Portugal v Uruguay
Portugal’s 2018 World Cup campaign came to an end in the Round of 16 in a 2-1 defeat to Uruguay, and they will have an opportunity to avenge themselves as they take on La Celeste in Lusail on Monday. Portugal opened their campaign in Qatar with a 3-2 win against Ghana, whilst Uruguay were forced to settle for a 0-0 draw against South Korea in a match that would see just one shot on target for either side.
The pressure is on the South Americans after that disappointing goalless draw in the opening game against South Korea, which means Diego Alonso’s team can’t really afford to slip up as they face Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. Despite lining up with a 4-3-3 and having 10 shots in the game they didn’t register a single one on target. The closest the Celeste came to breaking the deadlock was in the 88th minute when Federico Valverde’s speculative attempt hit the outside of the post.
Defensively Uruguay were excellent and used the experience of veteran captain Diego Godín and full back Martín Cáceres to counter for the Korean’s pace. South Korea didn’t manage a shot on target and only had one effort from inside the box in the whole game.
In terms of changes to face Portugal, the isolation of Manchester United youngster Facundo Pellistri is likely to open up an opportunity for either Giorgian De Arrascaeta if fully fit or Nico de la Cruz who was subbed on in the previous game. Luis Suárez had a quiet afternoon by his standards and left the field of play first with just one miscued shot on 21 minutes. His replacement Edinson Cavani was livelier, but news from the camp suggests that the former Liverpool and Barcelona striker will retain his place.
There is likely to be pressure on the full backs with the ball being worked wide a lot, but Uruguay’s system will also see midfielders being pulled over to the flanks to help double-up to help their defensive line. On Matchday 1 Matías Vecino played more towards the left-hand side while it was Portugal’s Bruno Fernandes who found himself on the right of centre more often – he was the most fouled player against Ghana (4 suffered) while Vecino committed a foul against a less attacking South Korea. In Serie A this season Vecino has played 90 minutes five times with Lazio and averages 0.9 fouls per game across the 14 games he’s been involved in.
Portugal didn’t press Ghana’s defensive trio much but were stronger in the mid-block which was demonstrated by Bernardo Silva making three tackles during the game. Both of Ghana’s more ball playing central defenders registered over 50 passes and I think we can expect something similar with Uruguay’s defensive pair. Ronaldo won’t press him much and so Diego Godin will be key in the build up, as he was against South Korea where the central defender registered 68 pass attempts and created three of the four biggest passing networks in the game passing to Martín Cáceres, Jose María Giménez and Rodrigo Betancur.
Rúben Dias is set to take the baton from Pepe (39) as the leader of Portugal’s defense, whilst Darwin Núñez is looking to become Uruguay’s next sharpshooter in attack after Luis Suárez (35) and Edinson Cavani (35) after starting alongside Suárez and Facundo Pellistri in attack in their 0-0 draw against South Korea. Darwin made his Liverpool debut on July 31 in the Community Shield and made an instant impact by sneaking in behind Dias and heading it into his fist, with Mohamed Salah converting from the spot and Darwin adding another in the final minutes.
Whether he’s playing alongside Pepe, who has played just 48 minutes since October 4, or Danilo Pereira, who was caught out by Ghana’s speedy attackers on several occasions, I’m expecting Dias to struggle to deal with the pace and physicality of Darwin and concede at least one foul. Dias’ aggressive nature and tendency to dive into tackles has seen him concede a foul in seven out of 12 league matches for Manchester City as well as a foul in Portugal’s opening match vs. Ghana, and I’m expecting a similar result this time around.
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