on the bench for the right opponent is not a bad option. Him starting over healthy Bernardo, unless we are resting him, isn't smart.

Finally, if Bruno does start, he needs to be a false forward, not in the midfield.

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Paulo
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Not only is the 4-3-3 finished, the 4-whatever-whatever should be finished.

Our current and upcoming CenterBacks are well suited for a back three. It would allow are creative wing-backs to really express themselves. Imagine Cancelo bombing...

Not only is the 4-3-3 finished, the 4-whatever-whatever should be finished.

Our current and upcoming CenterBacks are well suited for a back three. It would allow are creative wing-backs to really express themselves. Imagine Cancelo bombing forward into space without a care of losing the ball and immediately leading to a horrible counter attack. Ricardo is a small forward trapped in a full back position. Rafa G is best going forward. Mendes and Dalot, are OK going forward. Tavares, is good going forward also, but makes too many unnecessary defensive mistakes.

The last few games at times we had a back three, but with Neves in the middle often. A counter attack on Neves by a pacey forward and we are toast.

Hopefully, Santos was secretly trying out a back three and if Dias is back, Danilo would be the DM that shifted left, right and middle into a back three. One can wish...

We somehow won the Euros.

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Paulo
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If you are talking about Ricardo Pereira and watching him play for Leicester City Football Club, he brings in excitement and flair moving forward. He has scored 2 goals, and 3 assists 2021/2022 season. He is not a small forward.

Mendes and Dalot...

If you are talking about Ricardo Pereira and watching him play for Leicester City Football Club, he brings in excitement and flair moving forward. He has scored 2 goals, and 3 assists 2021/2022 season. He is not a small forward.

Mendes and Dalot are still young their time has not come to play in the WC, need more defense-minded players with an experience like Cedric. It's worse to concede a goal and get the team under pressure rather than moving forward and compromising your position.

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Neville
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When I said he was a "small forward", I meant that in the youth setup, he had been a forward. He was joint top scorer the 12-13 Taca de Portugal and joint top scorer in the 13-15 UEFA Under 21's in the Portugal squad.

The small part was his...

When I said he was a "small forward", I meant that in the youth setup, he had been a forward. He was joint top scorer the 12-13 Taca de Portugal and joint top scorer in the 13-15 UEFA Under 21's in the Portugal squad.

The small part was his stature, Paulo Fonseca converted him to Full Back at Porto probably due to that. So really, he has the forward attacking ability, with out the size and strength.

So that is why I feel, Cancelo, Ricardo and Rafa G, are really good FB, but are world class wing-backs, therefore, a back three would really bring out the best of them. Defense not anywhere as good as the offensive capabilities.

By the way some potential up and coming wing-backs are Diogo Goncalves and Joao Mario(Porto), both started as wingers.

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Paulo
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Diogo Goncalves is simply not good enough. I liked him a lot in Benfica's B but he has not evolved at all. With Bah joining and Gilberto as back up I can't see him getting many minutes if he stays with Benfica, which I doubt he will.

If we are...

Diogo Goncalves is simply not good enough. I liked him a lot in Benfica's B but he has not evolved at all. With Bah joining and Gilberto as back up I can't see him getting many minutes if he stays with Benfica, which I doubt he will.

If we are looking into other possible right backs for Portugal I think we need to turn our attention to Tino Livramento at Southampton. Currently he plays for England at youth level but I saw somewhere on the internet he would choose Portugal over England given the choice as that is his fathers team. He also qualifies for Scotland through his mother. Much like Fabio Carvalho, I hope we are on the ball in monitoring his progress.

Still, I can't see him being drafted into the side prior to the World Cup in Qatar.

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Christopher Santos
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Tino is a great prospect given his age, I think 19?. I remember him being behind just Cancelo and TAA, in an important stat, can't remember what it was.

I didn't consider him because he is playing for England youth, but of course he could change...

