Roberto Martínez and A Seleção: What We Can Learn From This International Break

Portugal rounded off their first round of UEFA Euro 2024 qualifying games with an emphatic 6-0 over Luxembourg on Sunday, making it two wins from two after beating Liechtenstein 4-0 three days earlier.

Roberto Martínez’s first two international matches may have come against teams ranked 92nd and 198th in the world but there are still things we can take from his first couple of games in charge.

A Ruthless Approach to Qualification

Incredibly, Sunday’s win against Luxembourg means that Portugal have won their first two UEFA European Championship qualifying games since 1994 (Euro 1996 qualification). Since then, A Seleção have struggled at times during qualification, putting in lacklustre performances against teams that sit deep and dropping points against sides they were expected to beat. Roberto Martínez’s record in qualifying on the other hand is absolutely exemplary. During Euro 2020 qualifying, Belgium won all ten of their matches – scoring 40 goals and conceding just three. Portugal have made a positive start to qualifying but it is exactly that, just the start. Bigger tests are to come but if Portugal can continue to breeze past the opposition scoring goals aplenty, there will be cause for even greater optimism.

A New System

We were able to see Portugal operate in an entirely new system. It was no real secret that Martínez was going to deploy a system using three central defenders, given how frequently he used a 3-4-2-1/3-4-3 whilst in charge of Belgium. For Portugal, we can already see just how influential the wing-backs will be for Martínez’s side in this system. Against Liechtenstein, just 25% of Portugal’s attacking actions came through the middle, with a whopping 47% coming down the left-hand side. In the match against Luxembourg, attacks down the left-hand side made up 37%, attacks down the right were 38% and attacks through the middle were again just 25%. Given the attacking nature of the likes of Nuno Mendes, João Cancelo and Raphäel Guerreiro, it was a breath of fresh air to see them getting so high and wide and into great crossing positions. Playing against tougher opposition will of course be a different test, especially in games where the wing-backs won’t be able to venture as far forward and without much defensive responsibility.

Powerhouse Palhinha

Even after just two games, you get the feeling that João Palhinha will be a key man for Portugal in this system. Sitting in the middle of the park, we saw him time and time again stop counter-attacks by making big tackles and interceptions, winning his duels and generally providing much-needed cover when Portugal’s attacking players had ventured forward. Against Liechtenstein, Palhinha won a massive 12 aerial duels, three interceptions and one clearance. For Fulham, Palhinha has been tremendous this season in the Premier League, he leads the league for tackles won with 59 and for duels won with 197 and he thoroughly deserves his minutes for the Seleção.

Coming Up Next

Portugal are back in action in three months’ time when they take on Bosnia & Herzegovina (17th June) and Iceland (20th June). On paper, these are two sides which should give Portugal a few more issues than the two they’ve just faced – Liechtenstein and Luxembourg are ranked 198th and 92nd respectively, Bosnia & Herzegovina are ranked 57th and Iceland are 63rd.

For Martínez and Portugal however, these are two more matches that they feel they should be winning.

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