How Portugal could line up against Italy
Portugal face Italy this Saturday in the UEFA Nations League - and know that simply avoiding defeat will be enough to secure passage into the final four.
Having beaten both Italy 1-0 and Poland 3-2 already this campaign, Portugal sit top of the table, 3 points clear of Italy despite having a game in hand.
Both results came without talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, who is also omitted from the latest Portugal squad too, the reasoning not certain although likely due to maintaining fitness for Portugal's most capped player in history.
With Ronaldo yet again left out, what could we expect Portugal's starting eleven to consist of?
The definite starters
Portugal's eleven shouldn't prove all that difficult to predict, such is the form of certain players both for Portugal and their respective clubs. And there are therefore several players that, barring injury of course, are all but guaranteed to be in the lineup against Italy. Goakeeper Rui Patricio will no doubt be the man chosen between the sticks, his reliable nature, consistency and composure in goal a crucial element in making Portugal a force defensively.
In front of him, Besiktas centreback Pepe would also typically start, one of the first names on the team sheet and one of Portugal's most important players, but he will be forced to watch from the stands due to serving a suspension as a result of the accumulation of yellow cards. You can, however, be very confident that Ruben Dias will start, Benfica's young defender consolidating his position as Pepe's centreback partner, with Lille’s in-form defender Jose Fonte stepping in, in Pepe’s absence.
You can also be sure that João Cancelo, who has been phenomenal for Portugal since missing the World Cup squad last summer - and equally impressive for Juventus - will be starting at right back, while Napoli's Mario Rui is also the man that will surely be chosen to play on the left of defence.
In midfield, there are two names that will be written on the team sheet immediately, consolidating themselves as starters for he national team - and that's William Carvalho and Ruben Neves.
Forging a highly successful partnership in the middle of midfield, Carvalho has been adopted as a much more aggressive, roaming midfielder than we've seen in the past, given the freedom to move forwards, press high and dictate the game further up the pitch with Ruben Neves deployed behind him as the anchor in front of defence.
It has worked a treat; Carvalho's renowned composure and strength on the ball has stood out even more so than it already did, and his impact on the game - both defensively and offensively - has only been enhanced since his role alteration.
Then up front, you can fully expect to see Andre Silva lead the line; serving as that poacher and top-level focal point in attack that Portugal have lacked over the years, his record for Portugal is undeniably impressive, and his place in the lineup is all but assured.
On the wing, you can then be equally certain that Manchester City start Bernardo Silva will start because, well, he's Bernardo Silva.
The final two spots...
The final couple of spaces remaining in the lineup that have not yet been occupied are then central midfield and left wing. These are the two positions where Fernando Santos could throw up something of a surprise, with several options available to play alongside William Carvalho in the middle, and a couple of players that would both be ideal in that left wing position.
Options: Pizzi, João Mario, Renato Sanches, Bruno Fernandes, Raphael Guerreiro, Danilo Pereira.
No fewer than six options available to occupy that central midfield position, playing for the likes of Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and the 'Big Three' in Portugal.
Of late, Pizzi has been the man chosen to play alongside both Neves and William, and considering his truly exceptional start to the season, it was entirely understandable. But, having fallen off that almost unattainable level slightly in recent weeks, the door opens for someone else to potentially be given a chance.
It's virtually impossible to envisage Danilo Pereira starting alongside both Neves and William Carvalho; that would be three 'defensive' midfielders in the centre for Portugal, something which could be implemented late in the game in an attempt to see out the result but won't be a starting combination. Danilo could, potentially, start in the place of Neves or Carvalho, but that seems unlikely.
João Mario is in with an excellent chance of starting, something that seemed impossible to even consider only a matter of weeks ago. Out in the cold at Inter Milan, left out of their Champions League squad and looking as if he burnt all his bridges at the Italian outfit, he looked set to endure a season to forget.
But, having been given a run in the side, he has more than taken his chance, scoring and assisting seemingly for fun, and was likely a late - but necessary - addition to Fernando Santos' Portugal squad having been left out of the squad entirely the past couple of times since the World Cup.
João Mario may well be the man Santos chooses.
Options: Bruma, Gonçalo Guedes.
Choosing who will be the left-sided winger is also a very difficult task, and it seems most likely that it will be one of Bruma of RB Leipzig, or Goncalo Guedes of Valencia. Two other capable options are Joao Mario and Rafa Silva though, and they may also be considered by Fernando Santos.
If I had to plump for one, I would go with Bruma.