In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents in the world of football. Next up is River Plate’s 21-year-old midfielder Enzo Fernandez

Darwin Núñez’s big-money transfer move to Liverpool kicked off the summer spending and earned Benfica a huge pay day, proving once again their unrivaled ability in the market.

The Portuguese giants haven’t wasted time in reinvesting their profits and look to have sealed a deal for River Plate’s highly-rated midfielder Enzo Fernández.

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The 21-year-old’s rise to prominence has been remarkable. A successful loan spell at Defensa y Justicia saw him win the 2020 Copa Sudamericana and Recopa Sudamericana under the guidance of Hernan Crespo and he was recalled back to River early, quickly making himself undroppable as River won their first league title in 7 years.

Enzo Fernández in action for Defensa y Justicia in the 3-0 Copa Sudamericana victory over Lanus. An early sign of what was to follow as Enzo finds a pocket of space and slides in a dangerous ball that creates a goal-scoring opportunity.

During this breakthrough period, Fernández was usually deployed as a deep-lying midfielder, responsible for breaking up play, dictating the tempo and recycling possession.

Here we see Fernández marshaling the space in front of the defense, tasked with being the link man and initiating River attacks from deep.

Typically averaging an 85% pass completion rate, Fernández looks after the ball well and is always looking to show for the ball and make himself available to receive a pass. What’s more, he is comfortable receiving the ball in tight spaces and is very press resistant.

The regular sight of Fernández dropping deep, demanding the ball from the center-backs and scanning the area to see who he can quickly move the ball on to and get River on the attack.

This bravery to assume responsibility is demonstrated by the fact that this season no player in the Argentinian league has made more passes (1274) or received the ball more (52.72 per 90).

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Far from playing safe, sideways balls to pad the stats, Fernández has a great range of passing and is capable of switching the ball quickly with gorgeous raking cross-field balls.

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Fernández has very good vision and has proven his ability to progress the ball effectively, averaging 11.9 progressive passes per 90, whilst also topping the metrics for through passes (64), smart passes (43) and passes to the final third (295).

The fact that River Plate boss possession and see a lot more of the ball certainly goes someway to explaining this but doesn’t detract from how imperious Fernández’s displays have been.

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Given that Fernández has often played as a lone holding midfielder or, more recently at River, in a double pivot, his work off the ball stands up to the test too.

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Feisty, mobile and energetic, Fernández is not afraid to put himself about. As per the stats above, he averages 7.56 recoveries per 90 and is more than comfortable pressing the opposition in their own half, this season making 2.18 recoveries in the final third and 0.87 dangerous recoveries per 90.

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For all his good work in deep-lying roles, 2022 has seen Fernández develop into a truly all-round midfielder, adding goals and assists to the less-heralded elements of his game.

Enzo displays the more creative side to his game, picking the ball up in a central playmaker role and scooping a perfectly weighted ball into the path of the onrushing forward who lashes the ball into the net.

Given the keys to the River midfield and license to make runs from deep, Fernández has contributed 10 goals and 3 assists in 25 appearances and quickly established himself as one of the most complete players in the Primera Division.

Fernández arrives late on the edge of the box and, with very little backlift, lashes a dipping shot into the top corner.
Fernández times his run to beat the offside trap and latch onto Alvarez’s clipped through ball. He demonstrates excellent flexibility and first touch to pluck the ball out of the air and bring the ball under his control.
Still, with a lot to do in a very limited amount of time and space, Fernández keeps his composure with the goalkeeper bearing down on him to nonchalantly lift the ball over the keeper’s head and into the net.

It’s not just the amount of goals but it’s the range of finishes that has also impressed. The owner of a piledriver shot from range, Fernández has also popped up with some very deft finishes too.

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As well as the $18mil fee and a sizeable sell-on fee for River, Fernández’s performances have also earned him a call-up to the Argentina national squad and a debut can’t be far away.

Given the expanded World Cup squad size and the fact that he will stay at River until the end of the year, where he will be guaranteed game time in the league and Libertadores, there will be no doubt plenty of local clamor for him to be a dark horse inclusion on the plane to Qatar.

An expert in timing a late run to perfection, who is to say that Fernández can’t muscle his way into Scaloni’s settled squad.

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