Enzo Fernandez probably isn’t a name most of you know unless you’re a South American reader. That could well change this summer with Real Madrid, AC Milan, Manchester City and Manchester United all interested in the River Plate midfielder. At 21, Fernandez has played little first-team football but despite this he is attracting the attention of Europe’s top flight and could join team-mate Julian Alvarez when he leaves Argentina this summer. South America has always provided a wealth of talent for Europe’s wealthiest clubs to acquire and some of the hottest talents in world football started their careers in South America. Starting out in the South American leagues, achieving first-team minutes, before moving on to European football is a path taken by Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Darwin Nunez.
Enzo Fernandez so far this season in the Copa De Liga Professional and Copa Libertadores has performed well with nine goals and five assists after returning from his loan spell with Defensa y Justicia, as well as impressing with his overall contribution to River Flat.
This scouting report and tactical analysis will examine the skills and attributes that Fernandez brings to his team and what attracts so many elite-level clubs. While also addressing all the areas where Fernandez needs to improve if he wants to take the next step like Real Madrid.
Fernandez is a versatile midfielder, best described as a number eight. He currently plays on the right side in the 4-3-3 tactic of River Plate. River Plate under Marcelo Gallardo are a tactically versatile side, so Fernandez is comfortable being asked to perform different roles and tasks. Fernandez is equally effective in possession and out of possession. His contribution in possession is multifaceted with the ability to get into the box and score goals, but also to get down deeper and help break up low blocks. Defensively, he excels in interceptions and counter-pressing, which we will see later in this analysis. Below is a heatmap of Fernandez highlighting the areas and positions on the pitch he regularly occupies.
With Fernandez adopting a number eight role for River Plate, this requires him to provide the team with a variety of possession skills. As mentioned in the intro, Fernandez has been in excellent form this season and he has the ability to get into the box, getting into goalscoring positions. However, a lot of Fernandez’s goals have come from penalty kicks and long shots. Both of these swell Fernandez’s goalscoring ability, as sustaining long shots from low XG areas for a long period is often difficult. This means that despite having a good goalscoring record this season, that may not be the case for the rest of Fernandez’s career. The graph below shows Fernandez’s Xg for 90 at 0.21 and non-penalty goals at 0.16.
Now Fernandez likes to step forward and shoot which sometimes leads to him scoring some amazing goals but it can also be a waste. The shot map below shows Fernandez’s last 75 shots and as you can see the majority are outside the box and off target.
It’s something Fernandez needs to get out of his game at the next level because wasting the ball so often in the final third is inefficient and harmful to the team.
Another aspect of a midfielder’s attacking contribution is his chance creation, something that Fernandez excels at. In and around the box, Fernandez has plenty of composure and quality to find teammates, creating quality chances. This can be confirmed by the data below which shows Fernandez’s performance in assists per 90 and XA per 90. The data shows us that Fernandez manages 0.16 assists per 90 from an expected assist of 0, 11, which is among the top performers in the sample.
Another set of data metrics that can help measure a player’s creative quality is key passes per 90 and smart passes per 90 (a key pass is a pass that leads to a goal scoring opportunity, and a smart pass is a pass that seeks to penetrate the defensive line).
As the data above shows, this is one of the highlights of Fernandez’s game as he manages 0.56 key passes per 90 and 1.68 smart passes per 90 which is well above average . Below are some examples of Fernandez making those passes. Here you can see Fernandez is on the ball with the opposition sitting in a deep defensive block, Fernandez raises his head and plays a pass behind the defensive line for the running striker River Plate. The pass shows a great vision of the game to see the runner but also to spot the space in the box to play the pass, Fernandez also manages to execute the pass brilliantly.
The running River Plate striker is then brought down in the box for a River Plate penalty. The following example again demonstrates the quality and composure that Fernandez can deliver in and around the box. Julian Alvarez plays the ball downfield to Fernandez, who has drifted into a central pocket of space.
After receiving the ball, Fernandez carries the ball forward towards the edge of the box before slowing down and playing a pass over the opposition’s defensive line to Alvarez who made a run from the right side into the box .
Again, Fernandez’s vision of seeing the pass when the majority of players would play a much simpler pass to other River Plate strikers or perhaps shoot is impressive. The pass is also executed with great quality to place the ball perfectly in front of Alvarez for him to run over and score.
Another key aspect of Fernandez’s attacking contribution is his ball progression. Fernandez uses a combination of progressive runs and progressive passes to move the ball up the pitch, as you can see in the data below, which shows progressive passes per 90 and progressive runs per 90. Fernadez completes 10, 49 progressive passes per 90 and 1.62 progressive runs per 90, making him one of the best ball progressers in the sample.
The following example shows the types of passes Fernandez makes to help move the ball up the field. After turning the ball over in his own half, Fernandez receives the ball and instantly raises his head and looks to drive the ball forward. He identifies that Alvarez is on the shoulder of the defensive line and plays a pass down the line into the space behind the defensive line.
Alvarez manages to win the ball back in the final third and now River Plate is in a dangerous zone to create an attack thanks to Fernandez’s progressive pass.
Fernandez’s attacking contribution is vast, with the ability to score goals (maybe not at the same pace in the future) and create chances for his team. Fernandez also has a great ability to find space and then use that space to help create chances or move the ball up the pitch, this is reflected in the examples shown. These attributes are confirmed both in the data and in mainstream Scouting, as this section of the Scouting report reaffirms.
Midfielders must not only impact the game on the ball, but also off it with their defensive skills. River Plate are a team known for their counter-pressing and this is a key tactical principle of Marcelo Gallardo’s side. When the ball is lost, the team instantly looks to win the ball back, it’s an aspect of Fernandez’s game that is impressive. Below shows defensive duels per 90 and defensive duel winning percentage, which tells us that Fernandez is above average in both of these metrics.
The ability to engage in a large number of duels but also to win those duels is an area of Fernandez’s game that will attract the attention of suitors. A consequence of River Plate’s counter-pressing is that Fernandez manages to regularly win the ball back in the opposition’s half. It will be music to the ears of managers like Pep Guardiola who likes his teams to push high up the pitch looking to return the ball into the opposing half.
Hopefully this scouting report and tactical analysis has given you a better insight into Enzo Fernandez and some of the attributes that attract some of Europe’s biggest clubs. In possession Fernandez excels with a wide range of passing and qualities that allow him to be one of the most effective players in Argentina. His quality on the ball is evident and helps us understand why Fernandez is so valued. Off the ball, Fernandez doesn’t excel at quite the same level as on the ball, but his familiarity with counter-pressing and pressing the opposition up the pitch will help him transition to similar styles in Europe while still allowing it to have an impact on the Game.