This post was written for us by Discord member DavidBarros, They share with us their FC Porto recreation
Futebol Clube do Porto (FC Porto) is the second most titled club in Portugal, being unanimously considered as a chronic candidate to lift the Portuguese title.
The manager in charge is Sérgio Conceição, a former player (with two different spells at the club) who is now finishing his sixth season at the helm of the team.
Being a fan favourite – both as a footballer and now as manager – he took over his managerial duties after the club went through four consecutive seasons without winning the title, having succeeded at winning it back on his first try.
His major virtue, according to the fans and the critic in general, doesn’t rely on tactical brilliance but on instilling resilience and fighting spirit in his players, both well-known and appreciated characteristics of this club since its foundation.
Shape and principles of play
Although FC Porto has historically adopted the 4-3-3 formation, since the beginning Sérgio Conceição has been successfully betting on the 4-4-2, varying it only sporadically.
Being one of the favourites to win the title race, it is expected that FC Porto enters each game with the clear objective of winning it, so the shape and principles of play only tend to slightly differ in European competitions or when facing teams with greater offensive power.
Having enjoyed both time and consistency, as it’s now finishing his sixth season in charge, we can safely summarize the following as the main principles of play of FC Porto under the current manager:
Full-backs high and wide in the offensive moment
Both full-backs are tasked to provide width, with one of them looking to attack and cross and the other one being more reserved, acting as a passing outlet and a deep cross option.
This is also the main weakness of this team: the space that can be exploited in flanks when losing the ball and entering a defensive transition moment.
Different routes to goal on the flanks
The outside players share the burden of being responsible for supplying the forwards, but they don’t try to do it in the same way: while one of them cuts inside, helps the midfielders and brings creativity to the side, the other one relies on speed and dribbling to both create and finish chances.
They both end up playing more in the half-spaces than on the wings.
A creator-scorer duo upfront.
One striker is always responsible for playing deeper and holding up the ball (creativity is a plus) while the other striker – the team’s first defensive wall – looks for the penetrative run to stretch the opposition’s defence.
Relatively high defensive line
Having quite fast defenders, and not restraining both central midfielders from going up and down the pitch, the defensive line plays relatively high in order to compress the space between defence and midfield.
The goalkeeper will sweep up any loose balls and with his excellent footwork, he can also act as a passing outlet.
Horizontally compact when defending
The team plays in a very compact way, having no problem giving up the flanks to the opponent. It is often customary when defending, to see the full-backs playing close to the edge of the box.
Different lines of engagement
Like many other teams, the line of engagement and the amount of pressure varies from game to game and even throughout the same match, according to its different moments.
FC Porto usually goes for a high block that can turn into a medium block when the scoreboard is favourable or to conserve energy in the last moments of a match.
A low block is not out of the equation, being used against teams that excel in pressing heavily.
Whatever the defensive block, the pressure on the ball carrier is almost always constant, without being too gung-ho.
Football made simple
The team plays with the aim of progressing the ball forward, no matter if it has to play short or long/direct passes, so it heavily relies on each player’s judgment and football intelligence.
A noticeable pattern is that FC Porto prefers to penetrate the rival defences through dribble/passing instead of crossings, as only one player (a full-back) has some decent crossing ability.
This “football made simple” might not always be eye-pleasing, but it’s also not dull as it sounds. Given the cohesion and familiarity between the players and the manager working together for years applying the same shape and principles of play, it might at times produce some eye candy such as this:
Tactical tweaks (and a false start this season)
FC Porto has tried out the 4-4-1-1, the 4-2-3-1 and even the 4-3-3 on more than one occasion, however, these changes were mainly due to deliberate tactical changes to counteract the offensive power of some opponents, usually in European competitions.
Since this is the sixth consecutive season of Sérgio Conceição ahead of the team, and many players have been part of the squad for the last 4 or 5 years (one of which, Otávio, exceeds 6 years…) every season is introduced with some tactical nuance/tweak.
Looking back, the most notable change was related to the more direct, physical and vertical style of 6 seasons ago, which contrasts with the more supportive, associative and thoughtful football played recently.
As far as this season is concerned, in the beginning, the shape changed from 4-4-2 to 4-1-3-2, even when silverware was at stake, like the win in the Portuguese Super Cup that ended up “validating” the new shape.
This system intended to use Pepê in the central position of the midfield, with total freedom of movement, but it did not deliver the expected results due to weaknesses on the flanks when in the defensive moment.
With FC Porto losing important points along the way in its fight for revalidating the title it returned to the usual 4-4-2 formation.
Meet the players and their roles
The starting 11
GK- Diogo Costa
A sweeper keeper, very comfortable with the ball at his feet but very restrained when it comes to taking risky passes. He’s the one in charge of deciding how, when and where the ball should be distributed.
DR- João Mário
Played all his career as a winger, he’s a natural source of width and always tries to run with the ball, dribbling and crossing, never neglecting his defensive duties.
A regular centre-back (for a 40-year-old…), very physical and quick.
Another regular centre-back left footed to give different passing angles when progressing the ball to the left side. Slightly better with the ball than Pepe, but still far away from being a ball-playing centre-back.
A defender who doesn’t take many risks, supporting the midfielders and staying behind, recycling possession or crossing from deep.
The main source of creativity from this side. He cuts inside, turning himself into a third midfielder, operating in the half-space and being the closest playmaker Futebol Clube do Porto has.
A defensive pendulum whose main task is to shield the defence and ensure simple ball circulation/retention. Tactically very intelligent, he rarely goes up on the pitch but when he does, he’s very assertive in his actions.
A simple midfielder, who goes up and down the pitch, complementing Uribe but with a slightly more offensive bent. Midseason he sort of developed a taste for arriving late at the box and ended up improving his offensive output.
Fast and right-footed, these players give some width on the left flank when the ball is in the midfield, playing in the half-space and cutting inside as the play progresses. Their task is to bring the ball forward, creating goal-scoring opportunities for themselves and their teammates.
The team’s first defensive wall. A striker who plays simply, rarely getting involved in the game and focused on vertical runs in order to vertically stretch the opposition’s defence.
Comes deep, holds up the ball and tries to take the game to the opponent, either through combination play or running with the ball. He’s the main penalty taker of the team and that’s a good reason why his goal tally is superior to the other forwards who play with a more attacking intent.
The game changers
Marko Grujic – A combative and vigorous midfielder. It doesn’t matter what his midfield partners are, he helps in the regular 4-4-2, and even when playing 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 as the midfield destroyer.
Pepê – Lately he’s been deployed as a right winger. Being quite intelligent and complete in his game, he was used as the most advanced element of the midfield in the 4-1-3-2, having also played several times as a full-back, either due to injuries or because the team was in need of a more attacking threat.
Toni Martínez – The go-to guy to bang some goals. He can replace both Taremi and Evanilson upfront, being physically strong and more of a presence in the box. He can play upfront alone, usually on the 4-3-3 and he’s by far the best header from all of FC Porto’s forwards.
Gabriel Veron – Already used on both flanks, he was also successfully tested playing upfront with total freedom as in a “free role”.
Danny Namaso – Also known as Danny Loader. Highly versatile, he played both upfront, as a winger in the 4-3-3 or even as an offensive player on the side of the midfield when playing in 4-1-3-2.
Regarding player instructions, I would add these to the full-backs:
If you would like to try the tactics you can download it here (with default set-pieces):