Marcos Antônio 2022/23: Lazio’s new regista who will replace club legend Lucas Leiva – scout report
After a relatively successful first year at Lazio, Maurizio Sarri now looks to continue developing his work with the Biancocelesti. On the pitch, Sarri has certainly implemented his vision of football over this first year. The quest now lies in further developing and enhancing these tactics in order to reach the elite of Italian football alongside the likes of Internazionale and AC Milan. Consequently, their recruitment in this transfer window now becomes essential in order to make this next step. With the aim of improving the team’s performances, the board now looks for players that will elevate the squad’s quality while still adhering to Sarri’s tactics.
Marcos Antônio is the first step in this journey, with the 22-year-old officially signing a five-year deal with Lazio this summer. For a fee of €8 million (plus €2 million in add-ons), the Brazilian midfielder joins Sarri’s side after three years with Shakhtar Donetsk. As a long-term replacement for club legend Lucas Leiva, Marcos Antônio rejuvenates this Lazio side, who had the third-oldest average age in the 2021/22 Serie A. Nonetheless, the Brazilian still brings plenty of quality and UEFA Champions League experience to Le Aquile’s midfield.
In this scout report, Marcos Antônio’s characteristics, playing style, and strengths will be examined through statistical and tactical analysis. Furthermore, Lazio’s tactics will be considered in order to determine how and where exactly the 22-year-old fits into Sarri’s side.
With over three years of European experience, Marcos Antônio has significantly developed and refined his style. After joining Estoril Praia from Athletico Paranaense’s youth academy in late 2018, Antônio joined Shakhtar Donetsk only five months later. It was in Ukraine where the Brazilian blossomed into an intelligent and technical midfielder with tremendous potential. As a result of his small stature (166 cm), Marcos had to rely on characteristics such as awareness, mobility, and technique. Consequently, these are now cornerstones of the young midfielder’s game, traits that make him such a desirable and unique talent.
Marcos Antônio is predominantly right-footed, and with a low centre of gravity, he is able to quickly get in and out of tight spaces with incredible ease. While his intelligence guides him off the ball, as we will see in this analysis, his technique on the ball also makes him a pleasure to watch. Essentially, he is the key to a fluid, effective, and intelligent midfield.
While a significant part of his heatmap is in the opposition half, Marcos is a rather versatile midfielder. For Shakhtar, he often played as a defensive midfielder in a double pivot. Obviously, with his stature, he does not bring that physical defensive presence to protect the backline. Nonetheless, he is still able to effectively compose a defensive system without hindering it. In possession, though, is where he shines the most as we will see in this analysis. In the right circumstances, Marcos Antônio is able to perform anywhere in the midfield.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the 22-year-old’s game is his passing ability. Despite the incredible accuracy and range, it is the volume of his passing that stands out the most. In 2021/22, he averaged 85.54 passes per 90 at an outstanding 93.7% success rate. This is very much in line with Sarri’s Lazio, a side who averaged the most passes (517.21 per 90) in the 2021/22 Serie A. This high volume of passes is a representation of his relentless movement, a characteristic we will examine in detail later.
Marcos Antônio is constantly offering support and retaining possession, especially in more advanced areas. One of his pass maps below further highlights this, illustrating the location, range, and volume of his passes. The majority of them are in the opposition half as he is frequently responsible for breaking defensive lines and disrupting defensive organisations through quick short passes.
Against Inter, below, this concept can be further illustrated. By moving wide to receive the ball, he creates space inside for his partner Maycon to occupy. After receiving it, he immediately plays Maycon who plays it further up the pitch to the winger. It is with this sort of subtle yet significant movements that he is able to keep the midfield fluid and in constant change.
A consistent concept in Marcos Antônio’s game is the pass-and-move. Rarely does he complete a pass and stand still, but rather moves again to offer support. While this obviously makes him very exhausting to defend, it is also a manner for him to progress through the pitch. Dribbling is not a resource the Brazilian often resorts to, with only 1.46 dribbles per 90 and 0.81 progressive runs per 90. On the contrary, he tends to progress through the pitch with a quick succession of passes, always moving after releasing the ball. While this ensures a controlled approach to possession, it also allows the team to progress collectively, as a unit.
In the example below, for instance, he uses this concept to break down a defensive block. In a 1v1 situation, he chooses to find his teammate further up the pitch.
After doing so, he immediately relocates to receive again and make another pass, now putting his teammate behind the last defensive line. While his vision is a key factor here, his movement off the ball to find space and receive again is also significant.
The 22-year-old midfielder also brings tremendous quality to Le Aquile’s possession. In addition to having very good vision, Marcos Antônio also possesses the ability to perfectly time and weigh passes. In the instance below, before making the pass, he takes an extra touch to his right side. This extra touch not only protects the ball and invites the defender to commit a dangerous foul, but it gives his teammate an extra second to make the run. After this touch, Marcos threads a perfect pass to leave his teammate in front of the goal.
