Joao Gomes: How the 21-year-old has become a vital part of Flamengo’s system – scout report
Brazil year by year continues to be one of the hottest countries to sign wonderkids, and this is not a new tradition, it has been throughout several years of the history of football, as almost all of them add ball control, distribution ability, bravery and dribbling technique to any team. Normally, you’d think of the likes of Neymar Jr, Phillipe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus, Fabinho, etc. Even goalkeepers Alisson and Ederson have become great players in Europe in terms of distribution and technical level.
However, players like Real Madrid star Vinicius Jr, Lucas Paquetá, Reinier or Lázaro, have all been recent examples of the great academy Flamengo has worked on in the past years. 21-year-old midfielder Joao Gomes profiles himself as one of the biggest talents on the continent and Brazil’s Serie A, as well as in the CONMEBOL Libertadores. His distribution range and maturity on the field at his age have shown why he has attracted interest from different football clubs in Europe, including Premier League giants, Liverpool.
Registering 116 appearances at the moment after two full seasons and one being a regular sub for the team, Joao Gomes has become a vital part of Flamengo. He hasn’t been called up to the youth Brazil national teams or to the first team, even though he might be on course after winning his first Libertadores.
This tactical analysis piece will be a scout report of Gomes. It will be an analysis of the left-back’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as looking at where he has fit into Flamengo’s tactics thus far.
Joao Gomes shows great shape in terms of confidence and proactivity to ask for the ball in different zones of the pitch, going wide, centrally or in the half-spaces. His comfort zone in the midfield is over the left-hand side where he usually plays but he actually can do it as a right-midfielder. His 2022 heatmap is a big example of what we’re explaining, and as well, demonstrates that he steps on advanced areas of the pitch, supporting his team in the final third too.
His season stats at Flamengo shows why he’s such a key inside the Libertadores champions. The 21-year-old ranks very high in terms of possession, with his top accuracy in passes as well as passes made and received, explaining that he’s a midfielder that likes to get very much in contact with the ball.
We can see that defensively, besides his aerial deficiency, as he’s not the tallest player, Joao shows an incredible balance between how many duels he goes to and how much he wins. He’s very good in both aspects, and his positioning ranks at the 89th percentile which shows his tactical intelligence.
Offensively, he’s not a player that gets too much on goal, shoots or makes threatening entries to the rival penalty box, nevertheless, he’s actually hitting the standard for a midfield, up to the 40 or 50th percentile which is very good, meaning that sometimes he tries to score goals or contribute with an assist. This happens as well because Flamengo usually deploys their game in a high block, where midfielders arrive at the box.
Positioning and movements
Joao Gomes shows a great understanding of where he has to go and when he has to exchange heights with his partner in the double pivot. On paper, the 21-year-old starts as a defensive midfielder, but his intensity and dynamic style of play, especially when he’s out of possession, makes him go further on the pitch and support his teammates at wide zones, in every third of the pitch.
When his team builds from the back at a slow pace, he joins the back three as the wide-centre-back, looking to open space through the middle, attracting the pressure and confusing markers to decide where to go. There, we can see one of the automatic things Flamengo likes to do which is the ball progression from in to out, looking for explosive full-backs that can carry the ball up. Joao is vital in this as he looks to create one-two situations as well that lay down the rigid blocks they face.
Against Athletico Paranaense in the CONMEBOL Libertadores Cup final, he was everywhere on the pitch for his team. This ‘touch map’ viz is a great example of the variety of his off-the-ball movements, looking forward to receive in different zones, drag markers and stretch the opponents with his free role around the thrids.
One of the most utilized zones in this map are the wide areas, this time the left-hand side, where he normally deploys his football. There, he likes to be very mobile going from out to in and vice versa, where he receives the ball, releases it quickly ad then looks to make supporting runs for his teammate in possession.
Joao Gomes also likes to place himself as a unique pivot, where he can break lines to find teammates in superior positions over the half-spaces or behind the first line of pressure. The Brazilian is very confident to go and seek the ball there, creating a triangle with the centre-backs to be the open man through the middle to receive, turn, and make a decision in front of congested lanes.
