S.L Benfica is renowned for producing world-class talent from their esteemed academy. João Félix is a recent graduate to make a step into the first team. The Portuguese giants have cultivated a culture of nurturing potential and have made £230m in the last three years from selling their academy graduates including Bernardo Silva, Ederson, Victor Lindelof, Renato Sanches, and Andre Gomes.
The Portuguese youngster made waves throughout the different age groups having joined Benfica after being released by Porto due to his diminutive frame. Having made his Benfica reserve team debut at the age of 16 in September 2016 he became the youngest player to debut for Benfica B. Since making his debut, the youngster has demonstrated his ability by making 29 appearances scoring seven goals.
For the 2018–19 season, João Félix was promoted to Benfica’s first team, making his Primeria Liga debut in a 2–0 win at Boavista on 18 August 2018. A week later, he scored his first senior goal against Sporting Lisbon, thus becoming the youngest player ever to play and score in a Lisbon derby. The goal tied the match 1–1 at the Estádio da Luz.
After a promising start to his career, we take analyse his style of play and if he has the attributes to become a world-class talent and move across the shores to Europe’s biggest leagues.
João Félix – The Advanced Playmaker
João Félix plays as an attacking midfielder or left-winger, his versatility allows him to influence games higher up the field. Felix’s creativity and passing separate him from the pack. His two strongest attributes go hand in hand. It is rare to see a 19-year-old with such incredible vision. With an ability to pick a pass and scan an entire field in a matter of seconds is invaluable. Developing this sort of ability is usually seen in experienced veterans or innately talented youngsters with the Portuguese starlet falling in the latter category. Félix is the driving force behind Benfica B’s attack providing the creativity and provides a platform for his team to make unorthodox movements. His diverse range of passing allows him to make several difficult passing attempts.
Jose Gomes is presented with two passing options; one to his left or João Félix. With his back to goal, Félix is being closed down by the central midfielder and a centre-back to contend with behind him.
The silky playmaker attempts an audacious back-heeled pass towards the (#91) striker. This one pass dissects Arouca B’s defence and plays in the striker who is clinical and scores.
Not only does Félix possess an incredible sense of awareness but he is able to position himself in goalscoring positions. João Félix makes deep runs into the box making it much harder to mark. He is afforded the freedom to move in and out of the box to both create and score goals. In this example, we can see how Félix is linking up with the Benfica attack. While the defenders are focused on the ball carrier, João Félix’s mazy run goes unnoticed as he drifts into the area after being found by a teammate.
Range of Passing
Passing is a key component of any midfielder’s repertoire of tools. João Félix has an incredible range of passing that allows him to control the tempo of the game from an advanced position. From the simple to elaborate, the Portuguese playmaker has the ability to conjure up clear-cut opportunities out of nothing. Félix prefers passing from small pockets of space to switch play to utilise the free space on the opposite side.
These two pass maps from games against Moreirense and Poland Under-21s indicate his willingness to play around one side of the pitch. The majority of his passes are forward passes but it isn’t just his attack-minded passes but his weight of pass makes it easier for his teammates receive and complete a move.
Against PAOK in the Champions League, João Félix was played in with Benfica on the counter-attack in the 85th minute with a chance to win the match. Notice, when João Félix receives the ball he’s faced in a position where he can play in Haris Seferović or thread a difficult ball through to Facundo Ferreyra.
Also, notice how the PAOK defenders are fixated on Felix’s movement and position. Just as I mentioned earlier, Felix’s ability to control play is good and one through ball can crack open a defence. The PAOK defender has a tough time adjusting to his body position not knowing which direction Felix will move in. His through ball opens up a clear opportunity for Benfica to score and steal a win.
João Félix’s ability to play a different range of passes is second to none for a 19-year-old. In this example, we can see Felix focused on the ball. He has three passing options but he shows his versatility and accuracy by picking out the striker. The level of difficulty to pull off such a pass is high especially with the opposition defenders standing in close proximity.
In the same match, Felix further showcases his range of passing by giving a long ranged pass. The right-wing area is unoccupied and the Portuguese realises that a quick switch in play will result in the opposition defence readjusting their positions. Felix’s pin-point pass lands at the winger’s feet who has space and time to cross into the opposition area.
Hard Working Playmaker – Defensive Positioning
Asks of a modern playmaker is no longer limited to just their attacking contributions but their defensive work too. Modern managers such as Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are expectant of their frontmen to contribute defensively. João Félix is treated no differently at Benfica with Rui Vitoria’s focus on defensive organisation and consistency.
This approach is manifested across all age groups with Felix showing his true talent for Benfica B. The Benfica coach drills his team into playing a high-pressure game for 30-40 minutes often scoring 1-2 goals shifting the game in their favour.
This allows his team to reduce the level of pressure and focus on their defensive organisation and quick offensive players to make speedy transitions. Making João Félix’s positioning as an attacking playmaker vital as he becomes the primary creative outlet transitioning the team from back to front in a matter of seconds.
In this example, against Moreirense we can see João Félix trackback from his left-wing position into a more defensive one. He is aware of the opposition full-back moving into a favourable attacking position. Notice, even the right-sided Benfica attackers are moving into a defensive position to create a defensive line making sure they outnumber the Moreirense attackers.
João Félix ends up in a good position to keep the opposition full-back wide and buy enough time for support to arrive and shepherd the midfielder out.
Part of his defensive contributions includes his aggressive play style that contributes to his hard-working style of play. This aggressiveness is shown through his interceptions and tackling ability. The squad has been drilled into winning the ball back swiftly and João Félix epitomises the team’s ethos. There have been several scenarios of João Félix’s aggressive turning the team’s fortunes.
As Braga initiates a counter-attack against Benfica B, we can see João Félix sprinting to recover the ball from the opposition winger. He catches up to him in a short space of time and manages to land an inch-perfect tackle to thwart the opposition counter-attack and start another Benfica attack.
In this example, he catches the opposition midfielder off-guard by timing his run perfectly to steal the ball and initiate a counter-attack.
João Félix has a bright future ahead of him. Benfica’s track record of nurturing talent is second to none and if he continues to improve, the Portuguese giants will have unearthed yet another talented youngster whose value will increase exponentially. The UEFA Europa League should provide a suitable platform for the starlet to perform and push Benfica to yet another European final. If the adventurous playmaker were to move under an expansive coach, we can expect to see João Félix’s truly thrive and become the world-class player he is destined to become.
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