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Monday, 14 November 2011 10:12

Opinion: Three reasons why Coentrao belongs in Portugal’s midfield 

Nathan Motz argues that Real Madrid man is answer to major weakness

Fabio CoentraoAfter the 2-1 loss to Denmark last month, I started thinking about all the things that haven’t changed so much since qualifying began last September. Helder Postiga or Hugo Almeida, midfield inconsistencies, a coach that is beginning to make more and more enemies, and we’re worried about Bosnia? If we do manage to scrape by on Tuesday night, and I do mean scrape by, what are we going to do next June against Spain, Germany or the Netherlands?
In my estimation, modern football necessitates above all else dynamic midfield supremacy. Strikers score the goals and defences keep clean sheets, but central midfield is where teams assert their dominance and in doing so, break the will of the opposition. It is this feature that Portugal lack above all else.

Possession the key

Forget about our striker problem. We’ve already got Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani. Just how much offensive firepower should any one team possess? Look at Argentina. They have Higuain, Aguero, Diego Milito, Messi, Di Maria and Tevez to choose from and they were still eliminated in the first knockout round of this year’s Copa America (which they hosted).
It’s possession football that wins tournaments these days and that’s a game-plan Portugal haven’t executed in quite some time. That is why, my friends, I nominate one Fabio Coentrao to solve Portugal’s midfield riddle. I know what you’re thinking. Surely we really need Coentrao where he is at left-back, right? Ever since Jose Mourinho decided to start playing Coentrao in a holding midfield role, I began thinking about what benefit this might have to the Seleccao and I think Mourinho might be on to something. Coentrao possesses a unique blend of talent that suggests he could be Portugal’s answer in midfield for the following three reasons.
1. He’s fast, energetic, and never quits
Watching Coentrao play for Madrid, you have to marvel at his work ethic. True, there are other candidates for Portugal’s midfield role beside Moutinho and Meireles that work hard, but not as efficiently as Coentrao does. Carlos Martins, anyone? It’s laughable to suggest that anyone (i.e. Martins, Machado, Micael, Amorim, Veloso) is capable of generating the output that Coentrao does on a regular basis. His ability to bring the ball out from defense, participate actively in the attack, and still have enough left in the tank to cover back on defense is what makes him so useful as a full-back.
This same explosive quality would better serve Portugal in the center of the pitch. It’s here where teams are able to dominate the Seleccao because they know the main threat is coming from the flanks. We don’t need our full-backs to bomb forward anyway because we have Cristiano Ronado and Nani. What we need is someone able to create those same kind of Ronaldo-esque runs in the center of the field, and that someone is Coentrao.
2. He has great control/footwork
During Madrid’s last game against Osasuna, somewhere in between him nutmegging his hapless marker and having the presence of mind to drop in a pinpoint cross to the feet of Karim Benzema, I realized just how slick Coentrao is with the ball at his feet. At full tilt, I would trust Coentrao with the ball more than any other player Portugal has except maybe Cristiano Ronaldo. His close control can be mesmerizing and he isn’t afraid to improvise, which is something Portugal desperately need in central midfield.
3. He’s intelligent, young, and has a bright future
At last summer’s World Cup, I marvelled at how well Coentrao held up under the challenges of the Ivorians in Portugal’s first group game. No matter how rough things got, he was always in the right place at the right time to get the job done. His composure in difficult circumstances is tough to match, especially for someone his age. Ronaldo and Nani have fantastic ability, but it all goes to waste if our midfield is unable to get them the ball. Moving Coentrao into the midfield would greatly enhance the quality of service up the field to our primary striker and outside to our wingers. At 23, he is the kind of player that could cement his vital place in central midfield for years to come.


