Having signed for Benfica in July – a side that is yet to lose a competitive fixture this season – Enzo Fernández has already become the midfield flavour of the month in European football.
Manchester United are reported to have been scouting Enzo this season in Portugal after having watched him in Argentina.
United’s midfield of Bruno Fernandes, Christian Eriksen, and Casemiro has largely performed impeccably this season. Fred has even shown his value as a squad player, bringing intensity and impotence into a second half. Scott McTominay, having started this campaign as part of the first 11, can be seen as a role player at long last – someone to add physicality and an injection of desire when required. Donny van de Beek has been mostly injured since his Ajax ally Erik ten Hag took over the helm at Old Trafford. Zidane Iqbal impressed in preseason and has since been training with the first team and included in matchday squads. Hannibal Mejbri has garnered plaudits early into his loan spell with Birmingham City.
So why would United enter the market for another midfielder?
The simple answer: Enzo Fernández is not a player United should ignore.
The more complex answer: young, sky-high potential, diverse skill set, Enzo could shadow the ageing Eriksen and Casemiro for the coming years with the view for him to become a complete, Premier League quality, Ten Hag-suited midfielder. Frenkie de Jong and Jude Bellingham appear to be near impossible to sign; not only would Fernández be a worthy alternative, he may be the better candidate for a multitude of reasons.
Enzo has become one of the most well-rounded and infallible midfielders in Europe since his recent arrival. 13 appearances as a central midfielder, 6 as a defensive midfielder, and 3 as an attacking midfielder, it is clear to see that Roger Schmidt is enjoying his new Argentinian star’s dynamism.
The 21 year old outlined his main attributes upon signing for Benfica: “I have good vision, passing and ball recovery and I think that is what I can add to the team.”
And the all-round central midfielder has undoubtedly backed this up since.
Regarding his vision, Enzo has proved this to a great extent when joining the attack. He is averaging 4.72 shot-creating-actions per 90 minutes, placing him in the top 94th percentile amongst fellow midfielders, as per FB Ref.
His instinctive and intelligent vision has also been displayed. Enzo is averaging 0.48 goal-creating-actions per 90 minutes (97th percentile). This would suggest that the Argentine is thriving when deployed as a deep-lying playmaker.
The eye-test can vouch for this too. Enzo is often seen clipping the ball around the corner into the final third with a rather Eriksen or Fernandes-like poise. With such through-balls in the air, the Argentine holds an expected assist (xAG) of 0.48 – meaning, in short, that the Benfica strikers should improve their finishing, as he has only tallied four assists so far this season in 21 appearances.
This clinical, assertive, confident passing is a skill which he mentioned. And it is a skill which is, without doubt, of an elite quality. Enzo has mastered the art of having a varied pass-type arsenal.
Whether it be lofting the ball to the other side of the pitch (1.73 switches per match: 99th percentile), drilling it forward into the final third (12.01 progressive passes into final third: 99th percentile), or crisply playing it to a close-by teammate (35.56 short passes per ninety: 99th percentile), Enzo demands close-to-perfection from himself. His pass completion rate (of all pass-types) is sitting at a remarkable 87.1%, placing him once again into the 99th percentile amongst midfielders in Europe’s top divisions.
And yes, he was once again very accurate with his suggestion that he would help recover the ball for the team.
Enzo averages 7.23 ball recoveries per game, 2.33 tackles and 0.96 interceptions. These exemplary defensive statistics indicate that he is a player with an excellent reading of the game and a high aptitude in regaining possession.
Indeed, Benfica have only conceded five goals in the domestic League and six goals in a Champions League group that included Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain. Enzo’s midfield dynamism and willingness to work hard defensively for his team is a clear foundation for the lack of opposition goals.
What marks Enzo as a top candidate to emulate the successes of the best number sixes is his readiness to get on the ball. He loves to have the ball at his feet.
Making a determined effort to be available for teammates around the central area of the pitch, Enzo averages 106.79 touches per game and receives the ball 86.53 times. Both of these place him, yet again, in the 99th percentile.
What can be drawn from these two metrics is that the midfielder loves to be an option – receive the ball – manoeuvre it cleverly – and pass it quickly forward. This is a sign that, under the tutelage of Casemiro and Eriksen, Enzo could adapt into a supreme Premier League midfielder. What’s more, he advertised his supreme Eriksen-esque technical qualities for Benfica on his very first appearance. Against Midtjylland in a Champions League qualifying fixture, Enzo pummelled the ball into the net on the volley from a corner in a shockingly similar fashion to Paul Scholes’ famous strike against Aston Villa. You’ll want to look it up.
Enzo has even shown his capabilities as a youngster in Argentina. Sent on loan by parent club River Plate to Defensa y Justicia, the 19-year-old Enzo guided his team to the COPA Sudamericana 2020 (Latin America’s equivalent to the Europa League) and was included in the tournament’s best eleven for his performances in the ten matches.
Who else won the COPA Sudamericana at 19 years of age? Casemiro. The São Paulo star then, similarly, moved to Europe and shortly thereafter was developing in the Primeira Liga with Porto. After this spell he became a fixed member in Real Madrid’s world-beating side for nearly a decade. There is a clear opportunity for Enzo to shadow one of the greatest number sixes even further to continue his development to elite status in Europe.
Another thing you might recognise is the team Defensa y Justicia. Lisandro Martínez – perhaps United’s Player of the Season so far – was also sent on loan to the Buenos Aires club. In a similar fashion to his compatriot, Enzo also shows signs of the Ten Hag coined term ‘Grinta’. He has picked up six yellow cards this season. Although not a traditional quality to admire, it is inarguable that the Stretford End lights up when a player shows excess-drive – especially if it is profitable for the team.
Although Transfermarkt deems Enzo as a player worth €35million in the current climate, Benfica will undoubtedly expect more. A host of clubs can be expected to pursue the midfielder next summer, including the likes of Liverpool, and his contract does not expire until June 2027.
With that being said, Enzo’s agency, DE 9 Fútbol, have no other player on the books worth over €4million. There could, therefore, be a push from the player’s representatives for Benfica to cash in on a young player who is already the best midfielder in Portugal. And United have to put themselves in the running.
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