Tino is a great prospect given his age, I think 19?. I remember him being behind just Cancelo and TAA, in an important stat, can't remember what it was.

I didn't consider him because he is playing for England youth, but of course he could change like Fabio Carvalho, especially since Ronaldo is his idol. Unfortunately, he is out the rest of 2022 with an ACL injury. So no way he can be considered for WC.

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Paulo
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Thanks for the info, Paulo. Good to know about Ricardi Pereira's development over the years. Hope he does not get injured and see him at the WC.

Neville
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Absolutely fantastic piece as per usual Nathan, always enjoy reading your work. And I agree 100% with everything you said. We still have our issues, but I'm feeling far more optimistic about Portugal now than I was a couple of weeks ago. The...

Absolutely fantastic piece as per usual Nathan, always enjoy reading your work. And I agree 100% with everything you said. We still have our issues, but I'm feeling far more optimistic about Portugal now than I was a couple of weeks ago. The skeleton of an identity is there whereas before it looked like we were suffering from collective dementia.

I've always wanted to see a 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 formation as I believe a three at the back system would get the best out of our team, but, in the absence of that, a 4-4-2 would probably be the next best option. Particularly a 4-4-2 diamond as it would allow for more fluidity in our structure, if that makes any sense. We don't have the wingers we once did, but, if guys like Bernardo Silva/Otavio can cover for our FBs when they bomb forward, we won't necessarily need them.

Diogo Jota remains, in my opinion, amongst our current options, the best person to partner with Ronaldo. BUT, I'd love to see what a partnership of Ronaldo and Goncalo Ramos would look like. Say with a Pote/Fabio Vieira in behind them at the tip of the diamond? It's probably far too late for any of that but I think that combination could be lethal.

In terms of Danilo, no player impressed me more this window. I wouldn't move him from CB to DM and instead would just use William as another DM option. Even though he's played pretty well as more of a CM, I still believe William's best position is as a DM, and I'm not sure why Real Betis insists on pushing him up the pitch so much. Moving William into the DM options with Neves and Palhinha will allow Moutinho to play in his natural position as well, which, even then, in my opinion, should only happen coming off the bench.

Naturally I would've preferred we beat Switzerland and remained at the top of the group, but, I saw enough good in this window to be hopeful. And, at the end of the day, that's all I wanted. Come September, we can plug away and refine ourselves even more.

And maybe finally play a young CB....

Cheers.

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George
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I've said it many times already, Cancelo should be playing at left back, like he did for more than half of his Man City games. Get someone else for the right back slot.

Gee Dee
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Who else would come anywhere to Cancelo at RB?

Don't think you play your best players out of position if you can help it. Play them where you get the best out of them.

Christopher Santos
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It is an interesting debate. I have seen games with Cancelo at LB for City and he was the best player on the pitch by far. I have also seen him light in up at RB.

In my opinion, he can play either very effectively.

In the past, I would be 100%...

It is an interesting debate. I have seen games with Cancelo at LB for City and he was the best player on the pitch by far. I have also seen him light in up at RB.

In my opinion, he can play either very effectively.

In the past, I would be 100% play on the left. We only had Rui backing up the LB, and when Ricardo was there. However, I am not so sure now with the depth in LB in Rafa and Mendes. I think both of those are better than our backup options of Dalot and Semedo on the right.

But if Ricardo or someone steps up on the right, then maybe have Cancelo play left. What a great option to have regardless.

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Paulo
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I posted this below. I am in agreement with you that the backup options at right back aren't currently close to Cancelo's standard.

I didn't say he can't play it or play it really well, I said right back is his best position and I am not a fan...

I posted this below. I am in agreement with you that the backup options at right back aren't currently close to Cancelo's standard.

I didn't say he can't play it or play it really well, I said right back is his best position and I am not a fan of moving your best players to positions that aren't their best. I think you ideally want the best players you have playing in the positions where you get the most out of them. We have already wasted so much time moving Bernando about to accommodate other players in the first 11.

