Enzo Fernandez: Benfica’s Argentine Midfield Maestro
Enzo Fernandez has definitely had a tournament to remember this World Cup, winning the trophy and Young Player Of The Tournament. However, Leandro Paredes was originally given the nod by Lionel Scaloni above Fernandez in the defeat to Saudi Arabia. Still, Scaloni kept Enzo Fernandez out of the starting lineup in the second game of Group C against Mexico but when given his opportunity, Enzo came on as a sub, and 30 minutes later, he doubled Argentina’s lead whilst scoring his first international goal in an eventual 2-0 win. Since then, Fernandez has become a regular on the teamsheet and impressed Scaloni as well as many top European managers, but how good actually is he?
Let’s go back to before the World Cup and before Benfica, when Enzo Fernandez played in his home country, Argentina. He is an academy graduate of River Plate and made his first-team debut for the club in 2019, before heading out on loan to Defensa y Justicia where he won the Copa Sudamericana and Recopa Sudamericana consecutively and became a full-fledged starter under Hernan Crespo.
In these games, Crespo deployed Fernandez as a loan defensive midfielder, defending the backline, and was not commonly found high up the pitch. Liking what Fernandez was creating out on loan, his manager, Marcelo Gallardo recalled him and requested he rejoins the River Plate squad immediately. In his return to River Plate, Fernandez attracted attention from top European clubs as he played a key role in becoming champions of the Argentine Primera División by 7 points.
After many clubs competing for his signature, Enzo Fernandez made an €18m transfer to Portuguese side Benfica. He operates in a 4-2-3-1 under Roger Schmidt as a midfield pivot with Florentino Luis, and both players often cover the wingers and defend the backline. Making 13 interceptions and 26 tackles, he is proving hard to beat when defending.
In transition, Grimaldo often pushes up into the channel as an overlapper to Joao Mario which forces Enzo into a makeshift LB in attack as he has the speed to catch up with most wingers as his top speed is 31.5 km/h which he obtained in a Champions League game for the Eagles. In possession, Enzo Fernandez is comfortable playing quick direct passes across the pitch, ranking 1st in progressive passes with 110 passes and 2nd for expected assists in the Primeira Liga.
When receiving the ball with little space, Enzo Fernandez shines with his ability to pass or dribble his way out of trouble to start an attack for his team. On international duty, he finds himself isolated in midfield as a lone deep-lying playmaker. Showing his versatility, Fernandez still finds himself completing 412 passes and attempting 471.
At 21 years of age, Enzo Fernandez has already played a key role in River Plate’s first league title in seven years and become the third South American player to win the Young Player of the Tournament award in the World Cup after Teofilo Cubillas (1970) and Pele (1958), and he looks set to continue his upward rise for Benfica in the coming months.
The Argentine has showcased his skills on the world’s biggest stage and emerged as an indispensable figure for Benfica, the only undefeated team in Europe alongside Paris Saint-Germain, with the Lisbon side currently boasting an eight-point lead atop the table above Porto. Expect Benfica to hold onto him as they chase their first league title since 2018/19 and push for another deep Champions League run, before looking to sell him in the summer for close to his €120 million release clause.
By: Lucas Chambers / @lucaschamberstv
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Carlos Rodrigues / Getty Images