With the World Cup in touching distance and Portugal’s 23-man squad finalised, Seleção fans can at last start to ponder about Portugal’s starting eleven when the European Champions take to the field in Russia in a little over three weeks’ time.

With youthful talent and exuberance combined with several seasoned veterans of the game at their disposal, pin-pointing Portugal’s eleven is not as clear-cut as it once was, despite Fernando Santos’ reputation for being overly pragmatic and stubborn.

PortuGOAL looks at the possible formations and line-ups for the Seleção’s group stage matches of the 2018 World Cup.

 

Playing style

Throughout Santos’ virtually faultless tenure with the Seleção, he’s almost always opted for a 4-4-2 formation. This entails a few things. Portugal’s wing-backs are key to the attacking game plan. With the wide playmakers often opting to drift inside onto their favoured feet (João Mário and Bernardo Silva), it’s often down to the European Champions’ adventurous, galloping full-backs to provide width which, more often than not, results in several hit-and-hope-type crosses in the direction of Cristiano Ronaldo and André Silva.

One of the central midfielders (usually William Carvalho) will sit in front of Portugal’s back four, anchoring Portugal’s midfield and transitioning their play from defence to attack. This requires the other central midfielder (usually Adrien Silva) to cover endless amounts of ground in order to stifle creativity amongst the opposition’s midfield.

Certainly – and perhaps unsurprisingly - Adrien’s turbulent season with Leicester City has prompted many Seleção fans to be outraged by his inclusion. However, as stated by Santos in an RTP interview earlier this week, “Adrien is a player with different abilities, who offers great tactical discipline and deep knowledge of the way we play.” Portugal’s remaining central midfielders that make up the 23-man squad fail to possess such an astute discipline, in addition to Adrien’s ability to stifle the opposition’s creative hub. Therefore, Adrien is an invaluable option to have should Portugal come up against the calibre of opposition whose midfield in particular is their strongpoint.

Against the lesser nations where Portugal are likely to control large spells of the game, the Seleção will be more inclined to field one of their more creative centre-midfielders (Bruno Fernandes, Manuel Fernandes or João Moutinho). Their technical prowess and forward-thinking mindsets are key to ensuring that the European Champions translate their possession into something creative. 

The manner in which Portugal’s wide playmakers operate is particularly exciting given the Seleção’s depth and variation of options. When without the ball, we usually see them revert to their starting positions as left and right-midfielders, respectively. Yet, when in possession – depending on the personnel operating in these roles – at least one of the wide playmakers will drift into the centre. This manifests a gaping hole for one of Portugal’s forwards (Cristiano Ronaldo or André Silva) to run into the channels.

This is a feature we often see the Seleção use to ensure Cristiano Ronaldo sees as much of the ball of possible. And – I must say - it’s worked magnificently well thus far. Cristiano aside, when the said playmaker drifts inside, the opposition are often at sixes-and-sevens as the interchanging amongst Portugal’s front four is arduous to keep track of. Therefore, enabling players who boast a technical prowess most would die for come inside into what essentially is a number-ten role is a feature of Portugal’s play that often goes unnoticed, but is a particularly deadly weapon to have should the team implement it correctly. 

Cristiano Ronaldo’s strike partner is most likely to be André Silva, despite his lacklustre debut season in Italy. André Silva is the sole pure centre-forward in Portugal’s 23-man squad, too – a reality which reaffirms my assumption of him almost being guaranteed a start. Gonçalo Guedes does possess an interesting arsenal of attributes which may well complement Cristiano Ronaldo very well. But Guedes is yet to produce a string of stellar displays for the European Champions, mainly because the abundance of talent from midfield onwards has limited his chances, prompting me to assume that this partnership is highly unlikely for the time being at least.

Horses for courses

And so, with that being said, here are the elevens I think the Seleção will field in the group stage. While we’re on the subject of predicting, if your think you know who will win the 2018 World Cup in Russia and are keen on other sports bets, visit LSbet.com and use your knowledge to profitable advantage.

