As Portugal gets ready to play their penultimate warm up game against “El Tri”, the biggest topic of conversation continues to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s health.
Ronaldo will not play at Gillette Stadium this Friday, but he is not alone, Pepe and Raul Meireles were also declared unavailable by the FPF, and didn’t travel to Boston this past Thursday. Paulo Bento will continue to prepare the team with the players he has at his disposal, while hoping Portugal’s medical situation will improve in the coming week
In Portugal’s first warm up game against Greece, Bento surprised everyone by going to his “Plan C”. The trademark 4-3-3 gave way to the 4-4-2, as Bento tested alternatives, while resting players who had a long seasons, and arrived at camp needing specific care. Now that some of those players are back in normal group training, it will be time to fine tune the 4-3-3.
Even without Ronaldo, Bento will abandon the 4-4-2 we saw in Lisbon in detriment of his favored 4-3-3. The 4-3-3 is the system which the players are most familiar with, and the system Bento has geared up the team for. With that being said, aside from the obvious absences, we should see a very close line up to the one that will play in Portugal’s first group game against Germany.
Eduardo and Beto shared halves in Lisbon, but it will most likely be Rui Patricio who will be defending Portugal’s twine against Mexico. Patricio was Bento’s choice for entire qualification campaign, and there are no indicators that the Sporting man will lose his starting spot. His omission from the game against Greece was a mere formality.
In defense, the biggest absence will continue to be Pepe. The absence of the Real Madrid anchor man has been overshadowed by all the attention given to Ronaldo’s situation, but in reality Pepe has yet to participate in Portugal’s training sessions, and his injury – a left leg muscular injury – is starting to become a worrisome situation. Pepe has been confined to Portugal’s hotel, while undergoing specific work with the physio team.
In Pepe’s absence, there is a possibility we will see Neto, or perhaps a Ricardo Costa repeat start. On the flanks Fabio Coentrao should make the start, while Joao Pereira will once again be on the right.
In Portugal’s midfield sector, William Carvalho should continue to benefit from injuries to grab minutes, and continue to strengthen his case for a starting position. Veloso should be back in the advanced vertex of Portugal’s inverted midfield triangle, along side Portugal’s little engine that could -Joao Moutinho. The Monaco midfielder should be back in the line up after not making an appearance in Portugal’s game against Greece.
Up front, Postiga should return to his “9” role, from the “9.5” we saw in Lisbon. Eder made a good case for more opportunities, but Paulo Bento is well known for sticking to the players who have brought him success, and Postiga is one of them.
On the wings, Nani will once again get the start on the right, while he battles to regain his confidence and competitive rhythm. The Man United winger, was a bright spot against Greece, showing not only great determination and desire, but the focus of a man which great hopes rest upon, especially in Ronaldo’s absence. The other wing will continue to remain a test environment, and while Silvestre Varela had a quiet and discreet game against Greece, Vierinha is making a very strong case to fill in Ronaldo’s shoes for the time being.
With Portugal’s debut game 10 days away, we should see Portugal’s strongest and healthiest 11, at least in the first half. Paulo Bento will undoubtedly be making minor tweaks here and there, but the time for experimentation is over. With or without Ronaldo, there is still a World Cup to prepare for, and regardless of the importance of the current FIFA World Player of the Year to the “Selecao”, Bento needs to remain true to his plan, and course of action during this crucial time in Portugal’s preparation.
In his Mexico pre-game presser, Bento has chosen to not divulge anymore information about Portugal’s clinical cases than what the FPF has been releasing to the media. When questioned about Pepe and the possibility of Pepe’s loss of competitive rhythm , Bento stated that every player is their own unique case, and will have to be looked at, and evaluated on a pre-determined set of factors, and with the direct involvement of the medical, and technical staff.
It will be Mexico’s last tune up game, and after suffering some injury setbacks, and a less than stellar performance against Bosnia Herzegovina, “El Tri” will be looking to Portugal to test their readiness. On the Portuguese side, Bento hopes he can come out of Boston without adding anymore names to Portugal’s clinical bulletin, while continuing to fine tune Portugal’s style.