But even if left back were his best position, who takes over at right back? No one is close to Cancelo, no one. Is perma-crock Ricardo Pereira a serious option when he can't stay fit? Nelson Semedo decent for sure, but hasn't hit the heights we thought he might while he was at Benfica. Dalot has a long way to go in my opinion and Cedric offers far too little in attack. Joao Mario from Porto is too young to hand caps to 2 games before the World Cup starts. The only other option I can think of is seeing if Tino Livramento will switch allegiances from England but again he would be debuting 2 games before the World Cup starts and is still young.

I am well aware Cancelo can play left back and indeed play it very well, but honestly don't see the utility of it here.

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Christopher Santos
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Tino is out the rest of 2022 with an ACL, so even if he switched, won't matter for WC.

On moving players, Cancelo hated playing LB, he even got into a public spat with Spalletti at Inter because he wasn't good at that position. Of course we see...

Tino is out the rest of 2022 with an ACL, so even if he switched, won't matter for WC.

On moving players, Cancelo hated playing LB, he even got into a public spat with Spalletti at Inter because he wasn't good at that position. Of course we see how good he has become at LB at City. His ability to play both only helps him. I remember while at Inter, he would have to stop going down the wing, and then cross it with his right foot. Now, he can cross and even shoot with power on his left.

But like I said, with Rafa and Mendes on the left, if both are in form and healthy, no need for him to play LB.

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Paulo
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Yes Tino is injured. Forgot about that. Definitely should be tracking his progress though.

Christopher Santos
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"As for David Carmo, Tiago Djálo, and the rest, their time will have to wait until after the World Cup, when Portugal will be lead by a new manager for the first time since 2014."

Santos' contract extends to after the Euros in 2024? It's...

"As for David Carmo, Tiago Djálo, and the rest, their time will have to wait until after the World Cup, when Portugal will be lead by a new manager for the first time since 2014."

Santos' contract extends to after the Euros in 2024? It's possible the FPF may decide they expect more than just a festival of mediocrity but they have been happy with that post 2016 up until now, so having a new manager looks far from guaranteed.

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Christopher Santos
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@Christopher Santos: Very true. Being kicked out in the orund of 16 will be good enough for the FPF to fulfil the contract and continue until 2024 with FS. The same lame excuses and justifications that worked 2018 and 2021 will work again,...

@Christopher Santos: Very true. Being kicked out in the orund of 16 will be good enough for the FPF to fulfil the contract and continue until 2024 with FS. The same lame excuses and justifications that worked 2018 and 2021 will work again, there's no doubt. Miserable, but that is how it is.

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Rolf Gerber
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Exactly. Fernando Santos already said after the Serbia game that the FPF basically considered the objectives had been met in 2018 and 2021 so why would he leave. The lack of ambition from the FPF is deeply concerning when the squad has so much...

Exactly. Fernando Santos already said after the Serbia game that the FPF basically considered the objectives had been met in 2018 and 2021 so why would he leave. The lack of ambition from the FPF is deeply concerning when the squad has so much talent available.

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Christopher Santos
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Would you like to see the team lift the WC or Santos to go?

let us get the work done, Santos going is scondary.

Neville
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Of course I want to see us lift the World Cup! It's something have always dreamt of.

I agree Santos will be in charge for the World Cup and no change in manager should happen before then. I thought he should have gone after the Euros, which when...

Of course I want to see us lift the World Cup! It's something have always dreamt of.

I agree Santos will be in charge for the World Cup and no change in manager should happen before then. I thought he should have gone after the Euros, which when you include the terrible performances in qualifying (qualifying for the Euros and the 2 WC quals that happened prior to the Euro) was a complete debacle in terms of performance (Germany game especially). Up until then he had my support.

I know there are lots of fans who have never liked him and don't even give him credit for winning in 2016 but I am not one of them. I think he did an unbelievable job in 2016 when you consider where we were when he took over in 2014. Incredible. I fully bought into the idea that it is better to win the game playing defensively then to lose playing the best football ever. I'd rather win trophies then impress neutral supporters who honestly don't like us much anyway (I live in England and everyone hates us here!).

