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Match Report & Analysis: Portugal 0 - 3 Netherlands

Ronaldo fails to cover up the issues in Fernando Santos’ tactical system this time around.

Portugal v Netherlands - International Friendly Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

Fernando Santos tweaked his typical 4-4-2 with some unconventional personnel selections. He played 4 CM’s/CAM’s in his midfield and placed right-winger Quaresma up top with Cristiano Ronaldo. In defense, he replaced three of the players who faced Egypt, with only Rolando remaining in the starting eleven.

Ronald Koeman decided to roll out a defensive 5-3-2, with Memphis Depay and Ryan Babel up top to provide a threat on the counter.

Portugal’s Tactics & Personnel Selection

The game played out rather predictably, with Santos’ unimaginative build-up leading to tons of useless possession around the wings.

It didn’t help that he made terrible personnel choices, as he failed to play a single winger in their natural position. This caused Portugal’s “wide” men to drift inside far too much, which clogged central spaces and completely discombobulated the Selecção’s attacking shape (it was impossible to tell whether Bruno Fernandes or Adrien Silva was Portugal’s right midfielder). The players on the flanks were also ill-suited for Santos’ prime attacking strategy: clever wing-play and crossing.

I understand that Santos was trying to test out some fringe players in order to rest some players and evaluate the squad, but that is possible without compromising the entire tactical system. Gelson Martins is the 3rd option behind Bernardo Silva and Ricardo Quaresma on the right flank and could’ve used a start ahead of someone like Manuel Fernandes, Bruno Fernandes, or Adrien Silva. Goncalo Guedes has not truly been integrated into Santos’ system yet, which makes giving him meager bench minutes an oversight. The Valencia-man possesses game-changing talent and would’ve certainly been a better test option than Manuel Fernandes on the left flank. Instead, Santos tried to give too many minutes to fringe central midfielders and ended up wasting their time as Portugal fell to a dismal 3-0 loss.

The Netherland’s Tactics

Ronald Koeman instructed his side to sit in a disciplined medium block that sought to cut off access to the center. Wijnaldum, Pröpper, van de Beek, Babel, and Depay, formed a compact five that completely shut-off access to the midfield. It started off in a 3-2 configuration and then shifted to a situational 2-3 shape when the ball shifted to a midfielder in the half space. This allowed the Netherlands to press the man in the half spaces while still having 2 midfielders protecting the center of the pitch. To defend against the switch, the Netherland’s far-side fullback would push up the field to mark a Portuguese winger. It was a basic but organized defensive ploy, and it proved to be enough to completely stymie the opposition, who managed a poor 2 shots in the first half.

Once the Dutch won the ball back, they quickly played the ball wide and crossed the ball into the box. Portugal’s defensive organization in transition, which was hurt by their confused offensive positioning, was abysmal, and the Netherlands scored two of their goals this way. Their third, and final, goal came from a set-piece that was poorly defended.

The 3 Goals

Ronaldo’s Performance

Rating: 5.5/10

Even when balancing for Santos’ awful tactics and personnel selection, Ronaldo’s play was poor. He started off the game on the wrong note, misplacing a couple passes before miscontrolling a good Fonté pass inside the box. He then fluffed a shot inside the edge of area in the 30th minute and failed to create much of anything for himself or for others. He improved a little in the second half, thanks to the introduction of Guedes on the left and André Silva at center forward, but he still looked a bit off and was substituted in the 68th minute.

On the bright side, Ronaldo was the only player who provided any kind of spark through the middle. Though he was playing well below his usual standards, he still managed to provide Portugal with a modicum of incisiveness and central penetration thanks to his clever movement, roaming overloads, and desire to create one-touch plays. However, it is concerning that Ronaldo’s deep movements are the only method through which Portugal progress play creatively. Cristiano does not assume such a comprehensive role in international tournaments (whether that be because Portugal play more conservatively (because they face better opponents) or because Ronaldo is trying to conserve energy or doesn’t have as much energy at the tail-end of a grueling season), meaning Portugal are heavily dependent on a method that will likely not exist in the World Cup.

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