Fernando Santos: What Can We Expect from Portugal’s New Boss?


Portugal Cyprus Euro 2012 Qual

Could we see Ricardo Carvalho back in the team?

The Portuguese Football Federation announced this week the appointment of Fernando Santos as the Selecao’s head coach. Santos has filled the position left vacated by the departure of Paulo Bento, the team’s previous coach. Bento was known for his stubbornness, which resulted in stagnant team selections, as well as some players being exiled from the team. With Santos now in charge, there is a natural hope for a renewed team; one that is open to any player deemed worthy to represent it. Let’s take a look at what we can expect from Fernando Santos, in terms of player selection and tactics. Continue reading

Preview: Portugal vs Albania


Paulo Bento - Portugal

Portugal vs Albania

Match Preview

The Portuguese National Team will kick off their UEFA Euro 2016 qualification campaign tomorrow when they host Albania. Portugal is also joined in Group I by Denmark, Armenia, and Serbia. France will also play all of the teams in Group I, but the matches will not count towards the final group standings, as France is automatically qualified as host of Euro 2016. With Serbia, Denmark, and Armenia all wildcards capable of giving Portugal trouble, one feels that the matches against Albania are must-wins for the Portuguese.

Paulo Bento named a decidedly new-look Portuguese team for this match, most likely as a response to team selection criticism after the World Cup. Bento has earned a reputation lately for being set in his ways. Many believe he is too much set in his ways, but the fact that he has stuck with players who are past their prime is one that cannot be overlooked. Players such as Raul Meireles, Helder Postiga, and Miguel Veloso have all seen better days, but are still automatic starters under Bento. Players such as William Carvalho, Jose Fonte, and Adrien Silva have been given few opportunities, despite stellar performances. In fact, with the example of Fonte and Adrien, Bento has not even selected these players, despite their solid performances in the Premier League and the Portuguese Liga, respectively.

When it was announced that Paulo Bento would stay on as coach until at least Euro 2016, many fans feared more of the same favoritism for two more years. This favoritism, many fear, could cost the team qualification for Euro 2016, which could be the first time Portugal has not qualified for a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup. But, with the team that Bento selected for tomorrow’s match against Albania, many of the hardcore opponents will be appeased. In the team that Bento named, no less than seven players have the opportunity to make their debuts. These players are Pedro Tiba (Braga), Andre Gomes (Valencia), Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Ricardo Horta (Malaga), Bruma (Galatasaray), Ruben Vezo (Valencia), and Adrien Silva (Sporting). All seven are enjoying positive starts to their respective seasons, and it is encouraging that Bento is giving opportunities to young, capable players. And there are some statistics that show Bento’s change in heart:


Average age of 2014 World Cup squad: 27.9 years old

Average age of squad named for Albania game: 25.6 years old

Average number of appearances for 2014 World Cup squad: 34.5 caps

Average number of appearances for squad named for Albania Game: 23.4 caps


As the numbers show, the team that Bento named for tomorrow’s match is both drastically younger and more inexperienced. This decision to boot experience and age in favor of younger, more inexperienced players could prove to be a positive decision. The Portuguese are coming off of a tournament that they were expected to perform much better than they did. With their star man Cristiano Ronaldo seemingly at his height as a footballer at the age of 29, the 2014 World Cup was supposed to be Ronaldo’s. Portugal had an experienced team, which was led by arguably the finest player in the world at the time of the tournament, and the team was expected to beat out the United States and Ghana easily to earn a second-place spot behind Germany (at least) in Group G. The rest is history, and the decision by Bento now to bring in new faces suggests that he is preparing the team to move on and look ahead to future challenges (such as Euro 2016).


Portugal last met Albania in qualification for the 2010 World Cup. At that time, the team was led by Carlos Queiroz, who if nothing else, instilled a defensive solidarity in the team. In the 10 matches during qualification, the team only conceded five goals in total. When the team met Albania in those qualifying matches, both teams’ tactics cancelled each other’s out. Both were defensive-leaning teams, and though Portugal possessed much greater talent, the outcomes were stale matches. The two times the teams played, the outcomes were a 0-0 draw and a last-minute 2-1 victory for Portugal.

