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António Silva at Benfica 2022/23 – scout report

António Silva: Why the 18-year-old is the next great academy product to emerge from Benfica – scout report

Benfica are the very definition of a selling club. The Portuguese giants have an incredible youth system and are constantly churning out top talents who break into the first team before being sold on for large sums of money.

The Primeira Liga leaders also have a wonderful eye for future world-class stars, buying for next to nothing, and developing them for a couple of seasons before eventually selling to the highest bidder.

Victor Lindelöf, Ederson, David Luiz, Ángel Di Maria, Darwin Nunez, Jan Oblak, Renato Sanches, João Félix, Ruben Dias, João Cancelo, Axel Witsel. The list goes on and on, with some of these former Benfica stars being moved on for obscene transfer fees.

Once again, now under the tutelage of the excellent tactician Roger Schmidt, formerly of PSV Eindhoven and Bayer Leverkusen, Benfica are producing some incredible youngsters.

Enzo Fernandez has been touted as the next top-rated talent that will eventually move on from the Estádio da Luz. However, there is one more name within the ranks that has been impressing with his performances in Schmidt’s system.

After Jan Vertonghen departed to Anderlecht in the summer, the German coach entrusted teenager António Silva to fill the void at the back, taking a massive risk by not replacing the former Tottenham Hotspur man.

Regardless, Silva has been impeccable at the back for The Eagles and has struck up a formidable partnership with former Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi.

Being already touted with moves to Manchester United and Real Madrid, Total Football Analysis has decided to take a look at the centre-back. This tactical analysis piece will be a scout report of Silva. It will be an analysis of the defender’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as looking at where he has fit into Schmidt’s tactics thus far.

Player profile

Silva’s rise in the side is a classic story of a player taking advantage of an injury or suspension within the squad. At the end of August, Otamendi was suspended for Benfica’s league outing against Boavista.

Putting faith in the 18-year-old, Schmidt threw Silva into the deep end. He would either sink or swim. Thankfully, it was the latter. Alongside Morato at the back, Benfica kept a clean sheet in a 3-0 victory and Silva played a blinder.

Schmidt recognised the centre-back’s raw quality and left him in the starting eleven for the next few matches, slotting Otamendi alongside him. The duo clicked and have been the central defensive partnership ever since. Silva is always positioned on the right of the two.

António Silva at Benfica 2022/23 – scout report

As can be seen from the player’s heatmap, most of his touches occur on the right in both deeper and higher areas of the pitch which is a testament to how far up the field Schmidt wants his backline positioned which facilitates counterpressing a solid rest defence structure.

Nonetheless, the player is still relatively comfortable being used as a left centre-back which allows his coach to shuffle him across to the opposite side in any case where Otamendi is injured, and his replacement is less comfortable in this area.

António Silva at Benfica 2022/23 – scout report

Last season, Silva rotated between playing on the left and the right of the defence in both a two-man and three-man backline with Benfica B in the Segunda Division and the U19s in the UEFA Youth League.

Standing at 6’2”, Silva is comfortable in the air and is taller than his counterpart alongside him in defence. Being 18, there is still some room for him to grow, but it’s more probable that the Portuguese centre-back will remain at the height he currently is.

What certainly has room for development is his physical frame. Despite being 6’2”, Silva is quite lean and looks slightly too thin for his size, especially his legs. With more work in the gym, the teenager may be able to beef out to become much more physically imposing than he is.

Defensive positioning

One of the greatest components of Silva’s game is his defensive stance when Benfica are out of possession and his overall body orientation.

For an 18-year-old, Silva’s reading of the game is strikingly impressive. “Antonio is 18, but when you see him on the pitch, he doesn’t look that age”, said Schmidt earlier in the season when the centre-back was first staking his claim in the starting lineup.

Silva knows exactly which body position to use for every moment. He understands the opposition striker that he is facing, where the ball is on the pitch, how much space is behind him, how quick the centre-forward is and their preferred movements.

This all stems from his innate footballing intelligence blending together with a willingness to study the opposition prior to facing them, while also being aware of his own strengths and weaknesses. Let’s look at some examples.

Silva always defends side-on. He is not the quickest defender in the world. In fact, the foot race is arguably his biggest weakness. However, by positioning his body to the side, he is ready to track back in an instant, giving himself the best opportunity to get to the ball first.

António Silva at Benfica 2022/23 – scout report

Here, Paris Saint-Germain are attempting to break down Benfica’s mid-block with a high backline. This is a risky tactic to deploy against the speed of Kylian Mbappe.

Nevertheless, understanding the situation around him, Silva is defending side-on with his right foot forward. This is because Mbappe is inside him. If the Frenchman was on the opposite side, he would shift his body, putting his left foot forward as he would be preparing to chase the forward on the outside.

What is also evident from the previous image is that Otamendi, with all his experience, is defending with his body orientation facing forward. If Mbappe was in a foot race with Otamendi, he would have beaten him more easily than Silva because at least the teenage defender is ready to go.

António Silva at Benfica 2022/23 – scout report

Here is another example of Silva holding a superb body posture, defending with his left foot forward now, even though Juventus’ dangerman Dusan Vlahovic is standing in a similar position between the centre-backs as Mbappe.

