Enzo Fernandez 2021/22: Why Europe’s best are interested in the River Plate midfielder – Scout report
Enzo Fernandez probably isn’t a name most of you are familiar with unless you are a South American reader. That looks like it could well change this summer with Real Madrid, AC Milan, Manchester City and Manchester United all proposedly interested in the River Plate midfielder. At 21-years-old Fernandez has played little first-team football but despite this, he is drawing the attention of Europe’s elite and could join his teammate Julian Alvarez in departing Argentina this summer. South America has always provided a wealth of talent for the richer European clubs to acquire and some of the hottest talents in world football started their careers in South America. Starting out in South American leagues, achieving first-team minutes, before embarking on a move to European football is a path trodden by the likes of Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Darwin Nunez.
Enzo Fernandez so far this season in the Copa De Liga Professional and Copa Libertadores has been performing well with nine goals and five assists after returning from his loan spell with Defensa y Justicia, in addition to impressing with his overall contribution to River Plate.
This scout report and tactical analysis will take a look into the skills and attributes Fernandez brings to his team and what is it that is attracting so many elite-level clubs. While also addressing any areas that Fernandez needs to improve on if he is going to take the next step at the likes of Real Madrid.
Fernandez is a versatile midfielder, who is best described as a number eight. He currently plays on the right side of River Plate’s 4-3-3 tactic. River Plate under Marcelo Gallardo are a tactically versatile team, so Fernandez is comfortable being asked to perform different roles and tasks. Fernandez is equally effective in and out of possession. His in-possession contribution is multi-faceted with the ability to get in the box and score goals but also drop deeper and help break down low blocks. Defensively he excels in interceptions and counter-pressing, which we will look at further in this analysis. Below shows a heatmap of Fernandez highlighting the areas and positions on the pitch that he regularly takes up.
With Fernandez adopting a number eight role for River Plate, it requires him to provide the team with a variety of skills in possession. As mentioned in the introduction Fernandez has been in great scoring form this season and he does have an ability to get himself into the box, putting himself in goal scoring positions. However, a lot of Fernandez’s goals have come from penalties and long shots. Both of these inflate Fernandez’s goal-scoring ability, as scoring long shots from low XG areas is often hard to maintain over a long period of time. This means that despite having a good goal-scoring record this season, it may not be the case for the rest of Fernandez’s career. The below graph shows Fernandez’s Xg per 90 at 0.21 and non-penalty goals at 0.16.
Now Fernandez does like to get forward and get shots off and this does lead to him sometimes scoring some wonder goals however it can also be wasteful. The shot map below shows Fernandez’s last 75 shots and as you can see the majority are outside the box and off-target.
This is something Fernandez needs to iron out of his game at the next level, as wasting the ball in the final third so frequently is inefficient and harmful to the team.
Another aspect of a midfielder’s attacking contribution is their chance creation, something which Fernandez excels at. In and around the box Fernandez has great poise and quality to find teammates, creating quality chances. This can be confirmed by the data below which shows how Fernandez performs in assists per 90 and XA per 90. The data shows us that Fernandez manages 0.16 assists per 90 from an expected assist of 0.11, which is amongst the top performers in the sample.
Another set of data metrics which can help measure a player’s creative quality is key passes per 90 and smart passes per 90 (a key pass is a pass that leads to a goal-scoring opportunity, and a smart pass is a pass that looks to penetrate the defensive line).
As the data shows above, this is one of the strengths of Fernandez’s game managing 0.56 key passes per 90 and 1.68 smart passes per 90, which is well above average. Below shows a couple of examples of Fernandez making these passes. Here you can see Fernandez is on the ball with the opposition sitting in a deep defensive block, Fernandez picks his head up and plays a pass behind the defensive line for the on running River plate attacker. The pass shows great vision of the game to see the runner but also to identify the space in the box to play the pass, Fernandez also manages to execute the pass brilliantly.
The on-running River Plate attacker is then brought down in the box for a River Plate penalty. The next example again demonstrates the quality and composure Fernandez can offer in and around the box. Julian Alvarez plays the ball infield to Fernandez, who has drifted into a central pocket of space.
After receiving the ball, Fernandez carries the ball forward towards the edge of the box before slowing down and playing a lofted pass over the opposition’s defensive line for Alvarez who has made a run off the right side into the box.
Again, the vision of Fernandez to see the pass when the majority of players would play a much simpler pass forward to other River Plate attackers or maybe shoot is impressive. The pass is also executed with great quality to place the ball perfectly in front of Alvarez for him to run onto and score.
Another key aspect of Fernandez’s attacking contribution is his ball progression. Fernandez uses a combination of progressive runs and progressive passes to advance the ball up the field as you can see from the data below, which shows progressive passes per 90 and progressive runs per 90. Fernadez makes 10.49 progressive passes per 90 and 1.62 progressive runs per 90, which makes him one of the best ball progressors in the sample.
The following example demonstrates the types of passes Fernandez makes to help progress the ball up the field. After turning the ball over in their half, Fernandez receives the ball and instantly picks his head up and looks to move the ball forward. He identifies that Alvarez is on the shoulder of the defensive line and plays pass down the line into the space behind the defensive line.
Alvarez manages to gather the ball in the opposition’s final third and now River Plate are in a dangerous area to create an attack thanks to the progressive pass from Fernandez.
The attacking contribution Fernandez provides is a vast one, with the ability to score goals (maybe not at the same rate in the future) and create chances for his team. Fernandez also has a great ability to find space and then utilise this space to help create chances or progress the ball up the field, this is reflected in the examples shown. These attributes are confirmed in both the data and the traditional scouting, as reaffirmed by this section of the scout report.
Midfielders are required to not just impact the game on the ball but also off it with their defensive skills. River Plate is a side who are known for its counter-pressing and it is a key tactical principle of Marcelo Gallardo’s team. When losing the ball the team instantly looks to win the ball back, this is an aspect of Fernandez’s game which is impressive. Below shows defensive duels per 90 and defensive duel win %, which tells us that Fernandez is above average in both of these metrics.
The ability to engage in a high amount of duels but also to win these duels is an area of Fernandez’s game which will be drawing the attention of suitors. A consequence of the River Plate’s counter-pressing is that Fernandez manages to recover the ball in the opposition half regularly. This will be music to the ears of managers like Pep Guardiola who likes his teams to press high up the field looking to turn the ball over in the opposition half.
Hopefully, this scout report and tactical analysis has given you a greater insight into Enzo Fernandez and some of the attributes that are attracting some of Europe’s biggest clubs. In possession Fernandez excels with a wide range of passes and qualities which allow him to be one of the most effective players in Argentina. His quality on the ball is evident and helps us understand why Fernandez is so highly regarded. Off the ball, Fernandez doesn’t quite excel to the same level he does on the ball but his familiarity with counter-pressing and pressing the opposition high up the field will help him transition to similar styles in Europe while allowing him to still impact the game.