This time around, Portugal plays a much more open, attacking style of play, one that can be used towards a much more positive result against Albania. Though the team will be lacking their start man, Cristiano Ronaldo, there is no shortage of talent and dynamism in the team. As this is a qualification match, Paulo Bento will likely keep his experimenting to a minimum.

Rui Patricio is a no-brainer to start in goal as a result of solid performances both for Sporting at the Seleccao recently. In front of Patricio will likely be a familiar back-line, something that Bento may be reluctant to change. Fabio Coentrao merits inclusion at left-back, while Joao Pereira could very well start on the right. There is a possibility that Joao Pereira could be benched in favor of Andre Almeida. Pereira’s future at Valencia is currently up in the air, and Bento has given hints that his starting spot is not set in stone. Pepe will likely start, seeing as he has been Real Madrid and Portugal’s starter for some time. The other center-back spot will likely come down between Ricardo Costa and Luis Neto. Though Ricardo Costa is 33 and not playing in a major league, Bento will likely choose him to start.

In midfield, Bento will likely have learned his lesson with William Carvalho. Carvalho will most likely start ahead of Miguel Veloso. Ahead of Carvalho will likely be Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho. Meireles, who is one of the players whose lackluster performances lately have been noticed, may be benched in favor of Adrien Silva, whose performances for Sporting have been wonderful. On the wings, Nani will likely resume his starting position, after playing regularly for Sporting. Filling the hole left by Ronaldo will likely be Vieirinha, who is impressing at Wolfsburg. Up top should be Eder, who is the team’s most viable option as striker. Bento has also hinted that Ivan Cavaleiro could be used as striker for the team, but it remains clear who will start.

Here’s the full lineup, as predicted:

Portugal-Albania predicted lineup

If the team can learn from its previous mistakes, Portugal should have no problem with this game. The fact that Bento is giving opportunities to younger players, the morale and drive of the team should be very high. A positive performance in this game could very well put their underwhelming performances at the World Cup behind them. Put simply, a win tomorrow can be the first step towards a new chapter in Portuguese football.


 

PortugalFutbol prediction: Portugal 4-1 Albania

The Curious Case of Andre Moreira


Photo: Moreirense Futebol Clube

Photo: Moreirense Futebol Clube

Andre Moreira

Atletico Madrid to Moreirense (loan)

News came today that Portugal U-19 European siver-medalist Andre Moreira had joined Liga side Moreirense on loan from Atletico Madrid. A move for the goalkeeper came as little surprise, as he was playing his club football at lowly third division Ribeirao before impressing for the U-19s this summer. But what came as a surprise was not that he had joined a top-flight side, but instead that he was joining on loan from Spanish giants Atletico Madrid.

Moreira enjoyed a very positive Euro U-19 Championship tournament this summer. Despite only playing in the third division leading up to the tournament, Moreira secured the starting position in goal ahead of Tiago Sa, who is a regular for Braga B in the second tier. This alone raised some eyebrows, and it was all the more impressive when one considers that Andre Moreira was one of the younger participants in the team at 18 years old.

In the time around the tournament, clubs such as Manchester United, Benfica, Valencia, and Monaco were all interested in Moreira. This comes as no surprise from his solid performances at such a young age. It’s not everyday that an 18 year-old goalkeeper becomes a starter for his club.

Around the time that the interest in Moreira was beginning to ramp up, it was announced by his club, Ribeirao, that he his rights had been purchased by Jorge Mendes’ agency, Gestifute. Mendes is the notorious agent who represents players such as Ronaldo, Helder Postiga, David De Gea, and others. He is partially responsible for the transfers of many talented players in the league over the past seasons, and has gained a reputation for earning players big moves. Gestifute bought Andre Moreira for 220,000 euros and apparently negotiated a move to Atletico Madrid.

Though I have been unable to find any confirmation that Andre Moreira did indeed end up at Atletico Madrid, all major Portuguese sports news outlets are reporting that he did indeed sign for them. And it’s easy to believe. Mendes has strong ties to the big clubs in both Spain and England.

Now, Andre Moreira will join newly-promoted Liga Zon Sagres side Moreirense on loan from Atletico Madrid for the season, a move which will surely give him some playing time. Moreira will have to compete with first-choice Marafona, as well as Ricardo Ribeiro and new signing Gideao.