However, Silva has shown his wonderful reading of the opponent. Knowing that the Serbian striker likes to make runs from inside to out, Silva is already preparing himself for the inevitable, getting set to chase Vlahovic into the channel.

One way that Silva circumvents his lack of speed at the back is by dropping deeper than any other defender in the backline. During games, it looks as though the teenager has adopted an old-school sweeper role.

António Silva at Benfica 2022/23 – scout report

In this example, Silva is a couple of yards deeper than his teammates in the defensive line. Knowing that Mbappe could kill him for speed, this helps the young defender to gain a couple of yards on the striker. In the end, it worked, and Silva actually managed to get to the ball before Mbappe, but there is one main issue: the offside rule.

Being positioned so deep will mean that it’s quite difficult to play attackers offside and Silva can get caught out if the forward beats him in the foot race.

Defensive territory

Silva is a centre-back that covers a lot of ground, especially out wide. In Benfica’s attacking set-up, Schmidt wants his fullbacks to provide the width on the flanks and so instructs them both to get forward into the final third.

However, this often means that the central defenders are forced to cover the wide spaces, particularly during defensive transitions. Looking at Silva’s defensive territory map, it is clear that the Portuguese youngster defends quite a lot out on the flanks.

António Silva at Benfica 2022/23 – scout report

What is also evident from the defensive territory map is that the 18-year-old also makes quite a lot of defensive actions high up the pitch, sometimes even in the opposition’s half.

This is because Benfica’s backline is positioned very high up the pitch and counterpress upon losing the ball, meaning the defenders must step up and close down the opposition players.

António Silva at Benfica 2022/23 – scout report

The player’s ball recoveries in the opponent’s half of the field tell us this. In the 2022/23 campaign, Silva has registered 2 high regains, 2 dangerous recoveries and 8 counterpressing recoveries as even the centre-backs are important to Benfica’s transitional game.

This is one area where Silva struggles the most defensively. The young centre-back isn’t overly comfortable being dragged out into higher areas of the pitch.

He is not the most mobile either, meaning that opponents can drag him deep and leave him for dead by quickly turning. Furthermore, he doesn’t quite have the recovery speed needed to get back in time either.

António Silva at Benfica 2022/23 – scout report

Here, in another edition of Silva versus Mbappe, the latter has dragged the former out to an area he isn’t as comfortable, before darting away within a moment’s notice, leaving Benfica with just three players back and room to exploit on the flanks.

Nevertheless, in the deeper areas of the pitch, particularly in his own defensive third, Silva shows his class. The teenager’s body position is almost always perfect, and he is very efficient at clearing away crosses by reading the danger well.

Per game, Silva is averaging 2.49 clearances for Benfica this season in a possession-heavy team. He is also averaging 5.62 interceptions per game and 10.45 ball recoveries per game, proving how solid the youngster is at the back for the Primeira Liga leaders.

António Silva at Benfica 2022/23 – scout report

Again, the centre-back’s fascinating tactical awareness helps Benfica during the low block phase as Silva is able to clear away any danger that comes his way.

In possession

Silva is comfortable in possession and boasts a 93.8 percent passing accuracy in all competitions this season across both Benfica’s first-team and Benfica B. Given that he primarily plays on the right side of the backline, most of his passes are played in this very direction to the right fullback.

António Silva at Benfica 2022/23 – scout report

What the player’s pass map tells us is that the vast majority of his passes are sideways too. This can sometimes be too problematic for Benfica as Schmidt wants his centre-backs to play through the opposition’s first line of pressure and into the midfielders operating in the pivot space.

Quite often, the burden is on Otamendi to play these line-breaking passes. However, when Silva does attempt to break the opponent’s lines, he is actually effective at doing so.

António Silva at Benfica 2022/23 – scout report

Here, the Portuguese defender has played through Juventus’ high pressure and into the Benfica midfielder, allowing Portugal’s giants to progress play into a more advanced area while also taking out several opponents in the meantime.

This could be a confidence issue. Perhaps Silva feels as though he is not established enough as a first-team player to make riskier passes which could lead to goal-leading errors. In time, the central defender may become more confident to do so but it’s certainly an area that he can improve.

Interestingly, Silva has no issues making runs with the ball. This is a part of the youngster’s in-possession game that is most impressive which can be seen from his ball progression map,

António Silva at Benfica 2022/23 – scout report

Silva has a tendency to run through pressure and into space which allows his side to push the opposition into a deeper block, progressing play in the process.

This season, the 18-year-old has been averaging 0.67 dribbles per 90, completing two out of every three. Again, with more confidence, this may become a method that Schmidt’s side use to move the ball into higher areas and pin the defensive side deeper into their own half.

Conclusion

Silva’s potential cannot be understated. There are areas where the defender can improve but his overall defensive game is wonderful to watch.

It’s still too early to say just how high the young centre-back can fly but Silva has earned the trust of his German manager already. Most central defenders such as Sergio Ramos and Jamie Carragher began their careers as fullbacks before progressing into the middle. However, Silva has been thrown into the deep end to see if he could sink or swim. Turns out, he’s a fantastic swimmer.