Eduardo Henrique may not (yet) be a very famous football player if we regard international football, but every great player was unknown some time in their career.
I believe we may be on the verge of witnessing the definite rise of a typical precious and irreverent Brazilian centre-midfielder, and the present tactical analysis and scout report intend to demonstrate how Eduardo may be on his way there.
Eduardo is a Brazilian defensive and centre-midfielder, born in 1995. This young and promising midfielder was raised in the youth teams of the best clubs in Brazil, having started in Guarani before moving to São Paulo in 2012. He then moved to Atlético Mineiro in 2013, having played there for a few seasons. The move to Europe was thought to be close, but Eduardo still played for Internacional in 2016 and then on loan for Atlético Paranaense in 2017, where he stood out.
If we perform careful and meticulous analysis on the career of this young midfielder, we can assume, though, that Eduardo was never fully able to become an indisputable player in any of the teams where he’s been at. That may be because of his youth, but also, to my mind, due to a certain lack of intensity in his play, especially when it comes to defensive transition and coordinated pressure on the ball.
Consequently, his move to Europe didn’t hit any papers, for the abovementioned reasons (he was not a Brazilian star) and because the club who signed him (on loan from Internacional) is not even near the greatest of the old continent. Eduardo arrived in Europe through the Portuguese mid-table first-tier club, Belenenses. Luck didn’t seem to have followed Eduardo, as an internal crisis emerged in Belenenses, which haunted the whole season.
But the Belenenses’ fans had a surprise coming their way, as the team performed greatly, with a very exciting and attractive style of play, even fighting for a European seat in some periods of the season, finishing 9th in Liga NOS. Their success in Liga NOS was obviously due to the fantastic work of coach Silas and the ideas for an attractive play he brought.
In July 2019, Eduardo Henrique moved to the historical Portuguese club Sporting CP, that finished 3rd in Liga NOS last season.
Offensive transitions: Eduardo’s essential box-to-box role
Eduardo is a pure centre-midfielder, what one would casually call a “number 8”. He does take part in the offensive build-up from the back, but usually not as the first receptor in front of the centre-backs, which is the part of the defensive midfielder (DM). Eduardo offers passing solutions mainly when the ball arrives at the DM’s feet, receiving the ball and transporting or passing it further up the field, which in modern football is called a ‘box-to-box’.
Picture 1 – In the picture above, we can see the DM, who has just received the ball from the defence (the defence line does not show). The DM receives the ball and turns forward, seeking the next passing solution, which is the one Eduardo provides. Eduardo will then receive the ball and transport it forward.
Picture 3 – In this picture, the DM is under heavy pressure and is not in a suitable condition to serve as a main reference to the centre-back. Therefore, Eduardo drops back to allow the transition to occur with no significant disturbances. Eduardo then passes the ball long to the other CB, taking the ball out of the hot pressure area, obliging the opposite team to adjust its defensive positioning and pressuring strategy. More important, Belenenses keeps on with their offensive build-up.
However, Eduardo Henrique does evidence a good deal of versatility. He can act as a sheer defensive-midfielder, and even swap positions instantaneously during the match. This is what ultimately defines a competent box-to-box midfielder, the ability and the intelligence to understand what the team’s play requires in every moment, whether it is to come and play as the main passing-reference to the back 4 or to offer support in the last third of the pitch, occupying an attacking-midfielder position. Eduardo does so very accurately, and, in respect to offensive build-up, he is keen on receiving the ball and transporting it up the field (like in Picture 1) or even passing it directly to his most attacking teammates.
Picture 4 – Eduardo drops back real close to the defenders to collect the ball and start the offensive build-up. He now acts as a DM. He’s given the ball by the centre-back, passes it to his teammate and the offensive build-up successfully moves on, swivelling the team’s play and counteracting the opposition’s pressure.
Picture 5 – Although it is not fairly explicit in this picture, this situation was one where Belenenses recover the ball in their defence, then pass it long to their forward who passes it back to Eduardo. Now, given the ball was recently closer to the Belenenses’ box, that is currently the most populated area of the pitch, and it is exactly where Eduardo ends up being passed the ball. His teammates are way too close to allow a successful ball circulation, so Eduardo receives the ball, dribbles past his direct opponent and then transports the ball at sprinting speed, making the opposite team to retreat and creating an attacking situation for his team. This is a riskier and less methodical way to build-up your attacking play, but in some cases, it is more effective and safer to quickly get the ball out of a hot zone than to insist on following the rules and end up losing it again.
I’ve been focusing on the 1st stage of the offensive build-up, but a box-to-box midfielder must also support the attack be a part of the last-third where the team is meant to define its play well enough to create a goal-scoring chance. Eduardo acts as back support, placing himself just a few meters behind the forwards, to support them if their front space is all covered, like when the defensive line is too compact and organized.
Picture 6 – When the Belenenses’ left-forward passes the ball back to Eduardo, it attracts the attention and the positioning of the two defenders that are in a frontal position to the Brazilian midfielder. It allows the other forward to be able to get rid of the marking, breaking between the two defenders and exploiting their back area right inside the box, which is exactly where Eduardo delivers the ball at, standing face-to-face with the goalkeeper.
