Predicting Portugal's upcoming squad for the UEFA Nations League - who will make the cut?
Portugal's UEFA Nations squad is set to be announced this Friday as Portugal take on Italy on the 10th September in the inaugural edition of the international competition, while Croatia will also provide stern opposition prior to the competitive clash, who Portugal will face on 6th September in a friendly.
But who could get a call-up to represent the reigning European Champions? Here, we predict the latest 23-man squad and how it may change from the 2018 World Cup.
Of course, second-guessing the decisions of Fernando Santos is never easy, and with such a deep pool of talent to choose from for the current manager of the Seleção, having to reduce the list of names to just 23 is an unenviable task Santos once again faces. Will he bring back the experienced, reliable faces? Or will he take this wonderful opportunity to experiment and give some youngsters a debut appearance for their senior national side? Here is our best guess of who will make the cut:
1. Rui Patricio (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
The undisputed number one of the Portugal national team is guaranteed to be in the upcoming squad - if he avoids injury, of course, which is a highly likely prospect. A truly reliable figure possessing outstanding reflexes, a calm and composed demeanour and a good command of his area, Rui Patricio really does have it all, and is undoubtedly one of the greatest goalkeepers the country has ever had.
Even if Fernando Santos is keen to experiment with his squad for these upcoming fixtures, Patricio, with his experience and professionalism, will make the squad.
2. Anthony Lopes (Lyon)
Having been called up to both the Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018 squads with Portugal, Lopes has all but cemented his place as one of the country's current top three goalkeepers, but he is still yet play a single competitive senior match for Portugal, having only gained seven senior caps, all of which were in international friendlies.
Now 27, Anthony Lopes has been unfortunate to have Patricio to contend with throughout his career, and is a top goalkeeper in his own right. As a result, don't be surprised if we see him start the first match Portugal play next month as he adds another friendly national team appearance to his record.
3. Beto (Goztepe)
If this trio of goalkeepers is indeed correct and are all called up this Friday, it will mean that there is no change from the three selected for the World Cup last month. But, with a lack of obvious successors that are ready to take over from the tried and tested between the sticks, these will likely once again be the three options Fernando Santos gives himself to choose from next month.
Beto, 36, now plays in the Turkish top flight for Goztepe, having previously been on the books of the likes of Porto, Sevilla and Sporting CP. However, despite his advancing years, Beto has actually only garnered 14 senior caps for Portugal in his entire career; he often gets called up, but rarely plays a significant role for the country on the pitch. However, he's still an very solid goalkeeper - particularly as a third choice.
4. Pepe (Besiktas)
It seems a given nowadays that Pepe will be in the Portugal national team, one of the great certainties in life. Having appeared for the country at every single major tournament over the past decade, and having very possibly been the nation's best serving player - barring Ronaldo - this generation, Pepe is an indispensable part of the national team, and his place seems assured for as long as he feels he can contribute to the country he chose to play for.
Now 36, he is far from a long-term solution for Portugal's centreback situation, but international football is all about the here and now, and he most certainly has another major tournament in him should he elect to continue playing.
5. Jose Fonte (Lille)
Despite a less than impressive 18 months leading up to the 2018 World Cup, struggling for game time in the English Premier League before moving to the Chinese Super League and Dalian Yifang last summer, Jose Fonte was still called up to the tournament and played every single minute of Portugal's campaign, helping them get through the group stage and into the round of 16, where they were knocked out by Uruguay.
And, to his credit, he played very well, probably even better than his partner at the back in Pepe, which is testament to his strength in character and his ability to perform for his country. While moving to China is often seen as the end of one's international career, Santos showed faith in Fonte - whether that was because of a lack of viable alternatives or because he saw the experience and ability he could bring to the side is difficult to say with any certainty, but he did his chances of appearing for his country again in the future no harm at all.
Now 34, Fonte is also on the wrong side of thirty and is by no means one for the future, but he still remains one of the four best options Portugal have in the central defensive position, and he seems likely to keep his place in the upcoming squad. If he was called up playing for Dalian Yifang, he will surely be called up now he's back in Europe, playing alongside compatriot Edgar Ie in the heart of the Lille defence.
6. Ruben Dias (Benfica)
There may be no better illustration of Portugal's limitations at centreback than Ruben Dias; that's not to say he himself is a poor defender - far from it - but the fact that a 21 year old with just 24 senior league appearances to his name was - and is - considered one of Portugal's top four centrebacks across the globe is somewhat disconcerting.