The trouble is, the context is completely different now to what it was when he took over. We have much more quality than the team in 2016 yet we haven't consistently performed at all and every time the difficulty goes up against better opponents we have struggled. We had a tactical identity in 2016 which we have not rediscovered since. I think it would be fair to say that Fernando Santos has never been a brilliant offensive manager (he lost the league title with Porto at the height of Apito Dourado with Mario Jardel shitting goals).

The gripe I have is this. If we don't perform well in the WC (exit in groups or play poorly but manage to qualify in second only to lose in the round of 16) will the FPF finally decide that this isn't good enough? He has a contract until the following Euros, after that some of the brilliant players we have now will already be over 30 and their best days behind them. Does winning in 2016 mean he gets endless credit? There is no shame in admitting a cycle might be over, look at Ranieri at Leicester for example.

My hopes are not high for the World Cup, but I assure you nobody would be happier to eat their criticisms than myself should he be victorious. Once I'm done dancing in the street in my underpants anyway!

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Christopher Santos
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SA much as I would like to see Portugal lift the trophy - this is so unlikely. I don't see progress at all since 2016. Remember that PT used to play a few brilliant games in the Nations Leage 2019. But nevertheless, total failure at the major...

SA much as I would like to see Portugal lift the trophy - this is so unlikely. I don't see progress at all since 2016. Remember that PT used to play a few brilliant games in the Nations Leage 2019. But nevertheless, total failure at the major tournaments after 2016. Portugal's strength in 2016 was the team cohesion. Not the thinnest piece of paper could have been put between them. And they had an identity. But that's all gone. And Santos is just fishing. No identity. Sorry to say so.

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Rolf Gerber
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Perhaps a team set up like this - 3- 1- 4- 2

Costa

Danilo Pepe Dias

...

Perhaps a team set up like this - 3- 1- 4- 2

Costa

Danilo Pepe Dias

Paulinha

Cancelo B Silva Sanches Guerriro

Ronaldo Jota

or 4 - 1 -2 - 1- 2

Costa

Cancelo Dias Ignacio Mendes

Paulinha

Sanches B Silva

Felix

Jota Leao

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John
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You know what I didn't have to learn? Why in the world is Joao Moutinho on this team and Renato Sanches is not on this team? I don't care about everyone telling me that Joao Moutinho is a legend and back in 2012 he worked at an orphanage and...

You know what I didn't have to learn? Why in the world is Joao Moutinho on this team and Renato Sanches is not on this team? I don't care about everyone telling me that Joao Moutinho is a legend and back in 2012 he worked at an orphanage and always held the door open for visitors. I don't care if in 1998 he slept over at Xavis house and beat him at juggling either. Just to think that Renato Sanches is at home when he is literally the only guy in recent memory(6 years) that can dribble the ball from box to box and has a real ability to take shots on goal and draw fouls for us and create...to think we picked a 49 year old slow small guy is actually unbelievable to me.

Please for the love of god, no more Moutinho ever again. Call up Fabio Carvalho and Renato Sanches so we can add some elite dribbling through the midfield. We are to pragmatic and slow in the build up, as much as I love Bernardo silva, he takes 3 minutes to go from box to box. Our midfield should be Renato, Palhinha and Bernardo with maybe Danilo instead of Palhinha once Ruben comes back. This Ruben Neves and Bernardo experiment is nice if we are playing Sri Lanka but it is wayyyyyyyy to slow. Please again, we need speed through midfield to link up with our forwards, that is how we are going to expose defenses, the slower we are in midfield the more time these defenses have to get back and defend narrowly. At this point we swing in crosses that go into the god damn stands for the last 30 minutes.