Let’s face it; we need a guy like Coentrao to open things up in the center of the pitch. Don’t worry about left-back. We can put Veloso or Silvio out there and they’ll do just fine. In the end we really need our full-backs to concentrate on defence first anyway and we possess enough of a threat in the form of Ronaldo and Nani that it won’t hurt to move Coentrao inside. We have to be realistic about where our national team is and get serious about fixing our deficiencies in midfield.
Portugal may win on Tuesday, but we won’t win anything next year if we don’t learn how to possess the ball, facilitate the attack equally through the midfield as well as the flanks, and provide better service to our strikers. Coentrao is more than competent enough to fill the role that Portugal need in midfield and to free up more space for Meireles and Moutinho as well. With his presence in the center of the pitch, Portugal will move one step closer to becoming a complete team capable of success on any level.
Nathan Motz

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Comments (26)
selecao prtugal
26 Saturday, 02 June 2012 20:53
why trust ronaldo for penalties wether real maddrid or selecao portguesa he can,t shoot the whole team play like 2nd rated teams or loosers keep playing this way forget going to world cup and shame portugal
25 Wednesday, 16 November 2011 20:22
This is the first time since I have been following the seleccao that choosing the starting center mids can be very subjective. In the past, portuguese fans were always in agreement who should be in the line up (Deco, Maniche, Costinha last decade / Rui Costa, Paulo Bento and before that Paulo Sousa in the 90s / Antonio Sousa and Carlos Manuel in the 80s). It was simple but now and though we have many world class midfielders no one stands out! But to see that Portugal's problems derive from the midfield is only half right. It is indeed the midfield but it is the attacking position and not the holding. We have not had anyone to distribute the ball offensively since Deco, Rui Costa or Carlos Manuel were opptions. Carlos Martins is who I feel to be the best bet. Moutinho definitely not good enough offensively though he is still a fantastic midfielder. The there is Veloso, Raul Meireles, Ruben Amorim, Andre Santos, Manuel Fernandes, etc. ect. The list goes on and any two you choose is as good as the next guy's. Note I did not mention Pepe as an option because he is too valuable in the back especially without Carvalho. The same goes for Coentrao, without Bosingwa we can not take him out of the position that got him sold to Real Madrid in the first place. Here is my 11 for Poland/Ukraine: Beto; Joao Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Coentrao; Raul, Moutinho, Carlos Martins; Ronaldo, Hugo Almeida, Nani. Good Luck Boys!
Everyone calm down
24 Wednesday, 16 November 2011 16:23
Just reading the last 5 or 6 responses leads me to indicate we have some impartial and non-objective fans here. I'm a Benfiquista and I've followed Coentrao closely since he was here in 2007 for the U20 World Cup. He is NOT one of the best LB's in the world and he is NOT Portugal's answer for the middle of the park. Like some of you have said, yes he is good going forward, his final ball is getting better and his technique on the ball is very good. Defensively there's still a lot to be desired, he over commits himself and he's wreckless in his challenges. That makes him not only a liability at LB but a liability if you're honestly thinking he can play a holding midfielders role. I'm not one to usually disagree with Mourinho's tactical placement of players, the Coentrao experiement hasn't been his greatest project. If you watch any Madrid games where he's playing in the midfield he is by far the weakest link. He doesn't have the range of passing as Xabi Alonso, nor does he have the vision of an Ozil. He isn't a sufficient as Khedira or Diarra at winning the ball and disrupting the oppositions attack. Can he improve? Yes, he's proven himself to be willing to learn and adapt to several positions throughout his career (CF, LW/RW, LB, CM) but it doesn't make him a suitable option for Portugal in midfield when we have adequate cover at that position. For Portugal I think he should continue learning the LB position as he seems to be the most suitable player for us at that position at this particular time.
23 Tuesday, 15 November 2011 19:18
We need a foreign coach! Our coulture is more responsive, respective of foreignors than our own compatriots.
22 Tuesday, 15 November 2011 15:44
They need a coach that understands that players win games, bring back Bosingwa and Chavalho
Good points but....
21 Tuesday, 15 November 2011 09:31
now definitely isn't the time for experiments. I would like to see him in the role Pepe used to play for CQ.
20 Tuesday, 15 November 2011 07:48
Dude your on crack......Veloso can't play left back he's a midfielder. Coentrao plays world class in that spot. Meirelas is great in the mid. A central midfield player has to be strong like Meirelas, can make and take a tackles. Coentrao is too thin for that spot. We have a good set of central players.
Interesting, but just not now.
19 Tuesday, 15 November 2011 07:01
I'm not against the idea of using Coentrao in the midfield, but I agree with jon/usa when he say's that he would be more like Ramires. Let me add, that wouldn't be a bad thing.
I would mettle further in this game, we don't exactly have a left back to plug in. Bento should use the same lineup he used in Bosnia.