Luckily, however, Ruben Dias is the real deal. Having recently signed a new long-term contract with Benfica that has increased his existing release clause to 60 million euros, his potential is no secret and he is very much one half of the future of Portugal's centreback partnership. His call-up last World Cup was, perhaps, a tournament too soon for Dias, but he will no doubt continue to be included in the side so that he is slowly integrated into the team, given the opportunity to train - and play - with the more experienced members of the team, and those that he will be succeeding in the years to come.
7. Bruno Alves (Parma)
The fourth centreback position is one of the hardest to predict; will Fernando Santos go with the tried and tested and another experienced head at the back, or will he opt for a younger prospect to try and embed them into the main team in preparation for the future?
Diogo Leite, for example, has looked good for Porto so far this season, although even die-hard Portista's would surely agree that, aged 19 and with just a couple of senior games under his belt, it is certainly too early for him to get a look in.
There are a few options for Santos to choose from - as has been discussed previously on this website - but the prediction is that Santos will take the exact same four central defenders that he took to the World Cup a couple of months ago, meaning Bruno Alves is the fourth man to get a call-up. Whether Portugal fans across the world agree with the decision is another matter, although there is no doubting that the 36-year old has served the nation admirably over the past 11 years, and is a perfectly acceptable fourth choice centreback for the national team.
Would we go with Bruno Alves? Probably not - this is an outstanding opportunity to give a youngster a chance in the senior side. But do we anticipate Fernando Santos to include Bruno Alves? Very possibly.
8. Cedric Soares (Southampton)
The right-back position is most definitely one of the strong points for Portugal, who have a wealth of depth to call upon in that department, with at least four top quality options for Santos to choose from. Whichever two miss out from Cedric Soares, Ricardo Pereira, Nelson Semedo and Joao Cancelo can count themselves highly unfortunate.
However, knowing Fernando Santos as we do, Cedric is a certainty to get a call up for the upcoming fixtures; disciplined, solid defensively and hard working, he's the perfect full back for a Fernando Santos team, and is why he is not only a constant in the squad, but also a regular in the starting lineup for his country, ahead of players that are now plying their trade for European heavyweights like Barcelona and Juventus.
9. Ricardo Pereira (Leicester City)
In fact, we predict that neither the Barcelona or Juventus right-back - Nelson Semedo and Cancelo respectively - will get a call-up, and believe that Santos will instead opt for Leicester City's new signing to serve as the rival of Cedric Soares for a starting place, as was the case in Russia a few weeks ago.
Pereira, who has been utilised further forward by Leicester on a handful of occasions, has had a very solid start to his Premier League career, and will likely maintain his place in Fernando Santos' squad despite a less than spectacular showing in his only appearance at the World Cup in Russia, where he was on the losing side of the clash with Uruguay in the round of 16.
10. Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund)
He has been linked with a move to French giants PSG in recent weeks, and the talented left-back - who can also be utilised further forward or in central midfield - will surely be Portugal's starting left back against Italy on 10th September.
He has a lot of improving to do though. Clearly lacking match fitness after a highly frustrating season with Dortmund last year, Guerreiro had a poor World Cup for Portugal, constantly tormented defensively, no better example than when he was up against Amrabat in Portugal's group stage meeting with Morocco, and was lucky to get away with a weak defensive display. He did, however, show his ability both going forwards and tracking back in Portugal's Euro 2016 triumph, and he is still the best of all the options Portugal have in that area of the pitch.
11. Ruben Vinagre (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Now, this is most certainly one of the more 'out there' suggestions, and our prediction of Ruben Vinagre's inclusion may be clouded by our admiration for the 19-year old attacking full-back. But, hear us out.
While Mario Rui - who was part of Portugal's World Cup team - is perhaps the more likely option for the other left-back to be included in the squad, these upcoming matches serve as the perfect opportunity for a bit of experimentation for Santos, who can try out some new, young talent and see how they perform for the senior national team.
Vinagre, having impressed for Portugal U19s as they won the European Championship last month, certainly merits inclusion and deserves a chance to strut his stuff on the biggest international stage, having come off the back of a simply stunning 12 months, where he, in addition to helping his country to Euro U19 glory, made his first ever senior appearance at club level, helped Wolves win the Championship and earn promotion to the top flight, and featured in the English Premier League in a 1-1 draw against defending champions Manchester City.
It seems like a perfect opportunity to give Vinagre some senior international experience. Don't be overly surprised to see Fernando Santos opt for Napoli's Mario Rui instead though, who has several more years of experience to his name.
