In this scout report, we analysed the highly talented Léo Santos. The 21-year-old centre-back impresses with a strong build-up, defensive technique and great knowledge of tactics. The Brazilian Léo Santos plays for Corinthians São Paulo and has been linked to AC Milan, Real Madrid and some other La Liga clubs. The right-footed, who can also play as a pivot, is one of the top prospects from Brazil. Due to a tendon irritation and the following knee surgery Léo Santos has not played a top-flight since December 2018. Despite his long absence of the pitch, he is still the most valued centre-back in the Brazilian Série A.
We show in this tactical analysis, why absolute top teams put him on their scout report at the top. We examine how Léo Santos defends and how he integrates himself into the transition game. Furthermore, this scout report reveals how Léo Santos demonstrates his overview and passing skills.
A centre-back should firstly ensure a clean sheet for his team. He can enhance the probability for it with a deep understanding of tactics and disciplined behaviour. Secondly, a modern centre-back should be able to manage the build-up, as the pivots get marked. This ability is based on a strong technique, especially in passing skills. And last but not least a centre-back should be a verbal leader with the right attitude.
Léo Santos sums up all of these attributes. He also has perfect physical stats for a centre-back with 186 cm height and 80 kg weight. He competed for a place in the starting XI of Corinthians. This is remarkable because Corinthians are one of the top five defences over the last five years.
The analysis below is his defending technique and knowledge of tactics shown. Corinthians midfield were outplayed and the last line, including Léo Santos, who was unorganised. Léo Santos dropped initially instead of pressing the striker, slowing down the attacking opponent. With this movement, he bought some time for his central midfielders for closing the space between the lines. Léo Santos managed to gain a numerical advantage.
As you can see in the tactical analysis above, Léo Santos was getting active, when the last line was around 23 metres in front of its own goal. The U20 national defender ran in a curved shape to get his body parallel to the strikers’. His body pointed to the right corner of the pitch. By this move, Léo Santos forced the possessional striker away from zone 14. He also closed the passing lines to the centre and the left wing.
Léo Santos knew, that his right full-back would move into the centre. Now, on the one hand, the opponent striker could just elude parallel to the baseline, where he did not radiate any threat. On the other hand, he could go into a one-on-one against Léo Santos to get back in the centre. The second situation is depicted in the tactical analysis below.
As you can see, Léo Santos stood sideways to the opponent. In this situation, Léo Santos did not attack him directly but cut off his way more and more. He offered the striker the way to the sideline. As the forward tried to outplay Léo Santos, the centre-back attacked. Léo Santos parried the ball off, but it jumped to another opponent as you can see in the tactical analysis below.
Léo Santos stepped forward to close the straight line to his goal and into the centre. He also covered the striker in his back. Also in this situation, he slowed down his pace to avoid being outplayed by one feint. Without any pace, the probability for the striker to win a one-on-one is reduced, too. As the opponent did not want to end this attack and build-up again, he had the only opportunity to play a cross-field pass. Léo Santos anticipated this tactic and was waiting for a certain signal.
As you see in the analysis above, Léo Santos defended passively. He was waiting for the backswing movement from the striker for playing the long pass. As the striker swung back his right leg, reached out with his arm and lowered his head to the ball, Léo Santos pressed actively. He shrank the space for the opponent and parried it again within a few seconds.
In the next tactical analysis is a situation depicted, where Corinthians had to defend a counterattack. Their central midfielder was outplayed, and the opponent runs at pace towards the last line.
Léo Santos concentrated his gaze on the player with possession. Furthermore, he noticed the striker to his left shoulder in his visual field. As Léo Santos was the player who was at closest to the ball, he had to attack the opponent. To defend the most threatening pass, Léo Santos made a significant move, as depicted in the analysis below.
The centre-back moved out of the last line towards the opponent. Again, the young centre-back did not attack the opposing forward. So, he reduced the opportunities and the time for the ball carrier. Léo Santos moved on the inner side of the opponent. Besides, he turned his body sideways to offer the opponent the path away from the centre. Moreover, Léo Santos prevented a one-two because he covered the striker in his actual position. But the most threatening through ball is completely covered by Léo Santos’ tactics. The opponent tried nevertheless to play the through ball. Léo Santos intercepted and controlled the half-height ball due to his first touch.
Nowadays a centre-back should be able to convert an intercepted ball into ball possession. This is an ability, which is especially noticed at scout reports and Léo Santos can provide this transition between defending and attacking.