 

Portugal vs. Spain

Given Spain’s unfathomable quality in all areas of the pitch, I think Santos will approach this game cautiously, and understandably so. This is the same back four that Portugal fielded for much of the European Championships as well as in qualifying and it has failed to let him down as of yet. Despite their ageing limbs and injury plagued seasons, José Fonte and Pepe have formed quite the partnership over the last two years – a feat which in itself leads me to believe they will be Santos’ go-to men at centre-back to start with. Many Seleção fans are calling to see Rúben Dias start alongside Pepe and I am intrigued by such a possibility. Yet, given his youthfulness and lack of experience (he is yet to debut for the full national team), I think it’s unlikely that he will secure a starting berth for the opening game.

Cédric offers more of defensive rigour than his fellow right-back, Ricardo Pereira, and has all the necessary attributes to stifle Spain’s left-hand side. Adrien, too, possesses a similar defensive sturdiness, and his ability to make a nuisance of himself defensively is key in this encounter if Portugal are to curb Spain’s dominance through the midfield areas. João Mário offers more cover centrally – something which the Seleção are likely to need as the Spaniards often play with their inverted ‘wingers’ particularly narrowly.

From an attacking standpoint, as previously iterated, João Mário’s ability to come centrally when in possession is a feature of play that the Seleção use frequently. Indeed, the likes of Gelson Martins and Gonçalo Guedes perhaps possess better attributes for this position in an attacking sense. However, the West Ham loanee has been one of Santos’ go-to men throughout his tenure and is highly unlikely to be benched for other personnel, especially in an encounter against a nation with such an array of world-class players.

 

Portugal vs. Morocco

Much depends on the outcome of the Spain result. Should Portugal win or get a point, it’s unlikely that Santos will tinker with the line-up a great deal. However, should the Seleção come away from their first game empty-handed, a cautious line-up is unlikely to be fielded.

That said, the back four will be largely unchanged – bar the inclusion of Ricardo Pereira over Cédric. Leicester City’s new right-back offers far more going forward and – as seen in Portugal’s three-nil win over Saudi Arabia in November – he and Bernardo Silva can form a formidable partnership down Portugal’s right-hand side.

Morocco boast some fantastic players in their ranks and their quality should certainly not be overlooked. But, they aren’t Spain. And so I think a partnership centrally of Bruno Fernandes and William Carvalho would be the best fit for this encounter. Sporting’s magisterial number eight offers a great deal more in an attacking sense than his compatriot, Adrien Silva. Bruno Fernandes boasts a rare well-rounded ability, which enables him to be a goal-threat and creator while maintaining and executing his defensive duties admirably. 

As stated previously, João Mário is a viable option against opposition who are likely to dominate large spells of the game and who operate narrowly as he rarely hugs the touchline in order to beat his opposite number. Gonçalo Guedes in that sense is the total opposite of João Mário, as he often stays very wide in order to isolate his marker in one-on-one situations. Portugal rarely utilise such players to start with, but if they need goals I think that Gonçalo Guedes has all the necessary attributes to break lines and ultimately ruffle a few feathers amongst the Moroccan defence.

The remainder of the line-up is unchanged as I believe that regardless of Portugal’s result in the first game, most of these players are undisputed starters should their fitness prevail.

 

Portugal vs. Iran

Again, such things are incredibly precarious to predict as much of this depends on how Portugal do in the first two games. Yet, as mentioned previously, I do believe that there are at least seven undisputed starters for Portugal who have almost always - barring injury spells - been called upon by Fernando Santos.

The remaining positions up for grabs are particularly interesting given the varying personnel the Seleção have in contention for these positions. The likes of Gonçalo Guedes, Gelson Martins, Manuel Fernandes and Ricardo Quaresma are all fabulous players in their own rights. But, they each bring very different things to the table. Two of the aforementioned possess pace in abundance (Gelson Martins and Gonçalo Guedes), while the other two rely upon their outstanding technique to create with either exceptional crosses (Ricardo Quaresma) or intricate through-balls (Manuel Fernandes).