Tiago Mendes Returns to Chelsea


Tiago Mendes-Chelsea 2004-2005

Tiago (left) during his first stint with Chelsea, when he helped Chelsea to its first league title in 50 years. Photo courtesy express.co.uk

After a stellar season at Atletico Madrid which saw the team win the league and reach the final of the Champions League, Tiago Mendes is set to rejoin Jose Mourinho at English giants Chelsea. This will be Tiago’s second stint at the English club, after representing the team during the 2004-2005 season, also during Mourinho’s first season at Chelsea. An integral part of Atletico Madrid’s much-hailed midfield last season, Tiago found himself in arguably the finest form of his career at the advanced age of 33. He was in such fine form that he publicly regretted his decision to retire from the Portuguese National Team following the 2010 World Cup. At the time, it looked as if the midfielder’s career was on the steep decline, despite positive performances for Portugal at the aforesaid World Cup.

At the time of his international retirement, Tiago was languishing at Juventus, having only managed 7 league appearances during the first half of the previous season.  A loan to Atletico Madrid was arranged in January of 2010 (still prior to the World Cup), and the midfielder showed his worth, making 18 league appearances in the latter half of the season. After a successful half season and a positive World Cup campaign, another loan was arranged for the 2010-2011 season. But this time it was a season-long loan. Tiago continued to perform well for the Spanish club, managing 31 league appearances. After the loan expired, Tiago was purchased outright by Atletico on a two year contract. Since that time, Tiago has established himself as a tactically-sound asset to the team. He’s not the player he once was, but his knowledge of the game has grown immensely-an attribute he showed to perfection this season.

Many are speculating that Tiago’s move to Chelsea is one that will see him become part of the team’s backroom staff after his playing days are over. He was signed on a two-year deal, which will see him under contract until he is 35 years old, a prime age for retirement. There have been no secrets about his relationship with Jose Mourinho, and many are speculating that Tiago may have been signed to become Mourinho’s assistant a few years down the road. Will this happen? Only time will tell. For the mean time, Chelsea have signed an experienced player who was at the heart of one of the finest underdog stories of last season.

Silvio Loaned to Deportivo


Silvio - Atletico Madrid

Silvio

Atletico Madrid to Deportivo (Loan)

Atletico Madrid right-back Silvio has joined fellow La Liga side Deportivo on loan until the end of the season. The defender has been in and out of Atletico’s first team this season, but more times than not, he has missed selection. In an effort to gain playing time, he has joined Deportivo, which is ranked last in La Liga at the moment. A likely contributing factor to the move is the recent appointment of Domingos Pacienca, who Silvio played under at Braga during the 2010-2011 season.

Coentrao to be Involved in Bale Swap Deal


Fabio Coentrao – Real Madrid to Tottenham?

News has come out recently that Real Madrid have made Tottenham winger Gareth Bale their number one target for this upcoming transfer window. Bale has shown his credentials as one of the finest young wingers in the game at the moment, and Real hope to add him to their squad. In order to make the deal more attainable, according to reports, Real Madrid are prepared to include Fabio Coentrao in the deal. So, Coentrao would move to Tottenham, while Bale would move the opposite direction to Real Madrid. Coentrao would likely not find holding down a starting position very hard. Regardless of whether this move goes through, it is looking more likely every day that Fabio Coentrao will not be a Real Madrid player next season.

Braga Purchase Ruben Micael


Ruben Micael

Atletico Madrid to Braga

Ruben Micael is now an SC Braga player, after the Portuguese club purchased half of the rights to the player for 3 million euros, a record purchase for the club. Micael has been in scintillating form for Braga this season, where he has been on loan from Atletico Madrid. The midfielder moved to Atletico as part of the Falcao deal, but was immediately loaned to Zaragoza. He spent the entirety of last season on loan at the Spanish club, and joined Braga at the beginning of this season. He had previously shown what he could do in the Liga Zon Sagres first with Nacional and then with Porto, and many were eagerly awaiting his performances for Braga. He has not disappointed. Micael has amassed four goals and two assists in ten appearances this season, and has become one of Braga’s most valued assets. The contract that he signed is valid for five years.

Coentrao to Re-Join Benfica?


