Managers at this year’s Euro 2016 have been forced into changing formations, like Germany were against Italy; reprimanded for not looking beyond their Plan A, as was Vicente del Bosque with Spain; and criticized for not knowing their best eleven, as Roy Hodgson found out.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 6, 2016
For the most part Fernando Santos has avoided any of this backlash while using every single one of his Portuguese outfield players. Bar Rafa Silva and Eder, they have all made meaningful contributions in a team that has changed its midfield shape – more than anything.
The fullbacks that started the tournament looked out of place. Veirinha was at fault for the goal they conceded in their opener against Iceland, which sparked petulant comments from his captain Cristiano Ronaldo. Cedric, who did not impress in his time on the south coast of the UK, has stepped in and looked more accomplished. Eliseu on the opposite wing was binned for Raphael Guerreiro.
At the heart of the defense Pepe’s presence has kept things tight, for the most part. Jose Fonte, who entered the tournament as their fourth choice centre-back but since replacing Ricardo Carvalho in the group stages has been imperious. Stepping out of the backline safe in the knowledge his partner Pepe would be behind him sweeping up any loose balls. Not having a settled backline for a team absorbing attacking pressure could have proven costly.
The backline have benefited from fullbacks instructed not to be overly adventurous but so too a shift in structure ahead of them. Ball-player Joao Moutinho couldn’t quite protect his defenders as William Carvalho has, or Danilo deputizing for him. Focussing on ball-winning, and strangling of opposition in the centre, more than retention has meant abandoning the four across the midfield line.
Andre Gomes’ use as a wide midfielder has been made redundant since Joao Mario and the incoming, explosive Renato Sanches have been tasked with helping Adrien Silva in the middle of the park. A decision that has characterized this team in many ways in the knockout phase of the competition.
Against a Wales team that missed Aaron Ramsey’s cantering in central positions, Portugal forced Wales down the wings and Gareth Bale into uncomfortable deeper positions. The changes haven’t been drastic in terms of the system used, other than fortifying and energizing the midfield. The fullbacks have been more cautious but the front two – mainly for lack of options – has remained the same. Nani has stayed alongside Ronaldo, playing to the tune of his captain.
Nani’s game by numbers vs. #WAL
95% pass accuracy
2 chances created
1 goal pic.twitter.com/9NW2rVgjDH
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 6, 2016
Spain’s last two Euro successes didn’t change their personnel too much, despite their embarrassment of riches in midfield and attacking positions. The only real variation up front was with with Danny Guiza in 2008 when things became a bit predictable.
Comparing that to Portugal this year, Fernando Santos has done an impressive job taking decisions to change players without giving them much time to settle into the tournament surroundings. He’s kept things simple and allowed Ronaldo to grow in the tournament, both with his contributions and leadership.
9 – @Cristiano has equaled the nine goals from Michel Platini as top scorer at Euro. Leader
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) July 6, 2016
They haven’t looked close to tournament winners but brave choices and tactical tinkering have taken them to the final.