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Justin/rochester
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Justin,

Good point with Bernardo bring up the ball, it isn't pacey. However, he does give us an incredible possession. It is a trade-off the coach will have to make. However, he can pick out a quick pass to get the counter going, but he himself...

Justin,

Good point with Bernardo bring up the ball, it isn't pacey. However, he does give us an incredible possession. It is a trade-off the coach will have to make. However, he can pick out a quick pass to get the counter going, but he himself isn't going to drive us forward fast.

We are spoilt for choice with talented options, Santos has to find the right strategy and players against the right team.

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Paulo
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As far as I can see we won't have any friendlies before the World Cup kicks off in Qatar, is that the case?

I think the mere fact we still have so many questions in regards to lineup, formation and tactics with only the 2 remaining Nations...

As far as I can see we won't have any friendlies before the World Cup kicks off in Qatar, is that the case?

I think the mere fact we still have so many questions in regards to lineup, formation and tactics with only the 2 remaining Nations League group games to play is a damning indictment of Santos' leadership at this point. Most of this team have been together for a couple of years now (off the top of my head only Leao, Vitinha and Diogo Costa are new faces that actually played) and yet we still have no idea what our tactics are or which players are in the best 11. Are we really going to have an answer to all these questions in the next 2 games? I wouldn't mind, but some of the things we apparently learned were evident when we crashed out of the last Euros and even more evident when we made a complete mess of an easy qualifying group.

Successful home games against the Swiss and Czechs isn't enough to convince me this team can go do well on the highest stage. The two harder away games we were completely found out. I fear a group exit is the worst case scenario with the best case being limping through the group in the second to again be beaten in the last 16 when we get Brazil. I sincerely hope I am wrong though.

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Christopher Santos
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Amen. 100% agree. Worst case scenario is NOT out in group stage because that would kick Santos out. Worst case is the out in the round of 16, because then he stays. I only stop complaining when minimum the quarter finals are made.

Rolf Gerber
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I already posted this elsewhere, but look at where France stands. Despite their terrible results over the last several days nobody will count them out. By comparison, we look like contenders based on our last 4 games.

Ultimately, barring...

I already posted this elsewhere, but look at where France stands. Despite their terrible results over the last several days nobody will count them out. By comparison, we look like contenders based on our last 4 games.

Ultimately, barring injuries this team will be better positioned than our Euro squad. Pepe and CR7 are seemingly ageing in reverse while some of the youngsters are now coming of age. I just hope that Felix finally breaks out this Fall and Sanches stays healthy. If Leao and Mendes continue to mature we might just have the right formula to go a long way. I just hope that Santos selects the right squad.

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Nelson A
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Great article as always Nathan.

I appreciate the time and detail you put into the analyses. I have long agreed and thought myself that the lack of playing and tactical identity is Santos' biggest flaw. This would not be a big issue if this was...

Great article as always Nathan.

I appreciate the time and detail you put into the analyses. I have long agreed and thought myself that the lack of playing and tactical identity is Santos' biggest flaw. This would not be a big issue if this was year 1 or 2 of his mandate, but we're going on 8 years now.

I am not one to throw out my "coveted line-up", because I don't think it adds anything to the convo, but I wonder if our tactical identity would not benefit from a triangle set up in the midfield.

For example, could be a 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-1-2 or even a 3-5-2 (the formation is less important), but at the core is a triangle, with Bernardo at the top in CAM, Renato/Matheus/Vitinha at the left bottom corner in a typical #8 box-to-box mid, and William/Danilo/Palhinha at the right bottom corner.

This set-up gives us defensive and ball-winning bite with the DM position (William/Danilo/Palhinha), pace and dynamism with youth at the box-to-box position and creativity and flair with the CAM position. The other thing this does, is creates 3-dimensional passing and creation, as opposed to the flat, 2D set-up we see with Santos' 4-4-2 or 4-3-3.

Just a thought, but I think having this type of "spine" or base in the team would help build our game into the wings and even directly to the forwards along with defensive solidity.

Just an opinion.

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Chris
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