Portugal coach Fernando Santos will name Portugal’s squad on Friday for the upcoming friendly matches against Saudi Arabia and USA, and it may contain clues into the manager’s thinking as regards who he will take to the 2018 World Cup.
Immediately after the win against Switzerland that confirmed Portugal’s place at next summer’s tournament, Santos said: “My focus now is November, and the friendly matches. This is an ongoing job of assessment to choose the final 23 players.”
Santos will rely on the same core of players that won Euro 2016, in addition to Bernardo Silva and André Silva. However, there should still be room for one or two less established players. After all, Santos’ decision to select Renato Sanches for Euro 2016 paid off handsomely with the teenager being named Young Player of the Tournament.
PortuGOAL compiles a list of ten peripheral players that could force their way into Portugal’s squad for Russia 2018.
Edgar Ié, Lille, Centre-back
Much has been made of Portugal’s embarrassment of riches in many areas of the pitch. However, centre-back is the glaring exception. Fortunately, there are some emerging players and perhaps none better than Edgar Ié. The former Sporting and Barcelona academy product has had a positive start to the campaign averaging 3.3 aerials, 2.2 tackles, 2.5 interceptions and 3.8 clearances per match and a 6.87 rating according to Whoscored.
Paulo Oliveira, Eibar, Centre-back
The former Vitória SC and Sporting defender has had a decent start to life in Spain. In nine La Liga matches, Oliveira has averaged 2.2 aerials won, 1.0 tackle, 2.7 interceptions, and five clearances per game. He has only registered one yellow card playing on a team near the bottom of the table. And his average rating of 6.70 is good when you consider the level of competition he has faced so far.
Ruben Dias, Benfica, Centre-back
The 20-year-old earned a spot in Rui Vitoria’s squad ahead of the new campaign with some solid displays in pre-season. Although it is a small sample size, Dias has managed 1.8 aerials won, 2.5 interceptions and 2.3 clearances in four Liga NOS matches, for an average rating of 6.85. And he stood tall in his Champions League debut against Manchester United, registering three aerials won, two tackles, nine clearances and one blocked shot. He has also completed 86.2% of his passes in all competitions so far.
Roderick Miranda, Wolverhampton, Centre-back
Miranda was named in the pre-squad for this past summer’s Confederations Cup before being left out in the end. He was also a member of the 2011 U20 World Cup that defied all the odds to get to the final before losing to Brazil. He made the switch from Rio Ave to English Championship side Wolverhampton this summer where he has proven to be one of the cornerstones of Nuno’s project there. He has managed a 7.01 rating so far, plus an impressive 3.1 aerials won and 5.9 clearances per match.
Ricardo Pereira, FC Porto, Full-back
He was one of the best full-back in Ligue 1 for the previously two seasons while on loan at Nice and switched from the left to right and back without much issue. Yet, Ricardo was only selected once during the recent World Cup qualifying campaign, while not seeing any game action. He could be a solution to the left-back position where Portugal is relatively short of options right now, given the injury problems afflicting Raphael Guerreiro and Fábio Coentrão. The 24-year-old has an impressive 7.76 rating in seven Liga NOS matches so far while playing on the right.
Bruno Fernandes, Sporting CP, Attacking midfielder
He was a key player for Rui Jorge’s U21 squad and captained the side at this summer’s European Championship. His move from Sampdoria to Sporting for a handsome €8.5million looks like a bargain considering he has responded to the high expectations with goals, six in 13 matches to be exact, most in spectacular fashion. And he has not looked out of place in the Champions League against heavyweights Barcelona and Juventus. If he keeps it up, he should be on the plane to Russia.
Rony Lopes, AS Monaco, Attacking midfielder
At one point, it looked like the former Benfica and Manchester City youth player would be the flagbearer for the emerging generation of Portuguese talent, however it has not quite turned out that way. A move to AS Monaco, plus two loan stints at Lille and several injuries have kept him from living up to the hype. At least, so far. Back at Monaco, Lopes has been a mainstay on Leonardo Jardim’s squad, managing two goals and three assists in 11 Ligue 1 matches, playing on the right side of midfield, a position previously occupied by Bernardo Silva.
Bruma, RB Leipzig, Winger
Like Lopes, Bruma is another former wonderkid that has not come good just yet. He had a slow start to life in Germany after making the move from Galatasaray this summer. However, he has made the starting line-up more often than not over the last few weeks. And his terrific assist versus Borussia Dortmund a few weeks ago, that included him nutmegging the goalkeeper, went viral. Still only 23, this could finally be the opportunity for Bruma to establish himself.
Goncalo Guedes, Valencia, Winger/second striker
The former Benfica winger has been a standout so far this year for Los Che, on-loan from Paris Saint-Germain. He currently has the second-highest rating of any La Liga player at 7.73 according to Whoscored, behind only Lionel Messi. His recent performance in a 4-0 win against Sevilla earned him a rare 10 rating. And he is very versatile as well. Guedes could fit in nicely in Santos’ 4-4-2 formation as a secondary or support striker role.
Diogo Jota, Wolverhampton, Winger/second striker
He is currently the third highest-rated player in the English Championship with a 7.53 rating after 14 matches. Jota has managed seven goals and two assists so far. And he was named the top player in the league for September. Like Guedes, he could also play as a second striker which he did last season at FC Porto, alongside André Silva no less. Santos recently acknowledged in an interview the strength of the English second tier. And Jota’s performances may just be too good to ignore for much longer.
*Statistics from Whoscored.com as of 30 October
By Rui Miguel Martins