Arsenal Transfer Target Scout Report: Danilo: Palmeiras’ 20-year-old star
Nearly two years ago, Danilo made his professional debut against Red Bull Bragantino. Currently 20 years old, Danilo has become a key piece of Abel Ferreira’s dynasty at Palmeiras. Despite his young age, the deep-lying midfielder has already won two Copa Libertadores, one Copa do Brasil, one Recopa, and one Paulista. More impressively, he has been the backbone of Abel Ferreira’s team in nearly all of these competitions. As of May 2022, Danilo is heavily linked with Arsenal as he attracts the attention of more European giants.
Danilo is yet another product of Palmeiras’ youth academy. With only two years of professional experience, he has already established himself as one of the best defensive midfielders in Brazil. He is key to the way Palmeiras play, especially defensively. In this scout report, we will analyse the role he has been performing for Abel Ferreira’s side. Furthermore, his characteristics, playing style, and strengths will be examined in depth through tactical analysis.
Danilo is a 20-year-old deep-lying midfielder at Palmeiras. He is left-footed but has mainly operated on the right side of a double-pivot. His heatmap helps illustrate his playing style. Though he is naturally a more defensive midfielder, his relentless work rate allows him to become a box-to-box midfielder at times. Consequently, his heatmap bleeds into the opposition half as he will often press higher up the pitch defensively or find space between the defensive lines offensively.
While Palmeiras can be dynamic with their formations, a double-pivot is very consistent. Danilo’s most-played position has been on the right of a double-pivot, but he has played as the single-pivot at times. In a double-pivot, he will usually operate close to the backline. He is key in retaining possession, protecting the backline, and launching counterattacks. While most of these are done as a deep-lying midfielder, he will also occasionally get further up the pitch as a box-to-box midfielder. The image below illustrates his positioning in possession, usually closer to the backline.
Statistically, Danilo is undoubtedly one of the best midfielders in Brazil. For the 2021 Brasileiro, Danilo is in the highest percentiles for most key metrics. Danilo led the charts in loose ball duels per 90, possession-adjusted tackles and interceptions, passes per 90 and percentage of passes completed, defensive duels per 90 and percentage of defensive duels won, and, finally, recoveries per 90. Additionally, he had one of the lowest averages of fouls per 90 at 1.33. His well-rounded abilities and consistency are highly impressive. These strengths can now be explored in detail.
Danilo is an integral piece of Palmeiras’ defensive system. Against Corinthians in the 2022 Paulista, Danilo was able to nullify Renato Augusto’s creativity and guide Palmeiras to a 2-1 win. In the few matches for which he has been absent, his defensive presence was heavily missed. The 20-year-old provides safety to the backline and helps organise the midfield. Additionally, his relentless work rate allows him to average such high defensive numbers. The map below highlights his recoveries throughout the pitch. He is quite literally everywhere.
His defensive presence in midfield is a result of his work rate. Danilo is very consistent in immediately closing players down and not allowing them time on the ball. Whether in high or low blocks, this trait is highly important. As Ceará attempt to progress into the final third, the centre-back plays a pass into the midfield. Despite not being close to him, Danilo can close him down and press him as soon as he gets the ball. In this case, he forces the opposition player to commit a mistake and lose possession.
In addition to having the work rate to cover a lot of ground, he has the awareness to read and intercept passes. In his career, he averages 4.25 interceptions per 90. He is not only able to intercept passes, but also immediately launch a counterattack or retain possession. This ability can be seen quite often and strengthens Palmeiras’ defensive system. Against Ponte Preta, he can read the fullback’s pass into the midfield. He is able to intercept it and retain possession due to his strength and technique on the ball.
Danilo is a complete defender. While he is very strong and fast, he is a very technical defender. He can challenge and close players down with intensity, but not recklessly. As noted, he averaged a low 1.33 fouls per 90 in 2021. This intensity is met with technique as he can cleanly win the ball back. His tackle below further highlights this. Danilo sprints wide to pressure Ceará’s player. As he gets closer, Danilo times his tackle perfectly according to the opposition’s body movements, so he is not able to perform a dribble or get past him. The timing of tackles is crucial as one second too late or too early can be fatal, but Danilo is very consistent in his tackling ability.
This ability is further illustrated in his defensive 1v1 against Bruno Henrique. Bruno Henrique is one of Brazil’s best and most dangerous wingers. As he enters the box, Danilo covers the centre-back and wins the ball back. Despite being in the box, Danilo makes clean contact with the ball forcing Bruno Henrique to lose balance and consequently the ball.
Danilo is also able to cover wide areas well. One of the advantages of a double-pivot is the support it can allow to be provided by midfielders in wide areas. As the opposition orientates their attack through the wing, Danilo is able to shift over and provide cover. In the Paulista final, Danilo does this perfectly. As Marcos Rocha gets beat, Danilo can cover him and challenge the ball, stopping São Paulo’s player from progressing.