For the sake of intrigue, I’ve gone with something a little different – despite the inevitability of this not happening. I think if Ricardo Pereira does make an appearance at any point in the group stage and should he produce the calibre of performances he has for FC Porto this season, then he will make the right-back position his own. Barring injuries or blunders, I also think José Fonte and Pepe will remain Portugal’s first-choice centre-backs.

In the midfield, Manuel Fernandes’ unique skillset could prove to be exciting – as long as there is pace elsewhere on the pitch to offset his lack of pace. Bernardo Silva’s form is key, too. After Cristiano Ronaldo, he’s arguably Portugal’s most gifted player at this moment in time and in order for Portugal to create ample opportunities, his form and contributions are pivotal.

 

Ifs and buts

Indeed, bar the Spain eleven, these line-ups are entirely hypothetical as we have no idea what the outcome of Portugal’s opening game versus Spain will be. And if Portugal win their first two matches (we can dream!), then we can expect several usual starters to be rested against Iran. I’ve simply created these line-ups and have explained them in detail in order to give Seleção fans an idea of each member of the squad and the manner in which they can be utilised should they see the field of play in Russia.

By Marino Peixoto

Related: Portugal’s 23

 

Comments (20)

  1. Danny DaSilva

I have a strong feeling that Ronaldo will get hurt during the Champions League final

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  1. Ivo    Danny DaSilva

May you never utter such words again haha. What kind of jinx are you trying to summon my man haha

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  1. Joao Rosario

fonte will not be play in the starting XI. its big risk. i hope it dont happen. he lost one leg in china. i assume hes only in there for dressing room fun to relax seleccao. he is too cool and plays down the stress at training.

remember 2014,...

fonte will not be play in the starting XI. its big risk. i hope it dont happen. he lost one leg in china. i assume hes only in there for dressing room fun to relax seleccao. he is too cool and plays down the stress at training.

remember 2014, before we play germany, how serious we looked. we were so stressed and worried that we had whole portugal to carry on our shoulders. fonte is that ice pack we neeed to cool us down. we will laugh our way to first match and come out victorious or stalemate/

william and adrien silva combo is a doubt in midfield depending on william's fitness and playing time. we will se in the friendlies who santos will choose but im sure rapahel will have a big part to play for us in midfield for sure as a playmaker. No! reallly, believe me.

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  1. mike

Excellent...I have some ideas based on opposition and what Santos might find out during the 3 friendlies before the first game against Spain.

I think the 3 friendlies will help decide what his best CB pairing is and if Dias gets game time that...

Excellent...I have some ideas based on opposition and what Santos might find out during the 3 friendlies before the first game against Spain.

I think the 3 friendlies will help decide what his best CB pairing is and if Dias gets game time that will be the time to show it and stake a claim especially against the Belgians who are very similiar to Spain in quality on the ball....if Dias plays alongside Pepe in that game and owns that talented forward line up....you could see him start against Spain. However, what i like about Santos is that if something is not working he will flip the script...ala euro16...sanches and fonte were both bench players to start the tournament.

I also see a conundrum in that guedes is far better suited outwide then along side ronaldo especially if b.silva is coming inside to support center mid pairing. I also think you will see b. Fernandes play no10 alongside ronaldo as he does at sporting which could mean that guedes or quaresma will offer width to ronaldo.

VS Spain

I like the analysis and its spot on but against the stronger teams from what i have seen l....Lopetegui has often played with a false 9 with david silva to provide a mid overload and control the game releasing Isco and rodrigo from out to in from wide positions then they will switch to having someone up front later in game especially if the game is tied or they are losing. This could be a problem for our 442. I succeed possesion as its natural against spain but not to the point of 70-30 and not being played through to easily where its wave effect.

Have two out and out strikers is problematic for the reasons above...stay with 442 but its actually more like a 4411 where the no10 supports the mid from the front and provide a link from deeper positions to the wide playes and ronaldo when the ball is turned over and we break otherwise their press will eat up everything when we retain ball. Also it gives us the same numerical advantage in mid as spain and will push their mid deeper to receive the ball which allows us to push up. This also allows the wide men to push up and provide outlets down the channels on either side or the other as one of their fullbacks will be in an advanced position. This is why you need someone who can control the ball supporting the 2 mids and pace on the wing, at least one winger.

