Why Man Utd, Liverpool and Barcelona transfer target Enzo Fernandez is worth €120m

Neel Shelat
Neel Shelat 24 Nov 2022 12:05 GMT 8 min read
Enzo Fernandez, Benfica, 2022/23

Enzo Fernandez only joined Benfica from River Plate in the summer for €12 million, but his performances in his first few months in Portugal have been so impressive that he is already being linked with moves to Europe’s biggest clubs.

Manchester United, Liverpool and Barcelona, all clubs in the market for a midfielder, have been linked with the 21-year-old, who has made such a strong impression in just a matter of weeks.

He will not be easily prised from the in-form Portuguese side, though. His release clause is set at €120m and Benfica will not sell for less.

Additionally, Fernandez is also set to play a role for Argentine as they bid to win the World Cup. It has been a stellar rise for the River Plate academy graduate who was on loan at Defensa y Justicia a couple of seasons ago. So, let us take a closer look at his game and see why he is being touted as one of the most talented young midfielders in world football at the moment.

Role for Benfica

One of the reasons why Fernandez has slotted in so seamlessly at Benfica and already become one of their key players is that he arrived at a time of transition at the club. The 2021/22 season did not go according to plan for them, as head coach Jorge Jesus was sacked in December. Nelson Verrisimo came in on an interim basis and did a decent job of steadying the ship, but was not good enough to be offered a full-time role.

PSV head coach Roger Schmidt arrived in the summer, so Fernandez was among the first signings made during his tenure at Benfica. The German tactician instantly integrated the young Argentine into his first-choice starting line up by using him on the left of midfield in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

He has usually been partnered by the more defensively minded Florentino Luis, which means he has a good deal of freedom in possession. When Benfica have the ball, the full-backs are encouraged to get forward as the wingers often tuck inside, so Luis regularly drops back alongside the centre-backs to create a back-three. This is clear in the average on-ball positions of Benfica’s first-choice starting XI in the Champions League this season.

Benfica average positions

Benfica average positions

So, while Fernandez’s heatmap shows that he starts on the left of midfield, he also likes to drift around all over the place and get forward regularly too.

Enzo Fernandez

Enzo Fernandez

To put it simply: everything Benfica do in possession goes through Fernandez. He has the most touches in the Primeira Liga (1353) by some way (a margin of over 300 to Nicolas Otamendi).

He is chiefly responsible for helping them progress the ball, naturally so given the fact that he often finds himself alone in midfield. Unsurprisingly, he has made the most progressive passes (110) and passes into the final third (142) in the Portuguese top-flight this season.

As his progressive passes map from the league this season shows, Fernandez plays all sorts of passes to get the ball forward including crossfield passes, sweeping long balls out wide and incisive passes to an attacker between the opposition lines in the middle of the pitch.

Enzo Fernandez

Enzo Fernandez

The young Argentine midfielder’s pizza chart for the season clearly depicts his all-round excellence for Benfica this season, especially on the ball.

Enzo Fernandez

Enzo Fernandez

His defensive numbers are not the highest because they are not possession-adjusted and that disadvantages him since he plays for the team with the highest average possession in the league. With that context in mind, his tackles and interceptions figures are quite impressive, and they depict how vital a role he plays in Schmidt’s renowned high press.

Chance creation and vision in the final third

The standout stats in Fernandez’s pizza chart showed his quality in the final third, which is what has helped him capture the attention of football clubs across Europe. He already has three goals for Benfica in these few months, but he really stands out in the chance creation metrics having assisted four goals for the Portuguese side.

He has the second-highest xA tally in the Primeira Liga this season, which is mightily impressive for someone who plays as a midfielder. He even stands out on a per 90 basis, with some fairly impressive chance quality too.

Enzo Fernandez

Enzo Fernandez

Much like his ball progression, Fernandez also creates opportunities in multiple ways. He often drifts out wide on the left and also takes set-pieces, so his cross deliveries are pinpoint.

His passing ability is matched by some great vision, which enables him to envisage and pick out passes like this:

He is also great at identifying and operating in tight spaces, which is a quality that proves handy in the final third.

This also means that he plays a role in the build-ups to many of his side’s attacking moves without being credited with assists or chances created, as was the case in the below example where he arguably played the most important and decisive role in the move.

One statistic that does reward such actions is build-up involvements, which help show him as the most important player for Benfica in an attacking sense. He has been involved in 85 attacking movements, well clear of Joao Mario’s 64.

Clearly, Fernandez is a creative maestro, but he can hit them sweetly too. Just look at this strike for instance:

Future forecast

Given the fact that he just moved to Benfica this summer and has a very high release clause, Fernandez is likely to remain in Portugal after the upcoming January transfer window, but Europe’s top clubs will be scrambling for his signature whenever that becomes a realistic possibility.

Fernandez has shown at Benfica that he can operate very well in a double pivot, but his specific role suggests that he might successfully slot into a midfield three as well. That should make him a suitable option for any top team in Europe.

For now, though, his focus will be on the World Cup with Argentina, where he could yet have a role to play after that shock loss to Saudi Arabia in matchday one.