Eduard Atuesta: What Palmeiras can expect from the Colombian midfielder – scout report
After back-to-back Libertadores titles, Palmeiras are looking to further strengthen their squad for the 2022 season. As of this week, they have already signed five new players. One of them being the Colombian midfielder, Eduard Atuesta. Atuesta was one of the best midfielders in the MLS and a key player for LAFC in 2021. The 24-year-old midfielder adds both quality and depth to the Palmeiras midfield. With equally impressive defensive and attacking statistics, Atuesta also brings versatility to Abel Ferreira’s adaptive tactics.
Eduard Atuesta’s heat map shows how dominant he is in the midfield. Often deployed as a central midfielder in a 3-4-1-2 or the defensive mid in a 4-3-3, Atuesta plays a key role in all phases of the game. His positional awareness allows him to constantly balance and organise the midfield throughout the game. In possession, he can either sit deeper and orchestrate play behind the attack or occasionally attack spaces with or without the ball further up the pitch. Equally, on defence, he can either sit deep and cover players or press high up the pitch.
Abel Ferreira has often been criticised for a ‘lack of identity’ due to his adaptive tactics. The Portuguese puts a huge emphasis on opposition analysis and strategy – exploiting the opposition’s weaknesses while maximising his team’s strengths. Consequently, they have utilised a number of different formations and systems. At any rate, Palmeiras’ go-to formations in 2021 were the 4-2-3-1 and the 3-5-2. As mentioned above, Atuesta can play as the single pivot as well as part of a double pivot in the midfield. His versatility will definitely serve them well.
Atuesta is far from a one-trick pony. His variation of play is very difficult to defend as it demands defences to be constantly aware. Firstly, Atuesta was a key piece in LAFC’s build-up. Very similar to Palmeiras, LAFC like to construct play with a back three. Against mid blocks, Atuesta would often come deep to get the ball and become the third player. Against higher blocks, he would operate behind the first line of pressure, finding passing lanes and creating space. Against Salt Lake’s high pressure, he quickly distances himself from the midfielder to create a passing option as well as space for himself.
Against Portland’s mid-block, he comes deep to get the ball and start play.
Passing style and range
Atuesta’s attacking versatility comes in his passing style. The midfielder is very good at playing short quick passes to retain possession and providing support in the midfield. He is constantly moving around (as seen on his heat map) and looking to provide support through passing lanes and space. When he is near the ball carrier and makes himself available, he will either create numerical superiority or attract a defender and create space elsewhere. His movement is very efficient in possession. In this instance, he quickly takes two steps to the side to create just enough space to receive and pass the ball.
Not only is his short passing impressive, but so are his long balls. Atuesta’s average long pass length is 41.64 meters. With 5.47 long passes per 90, this is a good option for an attack to have. Either for targeted long passes or just directly progressing through zones without a specific target, his long-range passing will be an interesting weapon added to Palmeiras’ arsenal. After coming deep to get the ball and start play, he quickly finds his wing-back making a run into space and plays the long ball.
However, his most dangerous characteristic is his ability to break lines. With 10.5 progressive passes per 90, he is constantly looking to progress through zones and create chances. His ability to play inch-perfect passes through multiple defenders is very impressive. More common as part of a double pivot, Atuesta likes to operate from the edge of the final third and find passes from there. Eduard averaged 0.27 assists per 90 in 2021 despite playing in deeper midfield roles. His attacking contributions and ability to break down compact defences will be key for Palmeiras. Against Portland, he is able to play this pass through two defenders to put his teammate in a dangerous position.
Now in transition, he plays a through ball putting his teammate in front of the goal.
As they try to break down Galaxy’s defence, Atuesta plays a difficult ball into the box creating a big chance for Rossi.
Finally, he breaks down a compact block of eight to put his forward in front of the goal.
Overall, Atuesta has a diverse passing style. He is constantly involved in possession at 59.46 passes per 90. 20.93 of those passes are forward passes, while 22.48 are lateral. This balance demonstrates his ability to both progress through zones and simply retain possession. At 2.17 through balls per 90 and 12.33 passes to final third per 90, he is also constantly looking to create chances and orchestrate attacks. With this balance in playing style, he is a dynamic threat to defences.
In addition to his attacking contributions, Atuesta is a very good defender. He was among the top of the MLS for successful defensive actions per 90 and interceptions per 90. As he covers a lot of ground, he is a very active defender, often being able to break down counterattacks and cover for others. Not only are his defensive skills such as tackling and interception very good, but he has great awareness and communicates very well. This was important as LAFC looked to press high. He is able to coordinate his movements in order to close passing lanes and neutralise midfielders. His work ethic equally stands out as he is always closing down options and covering ground. Communication is also essential for pressing as it must be done as a unit. In the instance below, Atuesta sees the player behind him showing for the ball and quickly instructs his teammate to step over. This has to be done in a matter of seconds or else that ball will be played.
Another desirable characteristic of his during a high press is his ability to cover ground. Below he quickly sprints to close the passing option.
His work ethic and awareness are also key in defensive transition. He is constantly able to counter-press and break up counterattacks. Against Portland below, he quickly sprints to stop the opposition’s forward from getting the ball and starting an attack.
As Galaxy look to launch a counterattack, Atuesta’s positioning and awareness are able to stop it. Rather than simply pressuring the ball carrier, he sees the player behind him and realises he is outnumbered. He angles himself in a way as to block the third player and delay the attack. As his teammates recover, he goes on to pressure the ball carrier and force him back.
Finally, his work in covering for fullbacks is also notable. Below, as he notices the player making a run into the space left behind, he sprints over to track him.
One of Palmeiras’ most important players is Danilo. The deep-lying midfielder was a key piece in their defensive structure. He was the only player to play every game in their Libertadores 2021 title and his importance in Palmeiras’ midfield cannot be understated. Coincidentally (but probably not), Atuesta has incredibly similar defensive metrics to Danilo. With his attacking contributions being far better, Atuesta will probably play alongside Danilo forming a strong double pivot and giving the Colombian a little more freedom in possession.
Atuesta’s set-piece delivery will be key for Palmeiras. At LAFC, he took corners, deep free-kicks, and penalties. He was constantly able to find targets or simply put the ball in dangerous areas with pace. Against Sporting Kansas, he had quite a game, scoring a penalty and assisting two goals from set-pieces. The first from a corner, and the second from a deep free-kick. Having scored 13 goals from set-pieces in the 2021 Brasileiro (excluding penalties), Palmeiras will definitely look to add to that number with Atuesta.
Through statistical and tactical analysis, it is clear Palmeiras have signed a true box-to-box midfielder in Eduard Atuesta. The Colombian played a key role in LAFC’s 2021 campaign and will look to do the same in Palmeiras. In the MLS, he showcased his versatility and impressive characteristics, both in attack and defence. The São Paulo giants have one of the best recruitment departments in the country and definitely did their work with him. He fits exactly in Abel’s tactics and has similar metrics to their current players. He will add depth and strength to an already title-winning squad. In addition to the five players signed, Palmeiras are also looking for a big centre-forward signing. The start of Leila Pereira’s presidency is looking very promising.