Your starting line up is right except in 2 positions based on my analysis but that depends on Santos and whether balances the team more than tipping to a defensive line up which plays into spains hands actually.

4411 (442) vs Spain

Patricio
Cedric pepe fonte or dias guerreiro
William
B.silva a.silva g.guedes
B.fernandes
Ronaldo



VS Iran and Morocco

Both teams play with deep blocks and will look to counter when we make a mistake....they will play with set patterns as they dont have the squads to free flow. We will need playes that can pick passes ....cross and shot from distance...Inlike your line up vs morocco and u might see that against Iran if it works. These games are more straight forward....keep the ball...be incisive...dont give silly mistakes and be clinical....all the things we are hit amd miss on aganist so called weaker teams.

442 (a very attacking team)

Patricio

Ricardo pepe dias guerreiro
William
B.fernades
Quaresma guedes
Ronaldo A. Silva


Quaresma is the best crosser of the ball and against deep blocks you need quality coming in...i see this happening and him on the ball alot in these games....also alot of over lapping runs from our fullbacks especially guerreiro as guedes loves to cut inside like he does with gaya at valencia. I think ull see j. Mario and m. Fernandes in these games come on for sure.

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  1. joe

Dias needs to play the friendlies and start at the WC. So do Moutinho instead of Mario and Bernardo instead of Andre Silva.

Patricio,
Cedric, Dias, Pepe, Guerreiro,
William, Moutinho, Adrien, Fernandes
Bernardo, Ronaldo

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  1. Essayist George

As much as I love Raphael and believe his performances are integral to Portugal's success, I most definitely would not have him starting in the first game against Spain. I look at Mario Rui as our left-sided Cedric - that is to say, he's better...

As much as I love Raphael and believe his performances are integral to Portugal's success, I most definitely would not have him starting in the first game against Spain. I look at Mario Rui as our left-sided Cedric - that is to say, he's better defensively than offensively - so, in a game where we know Portugal won't have the lion's share of the ball, why use the more offensive LB? Doesn't make much sense to me, especially considering Guerreiro's fitness issues. The last thing I want is for him to gas himself chasing shadows in the first game. There are more important matches to play.

I don't want William playing all these matches either. Ruben Neves should've been the more offensive backup and I would've used him against the likes of, say, Iran alongside a Bruno Fernandes and Gonçalo Guedes seeing as they can all pick out a pass and score from distance.

My hypothetical lineups are as follows (all 4-4-2):

(vs Spain)
Patricio; Cedric, Fonte, Pepe, Rui; Bernardo, Adrien, William, Mario; Silva, Ronaldo

(vs Morocco)
Patricio; Ricardo, Fonte, Pepe, Guerreiro; Bernardo, M. Fernandes, B. Fernandes, Guedes; Silva, Ronaldo

(vs Iran)
Patricio; Ricardo, Dias, Alves, Guerreiro; Quaresma, Moutinho, B. Fernandes, Guedes; Silva, Ronaldo

I think it's a good idea to try and spread the workload around as much as possible, and, depending on results, just outright resting certain players for matchups down the line.

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  1. jon/usa

I am also of the opinion that Fernando Santos is likely going to stick with his tried-and-tested starting 11 against Spain. If they defend deep in two compact backs of four, they will be able to keep things tight and cagey, but I do not think...

I am also of the opinion that Fernando Santos is likely going to stick with his tried-and-tested starting 11 against Spain. If they defend deep in two compact backs of four, they will be able to keep things tight and cagey, but I do not think they will be able to pose much of a threat offensively. The 4-4-2 with Ronaldo, Andre Silva, Joao Mario, and Bernardo really only makes sense if we are going to take a cross-oriented approach against defense-minded opposition.

