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Portugal Euro 2020 tactics preview: What we know about the team’s formation, flexibility and set-piece approach

Ronaldo Portugal
(Image credit: PA)

How much do we know about the Portugal Euro 2020 tactics? The warm-up friendlies produced a 0-0 draw against Spain, and a 4-0 pummelling of Israel, which both give an insight into how Fernando Santos plans to line-up his Portugal squad as they defend their Euros crown. 

With a plethora of options to choose from in the attacking positions, and a solid defensive base, here’s what FourFourTwo makes of Portugal's likely approach. 

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Portugal Euro 2020 tactics: What formation will Portugal play? The flexibility on offer

Portugal's Euro 2020 squad features nine European Championship winners from their 2016 triumph, as they add a young and hungry group of players to the experienced internationals already in the team. 

Cristiano Ronaldo remains the team's most influential player, but this time is backed up by some of Europe's best attacking talent in Diogo Jota, Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, and Joao Felix.

Veteran defenders Pepe and Jose Fonte are still going strong, though they'll no doubt be the ones fighting for a starting berth alongside the formidable Ruben Dias, fresh off of winning the FWA Footballer of the Year.

The squad contains ten league winners from across Europe from this season alone, with a further four playing in either the Europa League or Champions League final.

Combining experience and desire, this is a squad with enormous potential that can play a number of different tactical ways. Somewhat surprisingly, there are even calls for Santos to drop Ronaldo in Portugal, suggesting the team plays better without their talisman starting. 

Throughout qualifying, the Nations League, and friendlies, Fernando Santos has preferred to set his team up in either a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, hoping to best use the talent he has at his disposal.

It is likely that the opening game will feature Portugal utilising a 4-2-3-1, which they have used in their two most recent friendlies. Both of those games has seen Ronaldo as the focal point in attack, with Diogo Jota on the left wing and Pepe in the heart of the defence. 

Portugal Euro 2020 Starting XI

(Image credit: Future)

Choosing from either Bruno Fernandes or Joao Felix to start in the attacking midfield role is never going to be easy, but either option means that Bernardo Silva is likely to start from the right. However, that allows the Manchester City man to link up with club teammate Joao Cancelo down that flank, who will likely start at right back ahead of Nelson Semedo. 

Pepe seems the preferred partner to Ruben Dias in defence, and rightly so, after that mesmeric Champions League performance against Juventus, while Raphael Guerreiro should start at left-back. 

The two holding midfielders could combine anyone out of Joao Moutinho, Ruben Neves, Danilo Pereira, William Carvalho, Renato Sanches, and Sergio Oliviera - the friendlies and most recent World Cup qualifiers have seen all six players in different combinations play. It appears Santos isn't even sure what his preferred two are. 

What is certain though, is that whoever starts in these positions will give license to the four attacking players to express themselves. Providing a steady balance in the centre of the park is crucial, which is what Portugal's midfield will undoubtedly posses no matter who is chosen.

Portugal's play inevitable centres around Ronaldo's influence, especially with crosses into the box to take advantage of his ability in the air. But as witnessed against Israel,   the presence of Ronaldo alone can open up spaces for other players to run into - something both Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix will benefit from depending on who starts behind the Juventus forward.

Both Jota and Silva will also play as inverted wingers, cutting in from wide areas to link up with the midfield to both assist and score goals. Certainly an aspect both players enjoy in their game is pressing the ball, and if they're successful in winning it back in high areas they should revel in creating chances against open backlines. France and Germany are unlikely to sit back, which could prove costly with Jota, Silva, Ronaldo, Felix and Fernandes lurking. 

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Portugal Euro 2020

(Image credit: PA)

Portugal Euro 2020 tactics: How will Portugal approach set pieces?

Cristiano Ronaldo posses perhaps the greatest leap in football, and will be the obvious target for Portugal from attacking set-pieces. With Silva, Fernandes, Neves and Moutinho all capable of whipping in impossible balls to defend, Portugal could cause real problems in attacking set-pieces at the Euros.

Both Fernandes and Ronaldo love a free-kick too, with both proving that they have the requisite skills to score from outside the area. Unsurprisingly though, Ronaldo will take the majority of free-kicks this summer ahead of Fernandes - he is chasing the all-time international goalscoring record after all.

Similarly, the Portugal captain will also invariably step up from 12 yards ahead of his teammates.

Defensively, the team seem sound from set pieces. In our expected starting XI, five  players stand at either six feet or above - Ronaldo, Pereira, Dias, Cancelo and Pepe - which should be enough to deal with any high balls into the area. Their starting positions could cause them problems from wide free-kicks though, which was evident in their game against Spain.

Opting to retreat back into their 18 yard box, instead of at least standing on the line, Spain - who are by no means tall themselves - created a few half-chances that caught Portugal out. They have the big men to deal with the crosses, but perhaps not enough to confidence to maintain a high line outside of the area.

Set pieces could prove crucial for Portugal at Euro 2020, especially in as tight a group as they play in, with opponents France, Germany, and Hungary. Chances will undoubtedly be few and far between, so they could end up relying on their prowess from set pieces.

At the 2018 World Cup, the nation was involved in 12 goals during the tournament, six of which came from set pieces. Four of the six goals they scored themselves came from set pieces, proving just how pivotal they could be for the country this summer.

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