Fabio Coentrao 

Real Madrid to Benfica?

Reports coming out of Portugal suggest that Fabio Coentrao may be poised for a shock move back to Portugal. The left-back made the move from Benfica to Real Madrid for 30 million euros at the beginning of last season, but has failed to hold down a regular spot. Despite a superb showing at Euro 2012, Coentrao has found playing time hard to come by, especially due to Marcelo’s solid performances. Now, Benfica are reportedly interested in buying back the defender.

Bento Calls on Neto


Paulo Bento released a 23 man squad today for the Portugal National team’s upcoming World Cup qualifying fixtures against Russia and Northern Ireland. The biggest surprise on the list was the inclusion of Siena central-defender Neto in the squad. The defender has been impressive in Italy so far this term, and has earned his first call accordingly. Pizzi and Sereno were included for the second squad in a row, and both have yet to make their debut. Hugo Almeida missed out again. Here’s the full list:

Goalkeepers: Beto (Braga), Eduardo (Istanbul BB), Rui Patrício (Sporting)

Defenders: Bruno Alves (Zenit), Fábio Coentrão (Real Madrid), Sereno (Valladolid), Miguel Lopes (FC Porto), João Pereira (Valencia), Pepe (Real Madrid), Luís Neto (Siena)

Midfielders: Custódio (Braga), João Moutinho (Porto), Miguel Veloso (Dynamo Kiev), Raúl Meireles (Fenerbahce), Rúben Amorim (Braga), Rúben Micael (Braga)

Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Hélder Postiga (Zaragoza), Nani (Manchester United), Pizzi (Deportivo La Coruña), Nélson Oliveira (Deportivo La Coruña), Varela (Porto), Éder (Braga)

Transfer Rumors – 8/8/12


As with any transfer window, there are always an excess of transfer rumors, some of which are believable, some of which are off the wall. We’ll bring you both, and you can decide for yourself which is which.

Bruno Alves

Zenit to Juventus, Porto, or Atletico Madrid?

Portuguese international defender Bruno Alves is hinting that a move away from Russia may be in the near future. The defender, who featured heavily in the Portuguese squad at this summer’s European Championships, was snapped up by Zenit in 2010 for a fee of over 20 million pounds. This move came after widespread speculation linking him to the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United. Since his move, he has established himself as an important player for the club. Now, Juventus, Porto, and Atletico Madrid are all said to be interested in the defender. As with Porto’s case, there has been talk of Zenit using Bruno Alves as a makeweight in a shock swoop for Hulk at Porto. Regardless, Atletico Madrid seem the most likely to win his signature, with Alves’ father stating that his son “would have no problem going to Atletico Madrid.”

Eliseu

Malaga to Benfica?

In the midst of financial turmoil, Malaga are looking to sell some of their most prized assets. Spanish international Santi Cazorla has already moved on to Arsenal, while Venezuelan striker Salomon Rondon has made a seven million pound move to Russia. One player who has been important for the Spanish club over the past few seasons is Eliseu. A winger who was converted to left-back, Eliseu has impressed many with his performances for not only Malaga, but the Portuguese National team. It is no secret that Benfica are in the market for a left-back after the departure of Capdevila to Espanyol, and the underwhelming performances of Emerson. Benfica coach Jorge Jesus has even used Melgarejo, a Paraguayan forward, as a left-back, an indication that a true left-back is needed for the club. Benfica’s interest in Eliseu is not new, but there now may be more urgency behind the move.  Benfica is not the only club interested in the winger, with six other unnamed clubs interested as well.

Quaresma

Besiktas to Atletico Madrid or Liverpool?

Dazzling winger Ricardo Quaresma looks to be on his way out of Turkish club Besiktas. After a wage dispute, it appears that Quaresma is being frozen out of the club, and is reportedly training with the club’s reserve team. The Portuguese international’s skill is undeniable. After an ill-fated move to Inter Milan earlier in his career, the winger’s glory days looked over. After his move to Besiktas, however, the winger gained back some of his confidence, and, once again, began to shine. Now, his days at Besiktas looked numbered. It is reported that Liverpool have reserved eight million pounds for his services, and Atletico Madrid will pounce should their deal with Crisitan Tello fall by the wayside.