12. William Carvalho (Real Betis)
Like Pepe and Rui Patricio, his inclusion is something of a certainty. So important is he to the national team - particularly as a result of the injury to fellow defensive midfielder Danilo Pereira - that he featured for not only every single minute of Portugal's World Cup campaign, but also for all but 25 minutes of Portugal's three World Cup preparatory matches; so much for resting your best players to avoid injury! Carvalho, if injury-free, is guaranteed to be in the squad.
13. Ruben Neves (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
His omission from the World Cup squad surprised many Seleção fans across the globe, but having continued to impress for Wolves, and now playing in England's top flight, his inclusion for the upcoming matches seems like a safe bet.
With his composure, passing range and long-range striking ability, added to his defensive capabilities and discipline in the middle of the park, he is the perfect understudy to undisputed number one defensive midfielder William Carvalho, while also being more than capable to play alongside the former Sporting midfielder should Fernando Santos be keen on playing a more defensive, controlling game against the big-hitters in international football. With Croatia and Italy on the horizon, it's easy to envisage such a central midfield pairing to be tested in the not-too-distant future.
14. Joao Moutinho (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Another Wolves man, and another to be included in the squad. Portugal's third most capped player in history, Moutinho is far more of a certainty to get a call-up than teammate Ruben Neves, who is himself quite likely to make the cut. He is one of the greatest national servants in history, and with more than 100 caps to his name, has more than proven just how exceptional a midfielder he is, both for club and country.
15. Adrien Silva (Leicester City)
Game time at club level may be in short supply for the tenacious central midfielder at the moment, but his lack of minutes for the first half of last season - after the paperwork for his move to Leicester City was submitted 14 seconds late - did not prevent him from making the World Cup squad, and will likely not prevent Fernando Santos calling upon the reliable midfielder this time around either. Expect Adrien, who puts such a shift in for the national side, to at least make the 23-man squad.
16. Bruno Fernandes (Sporting CP)
One of the players that chose to terminate their contracts after the violent scenes in Alcochete at the end of last season, Bruno Fernandes has since resigned for the club, and is surely guaranteed a place in the upcoming squad. The highly technical midfielder, since arriving from Serie A, has been magnificent for Sporting - arguably the best player at the club - and if he can translate that form onto the international scene, he will be a huge asset to Portugal for the years to come.
17. Pizzi (Benfica)
After the start to the season Pizzi has made for Benfica, it would be something of a crime for him to miss out on the upcoming squad. Granted, the season has only just begun, but already Pizzi is looking to have come on in leaps and bounds this season, with his passing, movement and - most notably - goal scoring all looking incredibly refined.
Indeed, in the first game of the season, Pizzi immediately put himself at the forefront of people's minds, getting an outstanding first half hattrick against summer spenders Guimaraes, and has followed that up with further goals in both the Champions League and domestically. Fernando Santos overlooking him - which is still a real possibility - could cause something of an uproar.
18. Bernardo Silva (Manchester City)
Need we say more? "Bubblegum Boy" Bernardo will be included in the squad, although that wasn't much of a secret. The Manchester City midfielder, who has been used centrally by Pep Guardiola in recent games, will likely play a role in both matches too.
19. Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus) (or Nani....)
Like Bernardo, Ronaldo will be in the squad. That is surely a certainty. Or so one would think.
Indeed, there have been murmurings that, in a bid to manage his fitness, Ronaldo may well be left out of the squad for the upcoming fixtures, something that Fernando Santos is thought to be deeply considering. With that in mind, should Ronaldo be left out for fitness reasons, his similarly experienced former Manchester United teammate Nani will surely serve as the perfect replacement for the Juventus star.
Do we believe Ronaldo will be in the squad? It's more unpredictable than one would immediately expect. But Ronaldo loves playing football and representing his country, so he will want to be included. But, do not be shocked to see him overlooked on this occasion, as crazy as it seems.
20. Rony Lopes (Monaco)
Choosing just six attacking players from Portugal's wealth of talent is very difficult indeed. Already we've chalked off one of Nani or Cristiano Ronaldo - the likelihood of both making the squad seems slim to say the least - while the inclusion of Rony Lopes means that neither Gelson Martins - who has recently moved to Atletico Madrid - or RB Leipzig's Bruma will be able to make the final squad. That's not to mention Wolves duo Helder Costa and Diogo Jota, who are now plying their trade in England's top flight.
However, Rony Lopes most definitely deserves a call-up. Indeed, only last week we suggested that he was perhaps the unluckiest Portuguese player of them all not to make the World Cup squad looking at his performances and statistics last term, and he looks like he may just continue from where he left off, having scored in the first league match of the season against Nantes.
21. Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas)
By believing that Rony Lopes gets a call-up, that means that this spot is likely a toss-up between Gelson Martins and Ricardo Quaresma, and we believe the latter will be the man to get the nod. Having become something of a supersub for the national team, his experience, technical ability and impact off the bench makes him the perfect player to take on international duty, and the veteran winger, having gained the trust of the national team manager - something that he's found hard to come by throughout his career - is certainly a highly plausible inclusion for the upcoming squad.
22. Goncalo Guedes (Valencia)
Guedes didn't set the world alight at the World Cup this summer, but his performances for Valencia last season were quite extrordinary, as he managed to find the back of the net 5 times in 33 La Liga appearances, while also bagging 11 assists in the process. And now he has completed a permanent move back to the Spanish club, he could be in store for another impressive season. Expect him to be included in the squad.
23. Andre Silva (Sevilla)
Silva, as is well documented, had a thoroughly frustrating season at AC Milan last year, but having this summer moved to Sevilla, things look like they could be taking a turn for the better.
Indeed, in his debut game for Sevilla, things could not have gone any better, as he bagged a hattrick for the club in his first ever Spanish appearance. If he continues like that going forwards, this could be the foundations to propel his career in the right direction.
Silva is a guarantee for the squad; pretty much Portugal's only high-profile out-and-out striker, he will be included in the squad even when not in form, as shown by the fact that he made the World Cup squad despite his less than spectacular showing for Milan.
But: Do not be surprised to see any of these guys get a call-up either...
Mario Rui - It seems to be either him or Ruben Vinagre for the second and final left-back spot in the squad; neither are ideal, with both lacking international experience, but Rui does seem like the more obvious choice. His inclusion is more than a possibility.
Joao Cancelo - Having moved to Juventus and having played alongside compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo for the entirety of both Serie A matches the club have played so far this season, Cancelo has been impressive and looks like he's set to be a regular for the Italian giants this season, which could prove to be a huge campaign for the 24-year old. Don't be overly shocked to see him called up instead of Ricardo Pereira - or even Cedric Soares - for this upcoming squad.
Joao Mario - While Mario is having a rather disappointing season - having returned to Inter Milan, something he was keen to avoid - and seemingly struggling to find a new club to give him a shot, he is one of the player's that Fernando Santos has complete faith in, and has played a crucial role in both major tournaments the experienced manager has overseen. With that in mind, regardless of how this season is unfolding for him, his inclusion is most definitely a real possibility.
Manuel Fernandes - He made the World Cup squad, but after only making a cameo appearance against Uruguay in what was Portugal's final match of the campaign, envisaging him being included again is a long shot. His place will likely be taken by Ruben Neves this time around.
Gedson Fernandes - Another real wildcard this one, but what better time to give a player a chance of representing their country than in a friendly? And Gedson, despite still being a teenager, may have earned the chance for a call-up. Despite only having a handful of senior appearances to his name, his performances for Benfica this season in both the league and the Champions League qualifiers have been simply stunning, and despite his youthful years, he looks so accomplished and comfortable on the ball. His inclusion is still a long shot, and whether Fernando Santos would be willing to fast-track Gedson into the senior side is far from a certainty, although after the impact Renato Sanches had at the Euros in 2016, it's certainly plausible to believe.
Gelson Martins - Gelson is a bit of an enigma for Portugal; having been simply sensational for Sporting over the last couple of seasons, the Gelson we've watched and praised at club level is yet to really leave his mark on the international stage, and his inconsistency for his country has put him under threat of missing out on the upcoming squad. He has undoubted talent though, and it's why he's earned a move to La Liga giants Atletico Madrid, so - again - seeing his name in the final 23-man shortlist would be no surprise at all.
Nani - The experienced winger, having contributed so admirably to Portugal's Euro 2016 triumph, could count himself incredibly unfortunate to be omitted from Portugal's World Cup squad, and his presence was perhaps, in hindsight, badly missed. Having returned to Sporting for a third spell this summer - and started the season very strongly indeed - there is a good chance Nani will return to the side. He merits an inclusion, particularly if Cristiano Ronaldo is left out of the squad, and, after the only goal scorers for Portugal at the World Cup were Ronaldo, Quaresma and Pepe, having another veteran in the side certainly won't be such a bad thing.
These are the players battling it out for a place in the upcoming squad - it would come as a great surprise if someone not on this list got a call up instead.
Do you agree with our choices? What do you make of the squad? Did we miss anyone out, or include someone we shouldn't? Will the side prove even more experimental than this? Have your say in the comments below!