Martinez's Portugal in-tray: Solve Ronaldo puzzle and build around Bruno

By Sports Desk January 09, 2023

When Fernando Santos called time on his eight-year stint as Portugal head coach after their 2022 World Cup quarter-final elimination, few would have correctly predicted his replacement.

Roberto Martinez also left his national team role after the tournament in Qatar, with Belgium disappointingly falling at the group stage.

The former Everton and Wigan Athletic boss took the Red Devils to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018, before reaching the last eight of Euro 2020, being eliminated by the eventual winners in both.

Martinez finds himself in charge of A Selecao now after his appointment was confirmed on Monday, and there is plenty of work to be done.

Qualifiers for the 2024 European Championships get underway in March and with the talent at their disposal, Portugal must be fancied to be among the favourites for the tournament in Germany.

Stats Perform has taken a look at five things in Martinez's in-tray that he will need to consider if he is to find success with his new team.

Solve the Ronaldo conundrum

"Decisions have to be made on the pitch. I won't rush into decisions. I want to meet everyone, and from today I want to talk and meet all the players," Martinez said at his first press conference as Portugal coach.

"Cristiano [Ronaldo] is part of that list. He's had 19 years in the national team and deserves respect, let's talk. From there, it's up to me to make the best list for the European Championships."

Ronaldo has 118 goals in 196 caps for Portugal, undeniably an international record to be proud of, but he will be 38 years old when Martinez takes charge of his first game.

One of the new boss' biggest issues with Belgium was getting the best out of ageing stars, and with Portugal arguably looking far sharper when Ronaldo was benched in Qatar – hat-trick hero v Switzerland Goncalo Ramos in particular – perhaps now is the perfect time to allow the former Real Madrid and Juventus man to fully focus on his new adventure in Saudi Arabia and call time on his international career.

Getting the best out of Joao Felix

This is a problem Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone is all too familiar with, hence why Joao Felix is being linked with a loan move to the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal instead of lighting up LaLiga on a weekly basis.

The 23-year-old has plenty of talent, but a lack of consistency belies the nine-figure fee Atletico paid Benfica for him back in 2019.

If Martinez chooses to move on from Ronaldo though, Joao Felix could find the space and responsibility to thrive at international level as part of a team where everyone would be expected to chip in.

Of players to have featured in at least 14 LaLiga games this season, only Mikel Merino, Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembele average more than Joao Felix's 0.42 assists per 90.

Utilise Dias to build solid foundation

Arguably Martinez's main struggle by the end of his time with Belgium was managing a defence filled with players who were several years past their prime.

He will need to make sure that Portugal maintain freshness there as a good defence will always give you a chance in international competitions, such as when Portugal conceded just once in four knockout games on their way to winning Euro 2016.

One key decision could be taken out of his hands, with Pepe expected to announce his retirement from international football, but in Ruben Dias, Martinez has the perfect figure to build his defence around.

The Manchester City centre-back is one of the best in Europe and has shown under Pep Guardiola he can also be relied upon in a backline that pushes high to close space and allow the attack to press from the front, something Martinez has often favoured when he has had the tools to do so.

Build around Bruno

Since his move to Man Utd in January 2020, Bruno Fernandes has proven himself to be one of the premier midfielders in Europe, and at the World Cup, he began to show that he can lead for his national team as well.

Only Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi (both 10) had more goal involvements than Fernandes' five (two goals, three assists) in Qatar, while no-one produced more than his three assists.

In the Premier League this season, only Kevin De Bruyne (41) has created more chances from open play than his 40, with the Manchester City man having played a game more, and with plenty of attacking firepower to aim for with Portugal, Fernandes can in theory fill his assist boots over the coming years under Martinez.

Make the most of Leao

One of those talents Fernandes should be working with is Rafael Leao, one of the most exciting attackers in Europe right now.

While Santos had plenty of other fine players to choose from, it was surprising to see Leao reduced to just substitute appearances in all five games at the World Cup, though he still produced two goals before Portugal were eventually eliminated by Morocco in the quarter-finals.

The Milan forward should really be Martinez's primary weapon on the left of the attack, especially if he can replicate the form that saw him win Serie A's player of the season award as the Rossoneri claimed the Scudetto in 2021-22.

Related items

  • Mitrovic clinches last-gasp success for Saudi Pro League champions Al-Hilal Mitrovic clinches last-gasp success for Saudi Pro League champions Al-Hilal

    Aleksandar Mitrovic produced a last-gasp winner for Al-Hilal as the Saudi Pro League champions signed off with a dramatic 2-1 victory over Al-Wedha on Monday.

    Jorge Jesus' side finished the league campaign unbeaten across the 34-game season, though needed late heroics from top scorer Mitrovic to snatch all three points.

    Mohamed Kanno opened the scoring for the visiting champions in the first half but Yahya Naji's second-half leveller pegged Al-Hilal back at King Abdulaziz Sports City Stadium.

