Fernando Santos with a generation of very talented players at his disposal sets his team up in a very structured 1-4-3-3 formation, more rarely 1-4-2-3-1 (with a more defensive mentality). However a frequent pattern is to switch to a counter-attacking 1-4-1-4-1 after taking the lead.
It is clear to see that the 1-4-3-3 formation with a diamond-shaped midfield formation (Moutinho, Bruno, Silva, Otavio) gives the team very much freedom to move and operate the ball between the lines. With the high positioning and offensive mentality of the side defenders (Cancelo, Mendes) the strongly rotating midfield gains additional passing options and the high pressing of rivals often proves ineffective against the high mobility of the midfielders.
However Santos’ main focus in matches against strong rivals is on safety. In defense the team often adopts a 1-4-5-1 shape with the pivot playing very close to the defenders. By the way Stanos restricts the midfielders’ freedom of movement making them play mainly in the mid and low block. A good second line and a compact formation make it difficult for opponents to get close to the box area, although usually their side defenders cannot rely on the wingers’ assists, so they are condemned to a lot of individual duels.
Crucial to Portugal‘s attacking play are the roles of Cristiano Ronaldo and Bernardo Silva – two most important players. CR7 often plays on the wing but without explosiveness his diagonal entries into the central corridor are no longer so threatened. A more important function is his entrances from deep into the box in the second phase of the attack, when in the first phase he has the task of pulling defenders out of the opponent’s defensive formation. Silva is more versatile and we see him as often in the box area as on the wing creating passing options. Joao Felix also seems more comfortable playing in the middle in the space between the lines and appearing in the offensive third in the final attacking phase. This combination sometimes results in a 1-4-4-2 formation in the final attacking phase with Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes in wide positions, who assisted by the side defenders exchange positions with the wingers coming to the center, including directly into the penalty area.
Portugal can also use a wider 1-4-2-3-1 structure with Diogo Jota as a advanced forward and more freedom in the offensive actions of their classic wingers (Guedes, Rafa). However, this variant requires a significant involvement of the side defenders in the offensive and provides no space for… CR7, so it can hardly be expected to be used often.