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Analysing Portugal’s 2018 World Cup Starting Line up

Updated on 2:00pm GMT 29 May 2018
Analysing Portugal’s 2018 World Cup Starting Line up

Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.

As Portugal edge towards the World Cup this summer, debate will rage about their starting 11. The side which won Euro 2016 have seen new blood join their ranks over the last two years. While an experienced core remains, Portugal are arguably stronger than they were in France. Just how will that translate to their starting 11 this summer?

Anyone who saw Portugal’s displays in the Euros or in last year’s Confederations Cup will expect them to be very defensive in Russia. While that dragged them through the knockout rounds, it almost cost them in the group stage. Manager Fernando Santos will want to see better from his side this time around.

Santos does have options, and he’s likely to use them before the end of the group stage. Portugal are going to face a variety of styles in Russia, so going in with just one approach and a set 11 isn’t going to work. Ahead of the World Cup, we’re looking at how the Selecao could line-up in each of their three group matches.

Also, see our analysis of Portugal’s 2018 World Cup Squad

Portugal vs Spain – 15th June, Sochi

The Portuguese open with a clash against Spain. This first game will go a long way to deciding their future in the group, and possibly the tournament. With their opponents boasting a brilliant array of talented stars, a safety first approach from Portugal is very likely here.

Goalkeeper and Defence

Portugal stuck with the same defensive line up throughout the knockout rounds of Euro 2016 and the Confederations Cup. We expect Santos to use that line up again, after recording six clean sheets across their last nine tournament matches. That might not be enough to hold off the Spanish, but it’s certainly a start.

There’s experience in that backline, possibly a little too much in the middle. Both Pepe and Fonte are in their mid-30s, which is a concern. However, Soares and Guerreiro are just about reaching their peak years, and they remain the two best defensive options at full-back for Portugal.

Midfield and Attack

Half of the midfield can be counted among the defence, with Portugal lining up with just four forward thinking players in our eyes. Both Carvalho and Adrien Silva will be holding the fort at the back. Carvalho is a Portuguese mainstay, while Silva is the best choice for this game, despite a mixed time in England.

Joao Mario and Bernardo Silva will operate as number 10s in possession. However, their main job is to double up on the flanks, and create a second bank of four in Portugal’s 4-4-2 set up. Don’t be surprised to see Andre Silva dropping deep to help swarm the Spanish midfield.

Portugal vs Morocco – 20th June, Moscow

Portugal can afford to open up in their second game, and they might well have to. A defeat to Spain – which most would expect – would leave them with two must win games. Morocco is the first of those, and the European champions will expect to be on the front foot in their second game. That’s likely to force Santos further away from their approach at Euro 2016, which brought three group stage draws.

Goalkeeper and Defence

We can’t see Portugal needing to change their defence here, despite being needing to be more adventurous against Morocco. It’s hard to see Santos breaking up his back five without a heavy loss to Spain. The only real shock change would be Ruben Dias coming in for Fonte, if the Portuguese defence need pace. With a big midfield switch, that could become a priority for Santos.

Midfield and Attack

While it’s only a small move, replacing Adrien Silva with Bruno Fernandes would mark a big change. The former is a box to box player who breaks up attacks early, whereas Fernandes does a little of everything. That includes having an eye for goal, with 16 strikes to his name this term. That would signal more support for the front two, who would both operate as conventional forwards. Fernandes would support the front four going forward, while the whole side should shuffle a little higher up to support the forwards.

Take a look at Portugal’s summer schedule, from warm up friendlies through to their potential route to the final

Iran vs Portugal – 25th June, Saransk

Unless Portugal can get three points against Spain, they’re likely to be fighting for second with Iran in their final game. A win for the European champions would see big changes here, but should they need a result we expect them to open up a little more. Iran caused shocks four years ago with their solid defence, and former Portugal manager Carlos Queiroz should have an idea on how to frustrate Portugal this time around.

Goalkeeper and Defence

Our only big defensive change for the final game is an attacking one. Southampton’s Soares could be replaced by a new Premier League signing; Leicester’s Ricardo Pereira. The former Porto man does have a stronger attacking presence than Soares, and that could be necessary here. Iran have a solid defence, and they’re going to make life difficult for Portugal. Santos will need a new approach to break down this Iran side, and doubling their wide threat could be key.

Midfield and Attack

We expect Ronaldo and Silva to be the go to partnership for the tournament, injury providing. The lack of a real number nine to support Ronaldo was a problem, which seems to now be solved. Bernardo Silva has showed glimpses of a strong partnership with Pereira, and that could give them an extra dimension in a key game.

The only midfield change we can see Santos going for in the final game is another central midfield switch. Carvalho’s partner is something we can see changing again, as Portugal look for a little more energy in midfield. Manuel Fernandes should step in, either for Bruno Fernandes or Joao Mario. We can see him slotting in to the centre, making the European champions a little more dynamic. With Iran likely to be the most difficult side to break down, that could be vital.

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