Shakhtar’s 3-2 win over Real Madrid in the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League was the match that threw Marcos Antônio onto every club’s radar. In this historic win in Spain, Marcos picked apart Los Blancos’ defence with his passing. Especially in transition, the Brazilian was able to constantly break lines and launch dangerous counter-attacks.
While his passing is a significant aspect of his contribution in possession, his movement off the ball is also a rare quality. Similar to his passing locations, he is able to frequently receive the ball in the opposition half, especially within defensive organisations. Below is a map of his received passes in a match, with the majority of them being near or in the final third. Not only is the location of these received passes important, but also the volume. Marcos Antônio’s relentless movement off the ball constantly offers support and creates passing lanes for his team, allowing them to get in dangerous zones and effectively break down low blocks.
His positioning is especially impressive when considered in relation to the location of his teammates. Marcos is able to position himself in areas where, not only can he receive the ball, but also immediately move it again. In the instance below, he is in a position where, if he receives the ball, he immediately has four options to move it again. By constantly scanning and considering the environment around him, he is able to position himself in optimal locations.
With his positioning, Marcos is also able to constantly form triangulations and be the third man, a concept almost essential in modern football. In the instance below, as his teammate checks in, Marcos immediately offers an extra option and forms that triangle.
His awareness of the environment around him is also seen through his movement and behaviour. For instance, in the example below, he senses the opposition player pressuring him from behind as he receives the ball. Consequently, he immediately plays it back to another teammate.
After playing it back to his teammate, he moves further into the defensive organisation and finds space to receive the ball again.
After receiving the ball in this tight space, he is able to maintain control of it before finding another teammate. After a few seconds, he plays a perfectly weighted lob as Dodô attacks the space behind the defensive line.
His role off the ball can also be identified in simpler sequences. His constant quest for space not only creates options for his teammates but also disrupts and manipulates defensive organisations.
In this other sequence, this same concept can be illustrated while also looking at his passing ability. As Shakhtar attempt to break down two compact lines of four, Marcos makes himself available in front of the first.
After receiving it, he carries it further before making another lobbed pass to Dodô, this time in a much more difficult situation. Nonetheless, he is still able to time and weights it perfectly to put the Brazilian right-back in front of the goal.
How does he fit at Lazio?
As we have seen, Marcos Antônio will bring tremendous quality to Le Aquile’s midfield, especially in possession. With potentially as much technical ability as Luis Alberto, the 22-year-old also offers mobility and movement that is perhaps missed in this Lazio midfield. While it is clear what he brings to the table, we must also understand how and where exactly he fits in Sarri’s team.
For starters, Sarri was incredibly consistent as far as formations, deploying a traditional 4-3-3 79% of the time. A 4-1-4-1, which is a slight variation of the 4-3-3, was deployed another 15% of the time. This consistency is essential for us to accurately understand and preview the possible roles for Marcos Antônio in Sarri’s midfield.
The Biancocelesti’s average positions also help us further understand how Sarri’s Lazio is organised, especially structurally. While the team maintains considerable width through its wide players, the midfield is relatively narrow. Consequently, the midfield trio plays a significant role in being the heart of the team and connecting all the pieces. With such a significant role in a structure with such a large amount of space and width, Marcos Antônio will undoubtedly shine.
Now on the pitch, we are able to see how connected Sarri’s midfield is. Through their wide players, Lazio is able to maintain extreme width and expand the playing area. This stretches the defensive organisation and creates significant space for the midfield to explore. In a system like this, their attacking performance lies entirely in the hands of the midfield and their ability to take advantage of this space and connect the pieces.
In 2021/22, Maurizio Sarri consistently opted for a midfield trio of Sergej Milinković-Savić, Luis Alberto, and Danilo Cataldi (or Lucas Leiva), with the last being the single pivot. The mystery now becomes where Marcos Antônio will fit in this midfield. At Shakhtar, the Brazilian exclusively played as part of a double pivot. Furthermore, his stature begs the question of whether he can defensively protect the backline as a single pivot.
Nonetheless, the idea of deploying Marcos as the single pivot, a role previously occupied by club legend Lucas Leiva, should not be discarded. Balance is key, and Milinković-Savić’s presence and physicality may provide this defensively. Consequently, in a secure defensive organisation with other players, Marcos Antônio’s lack of physicality may be disregarded.
With this in mind, the 22-year-old could certainly be deployed as a traditional regista ahead of the backline. In this role, Marcos Antônio would clearly be the long-term replacement for Lucas Leiva. If not, the Brazilian could easily and successfully be deployed as one of the two more advanced midfielders.
Maurizio Sarri’s project at Lazio now enters its second year, with the Italian manager leaving his mark through his recruitment. In order to rejuvenate and improve the quality of his midfield, Sarri and Lazio have opted for 22-year-old Brazilian midfielder Marcos Antônio. The Brazilian brings UEFA Champions League experience with plenty of youth and potential. On the pitch, Marcos brings a versatile profile with exceptional quality. Although he is a signing with the long-term in mind, it will be very interesting to see how Marcos Antônio performs for the Biancocelesti.