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Fernandes unleashed! Portugal winners, losers and ratings as Man Utd star makes up for Ronaldo disasterclass

9:35 PM GMT 24/09/2022
Portugal Czech GFX
Portugal got the best out of Bruno Fernandes in a 4-0 thrashing of the Czech Republic in the Nations League on Saturday.

At least for a night, manager Fernando Santos did what he couldn't do at Euro 2020: Put Fernandes in a position to stand out.

The Manchester United midfielder, benched at that tournament, scored and assisted against the Czech Republic in an energetic performance that encapsulated his positive qualities. He's worked his way back to being an easy first-choice selection.

Fernandes was allowed more freedom as Santos turned away from the three-man midfield he has leaned on for much of the past couple of years. Portugal deployed a double-pivot between Wolves' Ruben Neves and Real Betis' William Carvalho, which allowed Fernandes and Manchester City's Bernardo Silva to push up the pitch more than they're sometimes allowed. The plan worked perfectly.

One of Fernandes' team-mates at Old Trafford, Diogo Dalot, was also among the top performers with a two-goal effort, while Liverpool's Diogo Jota came off the bench to net Portugal's fourth.

Cristiano Ronaldo struggled, however, showing his age in a game in which he would usually have thrived. The starting role is unlikely to be pried away from him, but Portugal are desperate for him to find his goalscoring form.

  • Diogo Dalot Portugal Czech 2022

    The Winners

    Winner: Bruno Fernandes

    What a performance! Truly unleashed by the midfield duo behind him, Fernandes roamed to all the right spots with Portugal in possession, posing constant danger with his movement and passing vision.

    Ronaldo wasted two would-be assists in the first half, but no worries, Fernandes scored himself after a dart towards goal that Mario Rui picked out with a well-timed cross and contributed to the build-up on Dalot's opener, before assisting him for another goal in the second half.

    Winner: Diogo Dalot

    A second strong showing from a Manchester United player here, and one that cements his place as a starting line-up contender who could allow Joao Cancelo to play on the left side.

    Dalot did the hard work on his first goal, carrying the ball from the midfield into the attacking third before making a smart run into the box to finish Leao's cut-back pass. His second strike was even better. He dribbled neatly in traffic onto his left foot and swung a long shot around the goalkeeper.

    Portugal's big hope at the World Cup is for their individual dynamism to create chances against even the strongest of defences. Dalot has been overlooked as a player who can contribute to those moments of magic, but he's demonstrated he has that ability in him.

    Winner: Rafael Leao

    Getting the start was a big confidence lift, and he didn't let his manager down.

    Leao is in a tough fight for a starting spot in the attack, battling Diogo Jota for the position and perhaps behind in the pecking order entering Saturday's match. He made a decent argument that he deserves the role - even though he is still without a senior goal in his Portugal career.

    The AC Milan star sent Fernandes into open space with a nice first-half pass, the move ultimately leading to a goalscoring chance for Ronaldo. He then assisted Dalot after a sprint to collect the ball before it rolled past the byline.

    Yes, he was sloppy at times, and yes, Jota did score off the bench. But Leao looks better now than he did at the very start of his career under Santos, and his manager clearly wants to give him every opportunity to succeed.

  • Cristiano Ronaldo react Portugal Czech 2022

    The Losers

    Loser: Cristiano Ronaldo

    The narrative has always been that while Ronaldo's movement may be in decline, his shooting touch would not abandon him with age. Inconsistent service with Manchester United, then, was identified as part of the reason for his club struggles. But against Czech Republic, he repeatedly received passes in dangerous positions only to get his technique wrong. Scuffed shots, an attempted volley off his shin, lots of slamming the turf in frustration. Plus, a penalty conceded from a handball.

    His place in the starting line-up likely remans secure given the lack of natural strikers making an impression on Santos, but it has been an unwanted poor start to the international break amid a wide-open game in which he historically would have netted at least a brace.

    We should mention, in fairness to him, that he sustained a nasty nose injury early in the game.

    Loser: Patrik Schick

    Czech Republic were given a gift at the end of the first half when Ronaldo handled the ball in the box, but Schick blazed his spot kick over the bar. From there, his team were completely deflated.

    Loser: Nuno Mendes

    Widely expected to be the starter in Portugal's World Cup opener, Nuno Mendes watched from the bench as the team performed well with Rui in his place. Rui is not the man the Paris Saint-Germain youngster will be worried about - the potential trouble for him would be that when Cancelo returns from suspension, he could take over at left-back with Dalot starting at right-back. Cancelo is a standout performer as a right-footed left-back for club at Manchester City, while Dalot is impressing in all competitions at Old Trafford.

  • Diogo Costa Portugal Czech 2022

    Portugal Ratings: Defence

    Diogo Costa (6/10):

    Schick ensured Costa kept a clean sheet by sending his penalty flying over the bar. Not much for the goalkeeper to do overall. Made two saves.

    Diogo Dalot (8/10):

    Best match of his young international career. Provided an unexpected offensive boost and didn't put a foot wrong. He belongs on the plane to Qatar - and perhaps in the starting line-up - on current form.

    Ruben Dias (6/10):

    Made a clumsy foul near the corner flag in the second half but was otherwise assured as always, both in defence and as a confident passer.

    Danilo Pereira (6/10):

    Solid player, solid performance. Played centre-back with Pepe injured, but he can also play as a defensive midfielder. That versatility, as well as his experience, make the PSG veteran a lock for Qatar.

    Mario Rui (7/10):

    A surprise start proved a stroke of genius from Santos. He was on the same wavelength as Fernandes to assist the second goal - a connection one wouldn't expect from players with scant experience competing together.

  • Ruben Neves Portugal Czech 2022

    Midfield

    Ruben Neves (6/10):

    Hub of possession for Portugal along with his central partner, and always looking for the deep pass to set the forwards free. Almost scored a trademark long-shot late in the match.

    William Carvalho (6/10):

    The Real Betis man didn't put in an eye-catching effort, but kept things clean.

  • Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal Czech Republic injury 2022

    Attack

    Rafael Leao (7/10):

    Didn't break his international goal drought, but still had effective moments in the first half. Worked hard to get the assist for Dalot's first goal.

    Bruno Fernandes (8/10):

    Fernandes was everywhere in the first half. Passing, moving, shooting. He might be turning a corner this term. Less effective in the second half, but the result was already secured.

    Bernardo Silva (6/10):

    Not Portugal's main threat, but his start in the attacking midfield is another positive sign that he'll get a much-deserved nod in the first XI in Qatar.

    Cristiano Ronaldo (5/10):

    Late headed assist to Jota with the game out of reach - which, in all honesty, he may not have meant - kept this from being a worse rating. Failed to hit the target despite numerous shooting opportunities. Needs to be better.

  • Fernando Santos Portugal Czech 2022

    Subs & Manager

    Diogo Jota (7/10):

    Liverpool forward lost possession four times in 20 minutes, but he also scored Portugal's fourth after Ronaldo's header set him up for a tap-in. He's always in the right place, isn't he?

    Ricardo Horta (6/10):

    Came in with Portugal well ahead and wasn't asked to do much going forwards.

    Joao Palhinha (6/10):

    Not much to do, but didn't really put his stamp on the game.

    Matheus Nunes (6/10):

    Didn't help the Selecao regain control when apathy set in at 4-0. Will need to be more assertive to win a starting place.

    Joao Mario (6/10):

    Only played six minutes.

    Fernando Santos (7/10):

    Tactical experiment paid off against a lesser side. He may want to give it another go against Spain on Tuesday.