Erik ten Hag adopted an interesting setup in tonight’s starting eleven.
Manchester United dominated the first half of the occasion, but ultimately faltered in their attempt to top Europa League Group E and avoid a difficult qualifying round.
Fernandes, playing in front of Diogo Dalot, was excellent in the first half, producing some “superb passes”. As was his progressively reliable compatriot at right-back who won six ground duels and completed 12 long balls.
Ten Hag changed United’s shape and dynamics during the second half. But the displays of Fernandes and Dalot on the same flank in the first half shows a connection which Portugal can come to rely on for the impending World Cup.
Admittedly, Dalot will find it very hard to foist João Cancelo and Nuno Mendes – two elite quality full-backs – out of Portugal’s starting lineup.
However, given that Portugal lost two of their most recent three fixtures and won the other in a game which saw Dalot start and both United stars flourish (4-0 against The Czech Republic; Dalot scored two, Fernandes scored one and assisted one), Fernando Santos should begin to contemplate United’s right-back as an immediate member of his World Cup team. This would also present the opportunity to field the flexible Cancelo behind Manchester City teammate Bernardo Silva on the opposite wing.
International football, unlike the modern day club game, must rely on familiarity if a side aims to see success. Due to the everchanging selections throughout a calendar year, a national team manager can find this difficult to implement.
Fernandes and Dalot’s chemistry from playing together at club level – where they are both performing to a high-calibre this season – as well as their ability to play profitably in adjacent positions should be used as a key tool by Santos in Qatar this winter.
Although Fernandes excels in the second striker role rather than as a right-sided forward or midfielder, the familiarity between two crucial players (at the top of their game currently – just without the goal contributions) cannot be skimmed past.
Dalot knows Fernandes better than any other player in Portugal’s team who may be positioned next to United’s maverick, and vice-versa.
Getting the basics right – which starts with on-pitch chemistry – is intrinsic in a successful international side’s makeup due to its difficulty to immediately initialise. Dalot and Fernandes’ performances this season alongside their display together on the right-side for United this evening should be seen as a fundamental piece to Portugal’s World Cup puzzle.