It will be interesting to see what will happen with the Seleccao after this match, win or lose.
Depending on game.
18 Tuesday, 15 November 2011 01:06
Coentrao has got to be one of the best left sided versatile players in the world and we are lucky to have him. I really think he could be used as both DM or LB depending on who we are playing. Although if rolando could find his feet then I'd give pepe the DM role. Did you see him against barcelona last season? (besides the undeserved red card).

For me Portugal's resent success came down to 1 position. The CAM, deco and before him rui costa. France was unstoppable when they had zindane, brazil when they had rolandinho. They have world class players in The rest of the squad, why have they failed recently? No CAM. Look at Spain with Xavi.
I disagree. He's ideal at left back!
17 Monday, 14 November 2011 21:35
Fabio Coentrao is one of THE BEST left backs in the world, he is a great player who is versatile also so he can "fill in" in center midfield, and I'm sure he can be a good defensive midfielder as well, but honestly we don't need him to be. Miguel Veloso has come of age is starting all the games in Genoa and is playing great, and we all saw that he was solid for Portugal last game. Our little possession problem in midfield might have been only cause by Carlos Martin's stupid bad passes and ill timed stupid off target shots. Now that Miguel Veloso is starting our center midfield can have really good possession, because all three Veloso, Meireles and Moutinho are very good technically and creatively and are very good passers of the ball. Last game the pitch was crap so it didn't make sense to try to pass it around in midfield too much cause it would have risked silly errors and turnovers. All that's behind us, those three midfield players are all top quality and we can have great possession with them and also with Meireles freed up to get forward with Joao Moutinho we will also have more penetration going forward in midfield as well! Coentrao is a very important player for us at left back and I think he is perfect there. I think Hugo Almeida should start up top, and in the long run once Silvio is fully fit, I see him taking the starting right back spot. We have a good team, and I have faith in them!
Decent idea
16 Monday, 14 November 2011 20:15
I like the idea but I don't think they should implement it just yet. Start Veloso in the holding role tomorrow, allow Danny to get a few starts as a starting midfielder and then if neither of them are playing well then you go to Coentrao. Silvio is a great LB so it wouldn't be a huge loss if Coentrao moved to the midfield in that respect.
Totally Agree
15 Monday, 14 November 2011 19:23
I previously mentioned Coentrao would provide a boost to our midfield with Silvio filling in at left back. Too bad he's always injured.

As for the striker issue, Postiga and Almeida suck. Nuno Gomes is available and has never let us down. I dont care how old he is.. he's effective, he scores on those half chances. He still plays his heart out and must get this opportunity. Atleast have him on the bench.

I'm thinking if we have trouble scoring against Bosnia.. CR7 can be moved to the middle but only if we play with two strikers so he wont be isolated. Quaresma will be beast on the wing.
he's best as a left back
14 Monday, 14 November 2011 18:51
I understand what you were trying to prove, but after watching Coentrao play as a midfielder for Madrid, I have come to the conclusion that he is much better as a left back. When playing for Real Madrid, Fabio Coentrao usually partners Xabi Alonso. Therefore since Xabi Alonso is a deep-lying playmaker and not a defensive midfielder, it should be Coentrao's duty to sit back and break up any attacks. While he does press very well and make plenty of tackles and interceptions, he does have the tendency to attack too much and leave Alonso alone.

His passing is quite good for a left back, but he lacks the vision and composure of Meireles and Moutinho. With all due respect, I laughed when I read the comparison between Coentrao and Ozil. Coentrao has much better stamina, he's quicker, and a better tackler, but he is not even close to Ozil in terms of technical brilliance and skill. He is not an attacking midfielder, but more of a box-to-box midfielder like Ramires: Strong in the tackle, tons of energy, but average technically.

Coentrao has proven to be one of the top 2 or 3 left backs in the world at the moment so why would you move him to midfield. Ronaldo plays much better when Marcelo or Coentrao plays left back rather than Arbeloa because they stretch the field and attack constantly.

