Portugal take on Serbia: Preview and predicted lineup
Portugal’s crucial clash with Serbia in the Euro 2020 qualifiers is fast approaching, and Portugal will be hoping to secure victory to ease the growing pressure on the Selecao.
Portugal currently sit 4th in the 5-team group, having drawn their opening two home games of the qualifying campaign against both Ukraine and Serbia. As a result, Luxembourg currently sit ahead of them in the table.
However, Portugal know that three of their hardest four games come in their opening three matches, and will be aware that there is plenty of time to recover the situation.
They also have games in hand; while they have only played two matches so far this qualifying campaign, Serbia, who are two points above them in the table, have played 3 - and both Luxembourg and Serbia, on 4 and 10 points respectively, have played 4.
Nevertheless, having drawn against Serbia in their home clash, Portugal will be desperate to avoid defeat on this occasion, which would put them in a dire position in their bid to secure qualification, even at this early stage.
The good news for Portugal, though, is that they have never lost against Serbia before; in 5 past meetings, they have won twice and drawn three times. If they keep their unbeaten run against Serbia going tomorrow, it will put Portugal in good stead heading into the rest of the qualifiers.
Fernando Santos has a wealth of talent to choose from for his latest Portugal team, a 25-man squad selected with great ability in every department on the pitch.
In between the sticks, there is no doubt that Rui Patricio will, and should, start in goal, the most capped goalkeeper in Portuguese history a crucial element to the Portugal squad.
In front of him, Pepe’s injury has scuppered the usual centreback partnership, the Porto man typically serving as the right-hand man of 22-year old Ruben Dias at the heart of defence. He will start, of course, likely alongside the very experienced Jose Fonte. The Euro 2016 winner is the perfect man to play alongside the younger Ruben Dias, and they have played alongside each other before, complimenting each other well and understanding how one another defends.
At left back, Portugal will likely opt for the slightly more attacking-minded Raphael Guerreiro; while it is not a position he typically plays in at club level, it is the role he serves in the Portugal national team, and although his defensive capabilities are often called into question, his ability on the overlap and his ball delivery makes him a huge threat.
On the opposite flank, there is little to separate both Nelson Semedo and Joao Cancelo, two of the best right backs in all of world football. However, due to Cancelo’s lack of game time so far this season, the expectation is that Nelson Semedo, who played so well during the Nations League finals, will start.
In terms of the midfield, Portugal will likely play 4 players that are all capable of playing in central midfield so they can effortlessly change from a 4-4-2 to a narrow 4-1-2-1-2 formation, a fluid attacking side that can override the midfield, or move outwide to stretch the match. We’ve seen that tactic implemented by Santos before, and it can really help both offensively and defensively.
A lot of the threat from Serbia will likely come down the flanks, with a lot of emphasis on their wingers what with them being a side that frequently deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation, and Portugal will need to defend well down the wings to block crosses into Mitrovic, for example. At the same time, however, you can still expect a lot of the attack to come through the middle, Tadic likely to play in the hole behind the striker, while Jovic, regardless of whether he starts centrally or on the wing, will be drifting inside at various opportunities. To have power and number in the middle, therefore, is helpful.
Portugal will therefore likely start with the more physical presence of Danilo Pereira as the defensive midfielder. Ruben Neves is a possibility, though Danilo, who started the Nations League final, is perhaps the more complete defensive midfielder. His passing range may not be as good, and his long-range shooting may not be as revered - though he did score Portugal’s beautiful distant strike versus Serbia in the home clash - but, as a defensive midfielder, his power, tackling and reading of the game is likely a level above.
He would serve as the player at the top of the diamond in midfielder, while the two in front of him will likely be William Carvalho and the sensational Bruno Fernandes. Carvalho is an integral part to the Portugal team, his composure, passing and occasional directness a huge plus for Portugal in the middle. He keeps the game ticking over, adds to the attacking moves, and also has his natural defensive instincts. Bruno Fernandes, meanwhile, will be given even more license to roam forwards, adding goals and assists to the midfield.
The great thing about playing Bruno is also the fact that Portugal can seemlessly switch to a flat four in midfield in a 4-4-2 formation, Danilo and William in midfield and Bruno Fernandes on the left. On the right, therefore, or as the attacking midfielder in a 4-1-2-1-2, would be the one and only Bernardo Silva. No surprises that he makes the team sheet.
And the two players up front will almost certainly be Cristiano Ronaldo alongside the young star that is Joao Felix, who has continued his exceptional performances with Benfica at new club Atletico Madrid.
This lineup offers the efficiency and defensive overload in midfield required to defend against a very strong home team, containing players that are willing to run and put a shift in for the team, while you also have four naturally attack-minded players in the equation, with Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix and Cristiano Ronaldo offering more than enough fire power to get the job done.
And if not, some huge quality remains on the bench to turn the game on its head; the pacey Rafa Silva is in exceptional form at Benfica, a player that could easily be playing at an even higher level, while Diogo Jota’s work rate and versatility makes him a great option off the bench too. And if composure is needed to see out the game, Joao Moutinho is ready to come on and help secure the desired result.
Portugal predicted XI: Rui Patricio - Raphael Guerreiro, Jose Fonte, Ruben Dias, Nelson Semedo - Danilo Pereira, William Carvalho, Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva - Joao Felix, Cristiano Ronaldo.