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Tactical Analysis: Spain Hold Off Portugal In An Entertaining Stalemate

Ahead of the much-awaited Euro 2020 tournament, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal were held back by Spain in an entertaining 0-0 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid on Friday. In a high-profile clash that was contested amid the high expectations of 15,000 fans, neither side was able to outdo the other resulting in an entertaining but goalless night. 

Let’s take a look at how Spain vs Portugal fixture panned out on the field:

 

BACKGROUND

Portugal were hoping to enter the European tournament in a dominant form, given that the defending champions are the favourites to win the tournament. But the Selecao have struggled in recent weeks against top-quality teams, and they were hoping a victory over their historic rivals would give them the much-needed boost ahead of the competition.

The Spaniards are hoping to recreate the magic of their glory days of the last decade, and a slew of recent results including a 6-0 thumping of Germany have given them much-needed hope ahead of the Euros. But a slew of injuries and an unstable starting XI continue to plague Luis Enrique’s tactics, leaving much to desire from the Red One.

Diogo Jota, Renato Sanches, and João Félix started alongside Cristiano Ronaldo to lead the Selecao’s attack, while Bruno Fernandes started on the bench. Marcos Llorente at right-back was the major change for the Spaniards, as Álvaro Morata made his much-watched debut.

 

HOW THE MATCH PANNED OUT

Luis Enrique fielded his team in 4-3-3 formation with debutant Alvaro Morata taking the charge of the attacking outfit with Ferran Torres and Pablo Sarabia at his side. Leeds United defender Diego Llorente started on the bench but was given time during the second-half in place of Aymeric Laporte, while Gerard Moreno had to take the place of a lacklustre Pablo Sarabia. 

Fernando Santos built his team around the attacking prowess of Cristiano Ronaldo, fielding a 4-2-3-1 formation that allows the Juventus striker to focus on the goal. Bruno Fernandes and Andre Silva were the notable absences from the starting XI, with Sergio Oliveira starting in the midfield. 

Portugal got off to a strong start early in the game as Jose Fonte’s looping header beat Unai Simon at the 23rd-minute mark. But the goal was disallowed due to a foul on Pau Torres, giving a second chance to the hosts to mend their ways. 

It was the turn of the hosts to pounce, as Alvaro Morata’s cross to Ferran Torres gave the Spaniards a missed chance to open the lead. Cristiano Ronaldo’s charge at the goal a few minutes later was successfully managed by a nervy Simon, who managed to fend off the ricocheted ball. 

Luis Enrique’s men picked up their form in the second-half, dominating possession and making charges at the goal. Alvaro Morata had a strike blocked by Rui Patricio, while Pablo Sarabia blundered the ball over the goal a few minutes later. 

The Spaniards never let off the pressure in the second-half as Ferran Torres and Alvaro Morata had two more opportunities, the latter of which was the nearest La Roja had come to scoring a goal. 

Cristiano Ronaldo was the lone saving grace for Portugal as he created two chances for Portugal in the second half but failed to convert both.

 

HOW THEY PERFORMED

Spain looked to be the dominant side throughout the night and they certainly did a commendable job holding off the Selecao. International friendlies ahead of a major tournament are laboratories for experiments, and both teams made plenty of substitutions to find the best outfit for their title hopes. 

Spain dominated the game with 66% possession of the ball and they created numerous chances to produce a lead. Portugal had just one shot on target in comparison, as a solid Spanish midfield did not allow Cristiano Ronaldo to break away with the ball. 

Luis Enrique will be happy with the performance of Marcos Llorente at right-back, especially as Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vasquez might miss the tournament due to injuries. Aymeric Laporte, the other debutant for Spain, made his mark at the back with his impressive command over the ball. 

With Sergio Ramos missing out on the Euros, La Roja have been looking for a reliable defender who can marshall the troops at the back. While Laporte is still inexperienced at the international stage, his performance might give him the confidence to do just that.

For Portugal, Friday night was once again a reminder that a star-studded team doesn’t necessarily make the strongest team. Cristiano Ronaldo had few opportunities to take a shot at the goal, particularly with the poor performance of Joao Felix at centre-forward. Selecao’s midfield was less than impressive as they allowed Spain to dominate possession, with the absence of Bruno Fernandes being deeply felt. 

 

LOOKING FORWARD

Spain take on Lithuania in their final warm-up fixture on Tuesday before the Euros kick off next Friday while Portugal host Israel on Wednesday before they start the defence of their Euro title. Both teams have much to experiment with, but the onus will be on Fernando Santos to get his tactics right as they face the group of death.

 

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