Against América de Mineiro in Serie A, he showed the basics of what we are talking about. His midfield partner went a bit higher on the pitch, leaving him free as the only man in the central areas, where he constantly was looking to progress with progressive passes to the wings.
In the attacking phase, Joao Games has several automatisms that he likes to deploy when his team is on the ball. One of them are the one-two situations he creates that we are going to see later in this analysis, however, Flamengo likes to take the 21-year-old very up in the attack, to join the penalty box and try to assist with cut-backs.
He tends to do it in two channels, the half-space and the wings. Although, he normally activates himself through the inner spaces in attack, breaking the last defensive line between the centre-back and full-back, where a wide man looks to attract and pin the full-back wide and Joao can appear at his back.
In this figure we can see that Gomes has already made the run to the box, before this, he delivered the pass to the man on the ball right now, who after that would free the midfielder in the box, where he received and chose to execute a cut-back that didn’t arrive to another teammate, even though, it showed perfectly what kind of movements he likes to do in attack. A really Fabinho-esque movement that he usually makes at Liverpool.
One of the biggest features of Joao’s game is purely what we have explained in this section, his understanding of positioning and off-the-ball movements to break and stretch lines are great, and a mobile and electric team like Flamengo really benefits from his tactical maturity at his age. A bright player in the off-the-ball aspect.
We have only talked about what Joao Gomes can do off-the-ball only in attacking situations, the early stages of the build-up and more. The ‘Carioca’ also shows great ability and leadership in the defensive phase of the game. As a natural pivot, he shows great covering for full-backs, his midfield partner and more teammates inside the pitch. His ball-winning capacity grows matchweek-by-matchweek also thanks to his intense style of defending that helps him to press higher, track back in transitions and suffocate players on the ball.
This ‘High Regains’ map shows a big example of how good and vital Joao Gomes has become in Flamengo’s high pressing style of defending. He’s a typical counter-pressing player that doesn’t get tired of following players, marking them tightly, and forcing them to make errors that could lead to a chance.
He likes to be very proactive against defensive transitions, sometimes a little bit impetuous in his decisions so he makes mistakes like leaving another man free or space behind his back. However, this brave take to go and execute counter-pressing recoveries when the defensive transitions have started really helps the team to get the ball back, or at least to annoy the holder of the ball and slow down the fast attack opposition would be trying to make.
In this example below, against América de Mineiro as well, they were defending a Flamengo attack. The cross was delivered to the centre of the box, they clear it out and one of the players grab the ball to start the counterattack. Joao goes offering first covering for his teammate and ends up following the player on the ball for 2-4 seconds, forcing him to pass it back and Flamengo could organise their shape easily and calmly.
In a mid-to-low-block, Joao Gomes tends to keep his proactivity, looking to jump off his line and press opponents, however, in these situations he likes to do what the coach asks as well that is a more organised and rigid shape to close down the lines.
The Brazilian is a very fast and powerful player on his first stride, that likes to support his full-backs and centre-backs if one goes off with the ball at their feet. This is not a frequent action at the ‘Mengao’ but when it happens, he acts perfectly.
This picture shows how Joao Gomes offered help to his full-back who was dragged off after one of the Santos players pin outside and attract him to then release another opponent behind him. This is where Joao makes himself even bigger and tracks back these kinds of runs. In this one, he was able to equal the opponent’s speed and stop the attempted cross.
Joao Gomes’ best attribute defensively talking is the way he wins the ball-back so many times at any match. He has incredible timing to get the ball back and tackle players. Besides, he’s not a tall player, his lower body is a very athletic one and that allows him to easily beat players and lay them down, as well as tackle them and win the ball back for his team.
In this example, we can see how Joao Gomes stretches himself to get to the ball the opponent has received, with a bad touch that has given the Brazilian time to win it back. However, a few seconds before, he was up to 4 or 5 meters away from the player he was stealing the ball from. His awareness and quick reactions to go and defend are at the highest level of concentration.