A midfield trio of Moutinho, Meireles, and Veloso would actually hold possession quite well. The problem is that there is a lack of any true attacking midfielder to support the center forward. Meireles and Moutinho are excellent central midfielders and they do provide runs from deep, but we need a quick and skillful playmaker in the hole to take some pressure of Ronaldo and Nani on the wings.

Danny would be an excellent option for Bento, but sadly, he only wants to use him as a back up winger.
interesting idea
13 Monday, 14 November 2011 17:37
i believe it is possible that fabio could help us in midfield. the traits hes has are well suited for the middle of the pitch but theres alto standing in the way. i believe that silvio would be good enough to take over at LB. people say we need our fulllbacks tto attack and their right, but silvio is no slutch. he can get forward and send a cross in when needed. i question where exactly fabio would play in midfield. if we stick to 4-3-3 you figure fabio would either play the left side or holding given hes never played the right side. the problem is both moutinho and meireles like to play the left side also. and i dont know if fabio would be comfortable playing the middle by himslef as the holder. playing as the holder also restricts him from venturing to far forward where he excels. personally id like to see bento give pepe a chance to play the middle and start rolando beside bruno. rolando isnt the greatest but the benefit of pepe playing up could out weigh the negatives. just a thought.
12 Monday, 14 November 2011 15:46
when portugal was playing in canada at the U-20 world cup a few years ago, Coentrao was playing mid albeit out wide, but he held the bal fantastically and was very tricky with his feet. His natural position is in the mid. i would love to see him in the middle for the NT
Midfield is not the problem
11 Monday, 14 November 2011 15:37
Good argument, but the fact of the matter is without a world class striker it is difficult to win tournaments. Ronaldo has proved inconsistent time and again for the seleccao, he can never be relied upon to score decisive goals, so counting on him and Nani against the likes of Spain, Germany and the Netherlands doesn't fill me with much confidence.
A solid defense is always the foundation with which to launch successful campaigns and Portugal's has been at times, pretty hapless in recent games. When you look back to Portugal's recent success's relatively speaking; Semi's Euro 2000, Final Euro 2004 and Semi's World Cup 2008
they had a pretty solid defense with Carvalho being outstanding in many tough games. I think this is an area of concern on the same level as the lack of a consistent frontman.
It also has to be noted that in those previously mentioned tournaments, Portugal had arguably some of the best midfielders in the World at the time. Euro 2004 saw the excellent Rui Costa, supported by in form Deco, Maniche and Costinha all at their zenith having won the CL in 2004 and UEFA cup in the previous season. They could also count on Figo and Ronaldo out wide, but even with that embarassment of riches Portugal never won a thing. Why? No striker. Gomes, Pauleta etc needed a hatfull of opportunities to score just one goal, and in close matches you don't get many chances.
Think i'm wrong? The examples of France and Spain are instructive. They had both struggled to make break throughs until they found players that could make the most of half chances in tight matches. Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet for France and Fernando Torres and David Villa for Spain.
You can have a solid defense and a world class midfield, as Portugal have had, but without a forward that can consistently put away half chances, in tight games the team is going nowhere.
Ozil Comparison is Laughable
10 Monday, 14 November 2011 15:36
if ozil is so "tireless" why is he substituted every game? Horrible comparison. Ozil is a classic #10 with his close control, vision, and distribution...Coentrao is not.
9 Monday, 14 November 2011 14:49
i agree completely with this article. i first watched coentrao in a junior tournament many years back (portugal vs new zealand - great youtube highlights of him in that game) and wondered how he would develop over the years - to me he appreared to have everything but physical stature. at that point he was an wide attacking midfielder and i was befuddled when i saw him being honed as a left-back. given di maria occupied his position i can see the reasoning....point here is he was naturally a mifdfielder and should (and i think will over time) revert to that position....even though he is a great left back...

portugal hasnt had defensive problems since the 90's and didnt have midfield problems up till a few year ago...

we need a good central attacking midfielder paired with a super-aggressive imposing one...an attacker who is tireless and runs with the ball..(alla ozil)...one cant argue that coentrao couldnt be a good imitation of ozil...maybe better? we can replace left backs easier than we can fill this position...and who better to pair him up with than pepe...