    Yet Mitrovic provided the decisive moment in the 92nd minute, converting a Mohammed Al Burayk assist for his 28th league goal of the season.

    The Serbia international ranks only behind Cristiano Ronaldo in this campaign's scoring charts, after the Al-Nassr forward claimed a piece of Saudi League history in a 4-2 victory over Al-Ittihad.

    Ronaldo moved past Abderrazak Hamdallah's 34-goal tally – in the 2018-19 season – after his deadly double took him to 35 strikes and broke the single-season scoring record in the competition.

    Victory for Al-Nassr means they finish second behind the impressive Al-Hilal, while Al-Ahli had already secured third in the standings before their 1-0 victory over Al-Fayha.

    Roberto Firmino scored the only goal of the game in that narrow triumph, finding the net after 85 minutes at Prince Abdullah al-Faisal Stadium.

    At the other end of the table, Abha Club – who had Marcel Tisserand sent off late on – suffered heartbreak on the final day after losing 2-1 to bottom-placed Al-Hazem to seal their relegation.

    Ahmed Abdu opened the scoring to boost Abha's survival hopes but second-half goals from Muhammed Badamosi and Mohammed Al Thani proved their undoing.

    Al-Akhoud beat the drop after overcoming Al-Tai, who went down with Abha and Al-Hazem, 2-0 thanks to goals from Saviour Godwin and Leandre Tawamba at Prince Abdul Aziz bin Musa'ed Stadium.

  • Al-Nassr 4-2 Al-Ittihad: Ronaldo breaks Saudi Pro League scoring record in final-day win Al-Nassr 4-2 Al-Ittihad: Ronaldo breaks Saudi Pro League scoring record in final-day win

    Cristiano Ronaldo claimed a piece of Saudi Pro League history after scoring twice in Al-Nassr's 4-2 final-day victory over 10-man Al-Ittihad on Monday.

    The five-time Ballon d'Or winner was on target in either half at Al Awal Park, moving to 35 goals across the 2023-24 league campaign in Saudi Arabia.

    Ronaldo opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time after receiving a long ball from Mohammed Al-Fatil, before doubling his tally – and Al-Nassr's lead – with a header from Marcelo Brozovic's corner.

    That second finish after Suwailem Al Manhali was dismissed for the visitors saw Ronaldo eclipse Abderrazak Hamdallah's 34-goal tally – in the 2018-19 season – for the most strikes in a single campaign.

    Abdulrahman Ghareeb then added another from the penalty spot before Meshari Al Nemer made sure of three points after late goals from Farhah Al Shamrani and Fabinho had pulled Al-Ittihad back into contention.

    Having already been unable to stop Al-Hilal secure the title, Al-Nassr finish second in the table – ending on 82 points after 26 wins from the 34-match campaign.

    Data Debrief: Al-Nassr dominance pays off

    Much will be made of the record-breaking Ronaldo, who has scored 50 goals in as many games across all competitions this season.

    Yet Al-Nassr were dominant from the off in this one, mustering nine shots on target to Al-Ittihad's three, while accumulating 2.73 expected goals (xG) – far superior to the visitors' 1.43 xG.

  • Perez and Magnussen play blame game after huge Monaco Grand Prix crash Perez and Magnussen play blame game after huge Monaco Grand Prix crash

    Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen both blame each other for the huge crash that forced a restart in the Monaco Grand Prix.

    The pair came together during the opening lap of the race as Magnussen attempted to squeeze through a tight gap on the inside of Perez on the exit of Turn One.

    The Red Bull was destroyed during the incident, while the Dane’s Haas team-mate Nico Hulkenberg also got caught in the chaos.

    All three drivers were unharmed, though were ultimately forced out of the race when it restarted.

    Perez was adamant following the race that the blame should be placed firmly on Magnussen’s shoulders.

    He said: "It was an immense crash, one I'm disappointed about. I think it was totally unnecessary at that point of the race and there was no need for that.

    "At some point, you have two options: Lift or have a contact, and I think it was too unnecessary with the speeds we were doing, and it was a massive contact.

    "It was important to take things a little bit calmer."

    The incident compounded a disappointing weekend for both teams, in particularly Haas after both drivers were disqualified from qualifying and sent to the back of the grid due to a technical infringement.

    However, Magnussen stood by his belief he had every right to go for the gap and was forced into the barrier by the Mexican.

    "From my point of view, I had a good part of my front on Perez's rear and when he went to the wall I got pushed to the wall and made contact with him," Magnussen said.

    "I trusted he was going to leave space for me since I was there. It's not a corner where you're braking into it, it's a bend on the straight, so you have to have a car otherwise you leave the other guy no option.

    "From my point of view, I was there, and I got squeezed to the wall."

    Ultimately, neither driver was punished for the incident as the stewards deemed it a racing incident which needed no further investigation. 
© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.