In a 4-0 Nations League thrashing of the Czech Republic on Saturday, Portugal got the best out of Bruno Fernandes.
Manager Fernando Santos did what he couldn’t do at Euro 2020: he put Fernandes in a position to shine.
The Manchester United midfielder, who had been benched for the tournament, scored and assisted against the Czech Republic in an energetic performance that exemplified his positive attributes. He’s worked his way back to being an obvious first choice.
Fernandes was given more freedom as Santos abandoned the three-man midfield he had relied on for much of the previous two years. Portugal used a double pivot between Wolves’ Ruben Neves and Real Betis’ William Carvalho, allowing Fernandes and Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva to push higher up the pitch than is usually permitted. The strategy was flawless.
Diogo Dalot, one of Fernandes’ Old Trafford teammates, also scored twice, and Diogo Jota, of Liverpool, came off the bench to score Portugal’s fourth goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo, on the other hand, struggled, displaying his age in a game where he would normally thrive. The starting spot is unlikely to be taken away from him, but Portugal is desperate for him to rediscover his scoring touch.
What an amazing performance! With Portugal in possession, Fernandes was truly unleashed by the midfield duo behind him, roaming to all the right spots and posing a constant danger with his movement and passing vision.
Ronaldo squandered two chances to assist in the first half, but Fernandes scored himself after a dart towards a goal that Mario Rui picked out with a well-timed cross, and he also contributed to the build-up for Dalot’s opener before assisting him for another goal in the second half.
A second strong performance from a Manchester United player here, and one that solidifies his place as a starting line-up contender, potentially freeing up Joao Cancelo to play on the left side.
Dalot earned his first goal by carrying the ball from midfield into the attacking third and making a smart run into the box to finish Leao’s cut-back pass. His second strike was even more impressive. He dribbled into traffic on his left foot and swung a long shot past the goalkeeper.
Portugal’s main hope at the World Cup is that their dynamism will allow them to create chances against even the best defenses. Dalot has been overlooked as a player who can contribute to those magical moments, but he has proven that he possesses that ability.
Getting the start was a huge confidence booster for him, and he didn’t disappoint his manager.
Leao is battling Diogo Jota for a starting spot in the attack and may be behind in the pecking order heading into Saturday’s match. He made a compelling case for his selection, even though he has yet to score a senior goal in his Portugal career.
With a nice first-half pass, the AC Milan star sent Fernandes into open space, resulting in a scoring opportunity for Ronaldo. He then helped Dalot collect the ball before it rolled past the by-line after a sprint.
Yes, he was sloppy at times, but Jota did come off the bench and score. But Leao appears to be in better shape now than he was at the start of his career under Santos, and his manager wants to give him every chance to succeed.
The narrative has always been that, while Ronaldo’s movement may be deteriorating, his shooting touch will not. Inconsistent service with Manchester United was then identified as a contributing factor to his club’s struggles. However, against the Czech Republic, he was repeatedly given passes in dangerous positions only to mishandle them. Shots scuffed, volley attempt off his shin, and a lot of slamming on the turf in frustration. In addition, a penalty was awarded due to a handball.
Given the lack of natural strikers making an impression on Santos, his place in the starting line-up is likely to remain secure, but it has been an unwelcome poor start to the international break in a game in which he would have scored at least a brace in the past.
To be fair to him, we should mention that he suffered a nasty nose injury early in the game.
When Ronaldo handled the ball in the box at the end of the first half, the Czech Republic was gifted a penalty kick, but Schick blazed him over the bar. His team was completely deflated after that.
Nuno Mendes, widely expected to start Portugal’s World Cup opener, sat on the bench as the team performed admirably with Rui in his place. Rui is not the man the Paris Saint-Germain youngster will be concerned about; when Cancelo returns from suspension, he could take over at left-back, with Dalot starting at right-back. Cancelo is a standout performer for Manchester City as a right-footed left-back, while Dalot is I mpressing in all competitions at Old Trafford.