its amazing to me how good pepe is as a holding midfielder...he could be the best holding midfielder in the world (and its not his position which is ironic)...we need to play pepe always as holding midfielder...getting him up the field in openplay situations is also in my opinion the way to go...we could use a rolando/costa/ or the like at center back, left back etc but i think a pepe/coentrao central midfield will crush bosnia...they wouldnt know how to handle it...

finally on striker point...while i like postiga (and i dont know why) - hugo almeida is the closest thing we have to a striker and if he understood that he is a beast...(i think he is a 150lb player trapped in a 190lb body)...he could be a great striker -he lacks some speed (which he should improve) but point is postiga is the best version of an option striker (albeit nowhere near best in world) we have....what i mean is start with almeida and use postiga as a sub...
Ronaldo cf
8 Monday, 14 November 2011 14:23
Ronaldo needs to run at people putting him at CF prevents him from doing that. Quieroz put Ronaldo at Cf he looked terrible at that position. As for Coentrao in the middle of the field I would like us to give it a try I think its a great idea. He's versatile and he already plays that role with Real Madrid maybe testing it out in a friendly is a good idea. As for Bento he seems very stubborn and set in his ways good luck getting him to experiment.
Poor Finishing
7 Monday, 14 November 2011 13:13
0 - 0 result in the first game was bad news for Portugal.
Chances were there, but we failed to capitalize. I hope for the best on Tuesday.
Better as left back
6 Monday, 14 November 2011 12:30
While it's good that Coentrao is versatile enough to also play in midfield, I think he's best as an energetic, marauding left-back who pushes forward at every opportunity...just as he did with Benfica. If only we had Bosingwa doing the same on the other side too, and we'd simply have the best flank-play in world football, no question (but there's no point thinking of that, Bosingwa won't play again under Bento, full-stop).

For DCM I liked Veloso there on Friday night. He is calm and keeps a cool head, and is a good passer and distributor. And he stays back and protects the back four. Alternatively I think Manuel Fernandes could also do a good job in that position. I believe that our best midfield options/formations would be either 4-3-3 with Veloso, Meireles and Moutinho...or 4-2-3-1 with Veloso, Meireles and Danny. I am also really starting to think that perhaps Ronaldo would be best as centre-forward for us...he simply doesn't perform at his best from the wing for the seleccao, and as everyone knows our forwards fail to score regularly. Perhaps this is the best option for the long-term. But i believe tomorrow night, the only change to Friday's team should be Almeida at centre forward.....Forca!!!
Don't spoil a good thing
5 Monday, 14 November 2011 11:37
I strongly disagree with transforming Coentrao into a MF. I don't mind putting him there during a game to change tactics and gain that extra spark, but as long as I remember the NT had 2 major problems; a world calss CF and a good LB. Now we have what I believe in time to be the best LB in the world and it would be a shame to throw it away to become just a really good MF. Silvio still has to prove himself for the NT to me and Veloso is decent at LB but we all know he doesn't like it there. I read last week about Fabio Capello talking about Phil Jones and comparing him to Baresi (I think) and said the Italian player was an excellent DF but an average MF and he believes Phil Jones can become a better MF than the Baresi.
4 Monday, 14 November 2011 11:21
We need him at left back to link up with Ronaldo, and overlap with the wingers.

This takes pressure of Ronaldo and Nani and gives them another option going forward. He can still push and help in the midfield
3 Monday, 14 November 2011 11:10
Well spotted Rui. Thank you. Corrected.
2 Monday, 14 November 2011 11:02
Bosnia will beat us 0:2
a couple of things
1 Monday, 14 November 2011 10:50
First, we lost to Denmark by a score of 2-1, not 2-0.

Second, I still think it's early to say if Coentrao is a better midfielder or fullback. Mourinho has been using him as a fullback as of late (although probably because of Marcelo's injury).

Third, i think it's incorrect to suggest we don't need attacking fullbacks. IMO attacking fullbacks help Ronaldo and Nani reach their full potential with overlapping runs. Take that away and defenders have one less thing to worry about.

There is something to be said about having just ONE attacking fullback, so i'd be more inclined to move Coentrao to the midfield if we still had Bosingwa as an option for the other side. Unfortunately that won't be an option with Bento at the helm.

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