In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents in the world of football. Next up is Palmeiras’ 20-year old Libertadores-winning midfielder, Danilo.

Palmeiras crowned an excellent year by becoming the first side to win back-to-back Copa Libertadores since Boca Juniors in 2001. Under the guidance of Abel Ferreira, the Sao Paulo giants demonstrated their discipline, organization and cup nous to edge Flamengo in a closely-fought final.

While Palmeiras’ success was very much built on the collective, only one player played in every game of their continental triumph, 20-year-old midfielder Danilo.

The deep-lying midfielder was a regular in the 2020 victory but once again proved himself to be an essential cog in Ferreira’s well-oiled machine and underlined why he is one of the most interesting prospects in the country.

In Palmeiras’ tight, compact defensive shape, Danilo always ensures that he gets back to help out his defense and squeeze the space between the lines. Below we can see an example of his defensive positioning, getting back to cut out a dangerous ball in a threatening area.

He is also more than comfortable dropping in between the center halves to ensure there is numerical superiority, both in defensive situations and when playing out from the back.

Seeing the overload on the left, Danilo drops in-between in the center-backs, tracking the run of Bruno Henrique and making a crucial tackle in the box to snuff out the danger.
Again we see Danilo positioned between the center-backs. He anticipates the pass into the striker and reacts quickest to step out of defense and intercept.
Not content with merely winning the ball, Danilo strides forward to get Palmeiras on the attack.

On top of Danilo’s reading of the game and positional awareness, he also possesses a wiry strength and a real battling spirit – no doubt honed by playing alongside teammate Felipe Melo – which allows him to compete in all defensive aspects of the game.

His stats show that although he is not purely a midfield destroyer, he nevertheless makes his fair share of interceptions (4.19 per 90), recoveries (6.71 per 90) and defensive duels (7.44 per 90).

While Danilo has the tactical intelligence and discipline to operate as a more traditional defensive midfielder, his energy, work rate and dynamism mean that he is equally adept at playing more of a shuttling box-to-box role too.

Though Danilo makes very few dribbles, his athleticism means he can surge forward powerfully, breaking the lines and getting his team moving forward.

Danilo wins the ball in the middle of the park and bursts past another man.
Danilo’s forward run breaks the lines and sets up a 3v2 situation which ends with an assist for the opener.

Danilo’s energy also means that without the ball he is extremely effective when pressing. This was evident in the Libertadores final against Flamengo when Danilo was tasked with pressing Andreas Pereira whenever he got on the ball, allowing Palmeiras to dominate the center of the park and continually force Flamengo backward or out wide.

Another factor that makes Danilo more of a mixed midfielder is his underrating passing ability. Not only does Danilo recycle possession well and boast high pass accuracy, with an average pass completion of 88.67% in the league last year, but he also has a great range of distribution.

Danilo’s ability to spray raking cross-field balls from his cultured left boot or to launch a counter-attack with a long ball from deep has been a key element of Palmeiras’ direct style.

Palmeiras play the ball back to Danilo, who is in a pocket of space in front of the defense. He looks up and whips a lovely ball in behind the defense for the left winger to run on to.
The ball is inch-perfect and has the Flamengo defense scrambling back, whilst also showing how quickly Palmeiras can create a goalscoring opening from nothing.
The example above again shows Danilo’s long-range passing ability. Having won the ball back in their half, Danilo sends a curling left-footed pass down the flank to set off a Palmeiras counter-attack.
The ball swings in from the left-hand channel and gets in behind the Delfin defense, allowing Gabriel Veron to sprint through and loft the ball over the keeper’s head.

Brazil has specialized in creating formidable defensive midfielders over the years, with Casemiro and Fabinho two of the best in their position in the world right now, but have struggled to produce as many players who can link defense to their world-class attack.

Danilo may be more of a hard-working shuttler than an elegant link man like Arthur or Lucas Paqueta but the parallels in style between the disciplined approaches of Palmeiras and Tite’s Brazil means that surely he must be on the radar of the national team boss.

A back-to-back Libertadores champion before his 21st birthday and with all the physical, mental and technical straits of a modern midfielder, there will be plenty of Europe’s elite taking notice too.

Start your Wyscout free trial now.
Follow Golazo on Twitter.