Picture 7 – Just another good example of the previously mentioned situation. The forward passes the ball back to Eduardo to create more space and destabilizing the opposite defence.
Having been analysed the role of Eduardo in the offensive transition of the team, it is important to address the defensive transition as well, given a competent midfielder must be equally accurate in both of them. One could say Eduardo is as competent in the offensive transition as he is in the defensive transition, and being a box-to-box midfielder, he certainly has to be.
It will certainly vary according to each team’s tactics, but when in a defensive transition situation, Eduardo often positions himself side-by-side with the DM. It was his typical defensive positioning in Belenenses SAD and one will have to wait and see how he’s going to behave at Sporting, but this is his basis: he acts as a true DM in defensive transitions, positioning himself right in line with the other DM, controlling the team’s depth and narrowing the distance in-between the defence and midfield lines.
Picture 8 – Here we can see Eduardo’s positioning when the opposite team is performing and attacking manoeuvre with the ball in Belenenses’ midfield. Eduardo positions closer to the defence line, narrowing the distance between the two lines and preventing the possibility of the opposition forwards or midfielders to move in-between such lines and gaining an advantage. Also, and very important, Eduardo always keeps his direct opponent (in the red spot), who was Bruno Fernandes in this match, in his line of sight, which allows him to never lose sight of his adversary, not generating any defensive unbalance for his team.
Picture 9 – This is a classic DM behaviour. Both DMs are standing side-by-side, in a parallel line regarding the defence line. If one of the defenders (in this case, the left-back) moves up to face a direct opponent, he unbalances the defensive line and opens a space behind him, and an empty space behind a defensive line is an immediate-danger zone for any team.
After the creation of the space, one of the forwards or midfielders of the attacking team tends to move there, getting behind the defensive line and getting some space to pursue their ultimate purpose: to approach the opposite box and score. In this picture, the opposite midfielder immediately sprints to the space that the left-back opened, and Eduardo, like a competent and intelligent centre-midfielder, controls the depth by accompanying his direct opponent that is fleeing to such space and thus preventing any dangerous attack.
This is a classic defensive compensation, a move that is one of the most important functions of any centre-midfielders and especially defensive-midfielders. It often happens when the team’s full-backs have either just participated in an offensive move and haven’t retreated yet, or when they move up the defence line.
Picture 10 – A natural DM positioning, when the other team has the ball and is preparing to start their offensive transition. Eduardo acting as a pure DM, watching both his direct opponent as well as the area between the midfield and defence lines, even though the ball is still far away from his team’s midfield.
Building his team’s play: the cornerstone
It is yet to be confirmed if Eduardo is just a plain-simple competent midfielder or if he has what it takes to become a true genius of any midfield in Europe. Let us not misunderstand: there is nothing wrong with simple and competent midfielders, they are utterly necessary for any team: Busquets, Casemiro, Kovacic, Khedira, Ramsey, and many others, are a good example of midfielders that are not unbelievable genius, but that do their tasks without any complications and help the team with their competence, responsibility and reliability.
Nevertheless, it is the genius that amazes us more, football fans, and one can see in Eduardo’s play some grooves of brilliance we all enjoy watching, especially in the passing chapter. Eduardo’s passing ability is no less than admirable and it allows him to become a true cornerstone of any team’s offensive manoeuvre and in the creation of goal-scoring chances. Pictures will not illustrate the whole deal as movie clips do, but they can help.
Picture 11 – We’ve already studied this image but from a different perspective. Eduardo makes a perfect straight pass to his team’s striker that received the ball inside the box and scored a goal through a crossed shoot.
Picture 12 – Although this picture crops an essential part of the play, we can see what happened. Eduardo had the ball in his midfield and executed a perfect long straight pass to the back of the opposite defence line, allowing his team’s forward to exploit that space and create a chance to score a goal.
Picture 13 – Eduardo progresses with the ball for several meters until he finds the perfect move by one of his teammates, then passing the ball precisely between both the opposite defenders and assisting the forward to score by placing the ball behind the defence line and in frontal position regarding the goalkeeper.
Eduardo Henrique evidences some great potential and his being 24 years of age certainly grants him with quite a large growth margin. He is a quick-paced box-to-box, technically very gifted and an elegant midfielder.
He is the right player to assume the main role in any team’s attacking transition build-up, as he has a keen sense of positioning and outstanding passing. Although, Eduardo does need to improve when it comes to the intensity levels he sets in his playing, especially in the defensive actions, as well as his concentration on the game. European football is all about intensity and it seldom tolerates mistakes that are due to lack of concentration or commitment. If Eduardo reaches the required levels in these features, then he will be a tremendous footballer.
Eduardo has, therefore, the potential to become a world-class midfielder, and his move to Sporting will certainly help him to grow and to be noticed by some of the greatest teams in Europe.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the July issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.