Despite losing out in the final of the European Under 21 championships the Portugal side, who swept aside the much fancied Germany 5-0 in the semi final can certainly take heart from the way they performed. A few of those players will be hoping to be able to link up with the full senior squad for the Euros in France next summer.
Whilst, Bernardo Silva, Joao Mario and Segio Olivera stole many of the plaudits for the way Portugal attacked, especially against Germany, this Portugal side was built on a very solid defensive base. Portugal conceded just once in the entire tournament and that was in a group game against the Swedes when their qualification was all but assured.
Brendan Rodgers secured the services of Nathaniel Clyne earlier this week but most people still think Liverpool need more cover at centre back, especially if Sebastian Coates is to move to Sunderland and given that Emre Can is expected to play more of a midfield role next season. Whilst an experienced centre half is undoubtedly a priority Rodgers will have been pleased by the performances of Thiago Illori for Portugal in this tournament.
Despite having been at Liverpool for a few seasons Illori is yet to feature and spent last season on loan with Bordeaux in France. Whilst Portugal struggled later on against Sweden, especially with more direct play, they had the best defensive record in the tournament and Illori was a big part of that.
In fact he was absent through injury when Portugal conceded their only goal and also missed the game against Germany through injury. It speaks volumes of his performance levels that Rui Jorge was willing to bring him in and alter the side that performed so well in the semi final.
At 6’ 2” Illori is a towering presence and his size could certainly help given Liverpool’s frailty at set pieces last season, he won 2.8 aerial duels per game suggesting that he is actually strong in the air. One of the features of his game which will certainly have enamoured him to Rodgers is his passing ability, in the four games he featured in Illori had a pass accuracy of 87.3%, fourth highest in the Portugal side. This is no fluke, in his time with Bordeaux Illori had a pass accuracy of 86.8%. Playing out from the back is how Rodgers likes to his sides up and so you’d expect Illori to slot right in.
For Bordeaux he will have gained plenty of experience, playing in games against the likes of PSG and Lille. In the 12 games he played in Ligue 1, Illori picked up just two yellow cards, suggesting he has a good level of discipline.
As part of a Portugal defence that kept out England and Harry Kane, Illori helped do something that many Premier League defenders could only dream of. He certainly isn’t the finished article yet but given Rodgers ability to develop young players and Liverpool’s lack of defensive cover Illori will be one Rodgers would be wise to keep around the squad.
Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com