His defensive territory in the upcoming data viz shows a brilliant example of how much ground he can cover in the midfield, but also at his back, protecting the defensive line, and going forward, as well as supporting wide players.
The defensive impact he has brought to the middle of Flamengo in these last two years, and especially in 2022 after his constant evolution, has been really a system and season-changing.
Distribution range and on-the-ball skills
Joao Gomes has shown a very good but safe distribution that’s not usually looking to break lines through the middle, executing diagonals or making long balls from deep to strikers’ runs. However, he has a very good and perfectly-executed passing ability that helps Flamengo a lot in their idea of attracting pressure in the central areas to then change the game to the weak side for their explosive full-backs.
In under-pressure situations, he acts very well, however, he’s not the kind of player that likes to pick the ball around 2-3 players marking him and attempting to dribble to escape from small spaces. As we can see in the example below, he has recovered the ball back in his own third, starting the attacking phase in the early stage of the build-up where he is surrounded by two players, but he has seen the hole between them to take a pass that’s going to beat the press.
This is the kind of thing Gomes likes to do when he receives the ball and many players mark him, get his head up and make a good pass.
Another thing he likes to do is to carry the ball when he has a little bit of space to run. Flamengo seems to give him license to go forward with the ball on his feet to break lines with progressive carries, and some of them are finalised even inside the rival penalty box.
This data viz on his penetrating carries shows exactly his ability to receive the ball in the midfield, turn and make a powerful run that normally enters another third of the pitch, and on occasions are very threatening going inside the box or to the final third.
One of the things we have been talking about a lot in this analysis is the way he creates one-two situations from in to out, which he makes with top dynamism and mobility that usually breaks the block and he elevates the height of his team on the pitch.
As a defensive-midfielder with lots of freedom to go forward and be part of the passing circuits Flamengo creates to progress to other zones, he likes to play the ball usually to wingers or full-backs that pin outside and create space for him to step in, receive the ball and run several distances.
This figure shows exactly what we’re talking about: Before Joao Gomes received the ball at the halfway line in the central area, he turns perfectly his body and runs with the ball outside, there he finds a pass to the wide teammate, which he is going to receive and make a first-time pass to the 21-year-old who was already making the supporting run to create and conclude the one-two situation.
Joao Gomes’ weakness in his playing style could be the low risks he takes when creating from deep and even in advanced areas to break lines and execute passes forward. However, Flamengo has made an automatism where Gomes has excelled, and it’s a very common one. He is responsible to pick the ball and change the ball from the strong side of the ball to the weak side.
This is because of his fast and elastics hip rotations, which allow him to turn the team completely in seconds after getting in touch with the ball.
Against Corinthians, he was subbed in from the bench and he showed why he kind of owns Flamengo’s midfield. The way he received the ball and immediately make the half-turn to change the side and move the opposition to another wing of the pitch was amazingly-taken and at a speed that few players can make.
He’s always scanning, he likes to play with his heads up as he’s constantly trying to find the best option to progress, and apart from the low-risks he takes, Joao normally releases good, tense and precise passes that don’t end in errors that the opposition could benefit from. This pass below was executed in an excellent way and the wide man received the ball calmly and composed at his feet.
Not breaking lines normally could be an issue in modern football, however, a player that knows when exactly can change from one side to another is as difficult to find than others, and very underrated as well. Nevertheless, Joao’s technical level and elasticity to turn and timing to release the ball can be developed to start transforming into a deep-lying-playmaker.
As we can see, his shot-assist map doesn’t look that full as he doesn’t have the responsibility to progress or create scoring chances, although this also shows us that his shot-assists commonly were side-passes and not through-balls.
Joao Gomes shows physicality, intensity, mobility, tactical intelligence, fine and delicate passing sense and a safe distribution that can be a plus for several teams that like their defensive midfielder to be more of a pivot and be aware of giving balance and concentration to the defensive phase of his team.
At only 21 years of age, the boy from ‘Carioca’ has shown an insane amount of potential that in the right hands can be developed in a fantastic way. A move to France couldn’t be bad for him and could make him into a more direct player in passing terms.