Portugal could be accused of being too predictable as they head into Euro 2012. Ever since he took over Paulo Bento has opted for the tried and tested 4-3-3 formation with three midfielders with good passing skills and trusting the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Nani to wreak havoc down the wings. However Bento has been playing around with this system recently proving he doesn’t just have one string to his bow.
During his time at Sporting Lisbon, Bento was known for religiously sticking to an orthodox 4-4-2 formation but has wisely never tried this with Portugal simply because they do not have the players to make it work. Instead he has, for the most part, kept faith with Carlos Quieroz’s 4-3-3 system with a twist in midfield which makes perfect sense when you bear in mind Portugal’s lack of top grade strikers and abundance of class on the wing and in midfield. As Portugal do not have a natural playmaker at the moment, Bento normally uses three box-to-box midfielders in the middle, who swap places constantly.
Normally Bento is happy to play with a midfield with no genuine holder although he did play around with things in Euro qualifying games. He employed a 4-1-2-3 in the first-leg of the play-offs against Bosnia (with Miguel Veloso in the enforcer role) and went with a 4-2-1-3 in a qualifying win in Iceland, a formation featuring Joao Moutinho as the playmaker and Carlos Martins and Raul Meireles on sentry duty in front of the back-line.
Other variations involve Cristiano Ronaldo, either switching from out wide to the point of attack or deploying him in the ‘hole’ in a 4-3-1-2.
Expected starting line-up
People throw the phrase 4-3-3 around, but Paulo Bento employs one of the purest versions of this formation you’ll see in football. He plays a genuine front three with devastating results. All of Bento’s midfield are technically very gifted and offer great fluidity.
The strategy is to rely on the movement of the ball between the three midfielders and Nani. Ronaldo has a free role to be able to create chances with a lot of support, especially from Fabio Coentrão. With Nani and Ronaldo on the wings, a midfielder usually appears on the edge of the box, ready to shoot, when the two wingers decide to pass. This midfielder is often Meireles, a player with a powerful. Joao Moutinho is the brain of the team and rarely misses a pass.
In the 2010 World Cup, Coentrão stole the headlines and was Portugal’s best player. He was allowed to maraud up and down the left side of the pitch and caught the eye on many occasions. This stifled Ronaldo, but Bento has found a way to utilise them both and for this reason, a lot of the excitement happens down Portugal’s left side. Ronaldo has the ability to stretch defences, taking them down the line and widening the gaps between players or cutting inside with deadly effect.
However Portugal have suffered from a lack of high quality strikers and none of the current batch (Helder Postiga, Hugo Almeida or the raw Benfica youngster Nelson Oliveira) are remotely good enough. Postinga is favourite to start in the central striker position but he is hardly world-class.
The Weak Spot
The defence may be Bento’s achilles heel this summer, Portugal play a relatively high line which is susceptible to pacey attacks. Under Carlos Queiroz, they managed to concede four against Cyprus with the long ball simply killing them. Bento has repaired some of this damage, but a quick, incisive attack would see the flat-footed Bruno Alves and Pepe in trouble.
On the right, the coach has decided to do without the services of Chelsea’s José Bosingwa after falling out with the defender. According to the coach, Bosingwa said he was injured so that he did not have to play in a friendly for Portugal, and he has not been called up since. João Pereira is the current holder of the right-back slot. He is a good player but has a suspect temperament, and has struggled to keep his anger in check domestically. For Portugal, he has been much better and has magnificent technique. He is a bit of a wild card.
In central defence, Bento has lost another player after a dispute. Ricardo Carvalho, after realising that he would lose his place to Pepe, walked out of training and has yet to return. Bento swears that the former Chelsea player will not play for Portugal again during his time in charge. The two central places will go to Pepe and Zenit’s 30-year-old stalwart Alves. They know each other well from their time at Porto and the only concern is that they are sometimes unnecessarily tough in their game. That could result in red cards, something the pair are no stranger to. Carvalho’s absence, meanwhile, is a huge blow to Bento as his presence at times allowed Pepe to play in defensive midfield. However Portugal do have an insurance policy, as Miguel Veloso, or whoever sits deep in the midfield, is able to cover for the marauding full-backs.
On the left, Fábio Coentrão is the undisputed first choice and Portugal have great hopes for the Real Madrid utility man this summer.
If you run at Portugal, they will struggle.
The Last Man
Rui Patrício has had a superb season domestically and in the Europa League and will be the first choice in goal ahead of Eduardo who has not played for his club. Patrício has reached a level of maturity which allows him to travel to Ukraine and Poland with a lot of confidence. One save from this season stands out, when he denied Joe Hart in the last minute against Manchester City to take his team through to the next round in the Europa League at the expense of City.
The key to Portugal’s success is Cristiano Ronaldo. That sounds obvious, but his positioning and movement reshapes the entire team at times. Bento has found the key to winning on allowing Ronaldo freedom and the opportunity to express himself now all the Real Madrid man has to do is live up to the hype.
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