Spain are going to dominate possession regardless of the players we have on the pitch, so I would prefer to select a combination of players that could pose more of a threat on the counter. A front four of Ronaldo, Bernardo, Guedes, and Gelson would be really fun to watch, but we all know that Santos isn't going to make any sweeping changes to his preferred system. Rather, I would prefer to see him make one change -- Guedes in the place of Andre Silva. Guedes is more than capable of operating in a front 2 (he was superb in Jonas' absence two years ago at Benfica) and he would provide a much greater threat in transition than Silva, who is more of a traditional #9.

I would then play a 4-2-3-1 with Ronaldo, Andre Silva, Bernardo, and either Guedes or Gelson against Iran and Morocco -- two sides that will surely sit back and look to hit us on the counter.

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  1. Ivo

I feel like the upcoming friendlies could potentially result in Dias partnering up alongside Pepe in the tournament, if Santos actually tries this duo out in the friendlies and it ends up working. There are a couple of games here to see if it...

I feel like the upcoming friendlies could potentially result in Dias partnering up alongside Pepe in the tournament, if Santos actually tries this duo out in the friendlies and it ends up working. There are a couple of games here to see if it works and even Santos must be acutely aware of our need to refresh the CB position. I also really would like to see Guedes play as a striker alongside Ronaldo in the friendlies in the role usually occupied by Andre Silva. If they’re able to develop good chemistry that would be a devastating mix of power and pace up top and while I respect Silva for his NT performances to date, the brightest of these seem to have occurred before his more recent slump. The midfield is truly difficult to call though. But I agree that against Spain caution is the most sensible approach so we can probably expect to see Adrien and William.

I’m also quite glad that Joao Mario had a fairly effective end to his season at Wet Ham. I watched the last few matches under Moyes and he looked revitalized and even scored a couple of goals which bodes well for the NT.

Funnily enough I have always been a supporter of Bernardo but I was so impressed by Gelson in the last few matches he played for the NT that I don’t think Bernardo’s starting spot should be a given. I know that likely an unpopular opinion thoguh.

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  1. Danny DaSilva

I don't understand why Santos doesn't just play a 4-3-3. Bring J Mario and B Silva. Leave G Goncalo and G Martins out wide, and call it a day.

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  1. Ivo    Danny DaSilva

I like the 433 but I don’t think Bernardo is well suited to play in a midfield three if that’s what you’re describing. He’s a work horse but he’s lacking defensively compared to a more usual box to box midfielder and could leave us exposed. I...

I like the 433 but I don’t think Bernardo is well suited to play in a midfield three if that’s what you’re describing. He’s a work horse but he’s lacking defensively compared to a more usual box to box midfielder and could leave us exposed. I think you would need to opt for either Bernardo or Gelson at RW and bring in Moutinho in midfield.

Alternatively we could try a 4231, with William and Adrien as holding midfielders, Guedes and Bernardo or Gelson on the wings, and Bruno Fernandes or Bernardo as the CAM. Of course hen we have the difficulty of leaving Ronaldo a little too isolated up top which has never been his strength. Still, a workable option.

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  1. Jerrold Hewson    Danny DaSilva

4-4-2 for park the bus teams and a 4-3-3 for dynamic teams

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  1. Kevin/RI

My experimental starting 11 for at least one of the friendlies:

Patrício
Cédric Pepe Dias Ricardo
William
Bernardo B. Fernandes Guerreiro
Guedes Ronaldo

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  1. Jerrold Hewson    Kevin/RI

Guerreiro as a winger?

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  1. Bake

I've supported Portugal for nearly 12 years now. Despite having the finest players, I've always hated the defensive attitude of Portuguese coaches. Portugal are definitely among favorites alongside Brazil, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Argentina and...

I've supported Portugal for nearly 12 years now. Despite having the finest players, I've always hated the defensive attitude of Portuguese coaches. Portugal are definitely among favorites alongside Brazil, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Argentina and France. My XI:

Ronaldo

Guedes Martins


Fernandes Bernardo Silva


Carvalho
Guerreiro Pereira

Pepe Dias


Patricio

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