Over the past two seasons, Florentino Luis has emerged as one of the latest superstar talents from the Benfica Academy. The Lisbon native joined Benfica’s youth system from Real S.C. in 2009 and quickly climbed the ranks of the Portuguese powerhouse, becoming a regular fixture in Benfica’s reserve side by the age of 17. Similar to the rise of Sergio Busquets, Florentino’s arrival in the Benfica first team was mirrored by the promotion of his reserve team head coach, Bruno Lage. Lage handed Florentino his first-team debut in the 10-0 demolition of Nacional last February, and since then he has become a mainstay in the heart of Benfica’s midfield as they look to recapture Liga NOS.
A natural holding midfielder with an appetite for breaking up play, Florentino has similar attributes to Claude Makélélé but with a taller and longer physique. On top of his defensive prowess, Florentino is a composed passer with an excellent understanding of how to link attack and defence. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Florentino is being rumoured with a move to the likes of Manchester City and Paris St. Germain.
This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of Benfica’s attacking system, an analysis of Florentino’s qualities and demonstrate why he is indeed worthy of the attention of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Since Bruno Lage’s appointment, Benfica have predominantly employed a 4-4-2 formation and sought to play a high-tempo, possession-based brand of football. Typically, Lage’s attacking tactics see his men organised aggressively by pushing the outside backs high, advancing one central midfielder, inverting the wingers, and allowing one forward to drift between the lines to maximise the pitch and create overloads centrally.
In this structure, it is vital that Benfica still maintain balance, and this is where Luis proves invaluable to the side. As Benfica construct their attacks, Luis forms a triangle with the two centre-backs and usually plays in and around the centre circle. In this role, he connects the team by serving as a link player as the ball is circulated. Additionally, Luis provides cover for defenders pushing forward out of the backline, and he serves as a key piece in Benfica’s counter-pressing scheme by squeezing the space and killing off potential counter-attacks when possession is lost.
One reason why Florentino has become indispensable to the Benfica lineup is because of his defensive qualities. Underlying this talent is his ability and willingness to cover great distances. As demonstrated by the pitch distribution of his defensive duels, Florentino patrols the entire pitch to neutralize opposition threats.
Not only does Florentino have excellent stamina and endurance, but he is also superior in his ability to anticipate plays, particularly in counter-pressing situations. As he sits in his holding midfield position, Florentino reads context clues such as the level of pressure on the ball, the eyes and body position of the player in possession, and the passing options afforded to the player in possession in order to determine when and where to challenge for the ball.
Florentino is so intelligent in this particular skill that he is currently averaging nearly seven interceptions per game. Below is a perfect example of this from Benfica’s game earlier this season versus Santa Clara. In this situation, Florentino reads the eyes and body shape of the attacker, which suggest he will pass negative to his support option. Florentino, therefore, leaves his mark to step and intercept the ball.
Finally, when Florentino does step to tackle, he has uncanny timing in his challenges. This allows him to win possession cleanly in situations where others would be more inclined to commit a foul. Florentino showcased this skill against Santa Clara as well. In this particular play, Florentino comes alongside the attacker, slides, and snakes his left boot around him to delicately poke the ball free to Gabriel without conceding a foul.
In addition to his defensive ability, Florentino is deceptively talented in possession. In Lage’s attacking system that centres on the interchange of position and swift circulation of the ball, Florentino is the only player in advance of the centre-backs that occupies a more fixed position. His role is to quickly and intelligently distribute the ball to teammates. As a result, most of his exchanges are short passes. Although this role may seem trivial, it is of vital importance. This is because Florentino provides service to the players who are in a position to penetrate the opposition’s defence as shown below.
Therefore, in a sense, Florentino’s passes, although seemingly simple, are the connections that set up key passes for Benfica. It is noteworthy, then, that Florentino has completed a staggering 93% of his simple passes.
Not only is Florentino highly accurate with his passing, but his pass selection is also masterfully intelligent. Upon receiving the ball, he is exceptional at analysing which pass is the best option based on the position of his teammates, the position and body shape of the defence, the spaces available, etc. Evidence of this is demonstrated below in Benfica’s game earlier this season vs Rio Ave.
In this example, Florentino received the ball on the edge of the attacking third. Although it might at first appear that Florentino’s best option is to switch the ball to his left based on the space available for Gabriel, Florentino decides to pass the ball between the lines to Chiquinho. In coming to this decision, Florentino has read several context clues simultaneously. First, he notices that André Almeida has outrun his marker towards the inside of the field and that Pizzi is advancing down the right flank unmarked. Florentino also sees that the centre back marking Chiquinho has begun to follow him between the lines, and he knows that by passing to Chiquinho, the centre back will step to the ball and be sucked out of position.
Furthermore, Florentino realizes that Almeida’s run is taking him into a support position for Chiquinho. Because of this support, Florentino knows that he can pass to Chiquinho who can then play one-touch underneath to Almeida, and that in doing so, he will draw out Chiquinho’s marker and effectively create a two versus one for Almeida and Pizzi against Rio Ave’s left-back.
Areas for improvement
Although Florentino is undoubtedly one of the brightest prospects in Europe, there are still several areas of his game he can improve. Defensively, Florentino needs to develop a stronger tactical understanding of his position rather than relying solely on instinct and raw talent to inform his decision-making. At times, in his eagerness to help pressure the ball and cover nearby opponents, Florentino has been dragged out of position.
This was illustrated several times in Benfica’s game against Rio Ave earlier this season. As the ball was passed wide, the Rio Ave central midfielders would offer a central passing option. If they did not receive the ball, however, they would immediately cycle higher and wider. When this happened, Florentino often followed his mark and got dragged wide as shown below.
In these situations, Florentino must learn to utilize tools such as cover shadow to maintain his position and create spatial or numerical advantages for Benfica.
Florentino must also understand that a top defensive midfielder knows when it is time to apply pressure and challenge for the ball and when it is time to sit in and protect the defence. This is a skill that may not show up in a match report, but it will ultimately solidify Benfica’s defence and control the opposition attack by eliminating the most dangerous spaces and players. The image below is a perfect example.
Rather than remaining disciplined and protecting the central, most dangerous areas, Florentino rushes towards the ball. He then cheats to his left thinking that the player in possession will use a cutback option. The attacker, however, sees a teammate arriving from deep at the top of the box and selects this pass instead. Therefore, as a result of Florentino’s lack of discipline, Benfica offers Rio Ave a great opportunity to break the deadlock.
What’s more, Florentino can improve his patience and footwork one versus one. At times, Florentino can close opponents down quickly, employ improper footwork, lunge into a challenge, and manage to recover the ball because his long legs can still reach and dispossess opponents even when they have begun to bypass him. An over-reliance on his raw ability, however, can occasionally see Florentino side-stepped and Benfica’s midfield left vulnerable.
The final major area of improvement for Florentino is his ability to directly be involved in goal-scoring opportunities. At the moment, Florentino only provides 0.9 key passes per game. He will need to at least double that figure if he wants to be closer to the likes of Fernandinho and become truly world-class. On top of that, Florentino’s finishing technique is poor, and he poses very little threat when he does advance from his holding midfield role.
At 20 years of age, Florentino Luís has burst on the scene with his performances at Benfica in 2019. His innate ability to anticipate plays defensively combined with his composure and intelligence in possession have made him one of the hottest young prospects in Europe.
Although it is still early in his career and he has yet to gain a full season of first-team experience, Florentino is undeniably a star in the making. Some of Europe’s biggest clubs have already been enticed by his talent, and it will come as no surprise if this summer yields another big-money move for a Benfica academy graduate.
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