Tactical analysis of his transitional behaviour
In the analysis below is the situation straight following after Léo Santos won the ball. He played an indirect one-two with the right full-back and the right-winger after he ran a few metres with the ball.
Instead of clearing the ball, he directly introduced the counterattack. Léo Santos neutralised three opponents with his considered decision. Corinthians’ central midfielder dropped, so Léo Santos swapped with him the position for this drive. As you can see, he did not turn off after he played the pass, but he moved into the space to offer a passing opportunity.
After the Brazilian got the ball back, he sidestepped another two opponents with two quick touches. In the end, he played a progressive pass, but the attack ebbed away. So, he changed his position back to the centre-back.
Not only a build-up means the transition between defending and attacking. More and more European teams play a counter-pressing system like FC Liverpool. Winning the possession back deep in the opponents half results in an organised opponent’s formation and a small distance to the opponent’s goal. Counter-pressing is especially effective if the change of possession is sudden. The analysis below shows that kind of transition.
The opponent was able to defend an attack and won possession. They built-up and tried to involve their forward. But the forward had the idea to fan out for creating space. While the striker moved forward, he got the ball passed defensively. The striker also was not watching the ball, so he did not realise the pass. Léo Santos anticipated this mistake. He left his position to cross the passing line and intercepted the ball. Afterwards, he was in an optimal position, because he had the field in front of himself and did not need any further touches to control the ball.
He could shoot from the distance or go into a one-on-one. But he decided to shift the ball to the right-wing as you see in the tactical analysis below.
As soon as he passed the ball, he sprinted into the penalty box. Léo Santos was backed by his two pivots. With him in the box, Corinthians got a numerical advantage in the dangerous zone. Léo Santos’ understanding of tactics allows him to manage the transition between defence and offence. He already demonstrated his passing skills, which were important to withstand pressing situations. It is a proven medium for opponents to man-mark the pivots, which results in the less-skilled centre-backs have to build-up.
The next scene shows a counter-pressing against Corinthians. Corinthians just won the possession back.
Léo Santos dropped a few metres to provide a passing opportunity for the right full-back. Although Grêmio did not reorganise their formation but stood high, Léo Santos was willing to get the ball. He assumed the responsibility for the build-up. If he had lost the ball, it could lead to a goal against Corinthians.
Grêmio pressed Léo Santos with a forward after the centre-back got the ball. He has a great overview as he also played as a pivot. He knew where his teammates were before he got the ball. Léo Santos shifted it with one touch directly to his teammate. But also his teammate was under pressure, so Léo Santos played an exact ball to his strong food. Afterwards, he offered a passing opportunity again.
One of his advantages is also his long ball. The next analysis shows how he provided a perfectly timed pre-assist.
The opponent marked both pivots. Léo Santos took his opportunity and carried the ball into the half-space in the opposing half. He feinted a long ball into the penalty area. The opposing full-back made a move inside based on this feint. This created more space for Corinthians right full-back. Afterwards, Léo Santos lopped the ball into the run direction of this full-back.
The next tactical analysis shows a similar situation. Flamengo did not attack Léo Santos again, while he passed the halfway line.
The right-footed youngster realised the small alley for a massive through ball. He presented his great overview and how he derived a benefit from it due to his passing abilities. Léo Santos neutralised Flamengo’s squad completely by one pass. He also served the ball flat. So Léo Santos is also productive with the ball at his feet, but why he does not already play for a big club in Europe?
Injuries throw him off course
The highly talented centre-back is just 21 years old, but his injury and recovery last over a year. He played a top-flight at last at the end of December. The Corona pandemic also extends his time offside the pitch. Such a talent like Léo Santos needs firstly some practice to reveal his level and to gain experience. He just made 25 top-flights. Especially on the position of the centre-back is continuity important. This might be the reason why big clubs from Europe refrained from singing him.
It is also a debatable point whether he is coming back as strong as he was at the end of 2018. There is a good case to believe, that he will not reach his absolute top speed again. At least, the top clubs are biding some games he will play to reallocate his potential again.
Léo Santos got everything what a modern centre-back needs. He has a great knowledge of tactics and a superb touch on the ball – especially passing. The young Brazilian knows how to convert this knowledge into an advantage on the pitch. But the most important fact is how impressive his defensive behaviour and technique are. After his long absence, he should work on his come back to his initial form. He is still 21 years old and has enough time to develop. It also speaks volumes, that Léo Santos is still the most valued player in the Brazilian Série A. European teams should keep scouting him.