In summary, Danilo is a very well-rounded defender. His defensive presence is incredibly significant to Palmeiras’ defence, especially due to his work rate. While his work rate allows him to cover ground, his defensive awareness and technical defending allow him to be effective.
Danilo’s physical attributes allow him to be such an effective player both offensively and defensively. As we have seen, his work rate allows him to cover a lot of ground and close players down with frequency. His speed plays a significant role in that as well. Danilo has both excellent speed and acceleration, allowing him to press players with intensity and from far distances. The image below perfectly illustrates this. Danilo is relatively far from the opposition player when the pass comes. However, his speed allows him to quickly close him down and force him backwards. These types of pressure are crucial in keeping the opposition from progressing up the pitch and Danilo performs them perfectly, largely due to his speed and acceleration.
Another example of this took place against Corinthians. As Corinthians’ midfielder receives the ball close to his own box, Danilo is still some distance away. He is still able to close him down upon his turn and keep him from effectively progressing the build-up.
His physical attributes also allow him to effectively attack space with the ball. Below are Danilo’s dribbling stats compared to other players in the Brasileiro. While he is not at the bottom, he is not very high either. He only averages two dribbles per 90 as flair is not one of his strengths. He is not a player to perform dribbles and take players on. However, he is still highly effective in another manner.
Danilo possesses great strength despite not being the biggest. He is very good at using his body and is hardly pushed around. Intelligently, he uses both his acceleration and strength in tight spaces. He can carry the ball into space and progress up the pitch due to his physical attributes, not to flair. In the instance below, he is able to intercept the opposition’s pass. Despite immediately having a player on him in such a tight space, he can get out of that situation. He simply knocks the ball past him and uses his body to gain an advantage and protect the ball. Furthermore, his acceleration allows him to quickly get away and create space.
In a similar instance, he is able to use his body to get around an opponent with the ball. His strength is highly impressive, especially given his size.
After getting around the opponent, he plays to his teammate wide. He immediately sprints into space further down the line. Although he did not receive the ball back, he was able to drag the defender and create a passing lane into the midfield. Despite being a deep-lying midfielder, his movement on and off the ball is highly effective and plays a large role in Palmeiras’ attack.
Danilo’s work in possession is very important to the functionality of Palmeiras’ attack. More specifically, his passing is key to Palmeiras’ construction. In the 2021 Brasilero, Danilo averaged 41.29 passes per 90 at a success rate of 88.43%. Tactically, Danilo’s passing can perform a variety of roles.
The graphic below illustrates the diversity in his passing. The four zones below are his most frequent passing areas. The rays within them highlight the direction, completion rate, and length of his passes. Backward and lateral passes tend to be much shorter and with a high completion rate. These are key in retaining possession and moving the ball around. Despite these passes not progressing up the pitch, they are effective in allowing his team to get organised as well as tiring and disorganising the opposition’s defensive block.
Additionally, the longer rays represent switches of play from the right side to the left wing. These are performed rather as Palmeiras like to attract the opposition to one side before quickly switching and attacking the other. The passes to the midfield are also longer as Danilo looks to break lines and progress through the zones with his passing.
Below is one example of these lateral passes. Danilo drops to receive a pass from the centre-backs before passing it wide to the fullback. These sorts of movements and passes are key in retaining and moving the ball, and they are what make him such a significant piece of the in-possession puzzle.
The map below illustrates Danilo’s ball progression. While he makes the occasional progressive run, his progressive passes are consistent and impressive. Usually in the middle third, his progressive passes aim to find players behind the last defensive line or simply break one or more defensive lines. They range in length and direction, but quite a lot of them are launched from the midfield.
Against Ituano, Danilo receives the ball near the middle third. He can break the first defensive line and find his teammate in space. These passes are key in progressing through the zones and advancing the attack.
As the rays demonstrated, Danilo often performs long switches to the left-wing. His long passing ability is very consistent and accurate, and it allows Palmeiras to constantly and effectively switch the point of attack.
Danilo is also capable of delivering long passes into space behind the last defensive line. Against Chelsea, he can find his teammate behind the opposition’s high defensive line, putting him in a very dangerous position. However, he does not perform these sorts of passes with a high frequency. While his passing ability is very good, it still has room to improve.
Danilo is an overall complete defensive midfielder. He has a great defensive presence and has become a key component of Palmeiras’ defensive system. His work rate allows him to cover a lot of ground while his defending technique allows him to defend effectively. His physicality helps him be such an effective defender, but it also plays a significant role in his attacking play. His passing makes him a significant piece in Palmeiras’ construction. However, there is still room to improve as he is not a huge creative threat. Danilo can play as the single-pivot as he protects the backline very well. However, he is best used when paired in a double-pivot, preferably with a more creative player.
Danilo is still incredibly young at 20 years old, especially for how mature and consistent he is. He has plenty of senior-level experience and has won a large number of trophies for his age. It will not be long before a European giant signs him, and given his style of play, he certainly has the potential to be highly successful in Europe.
editor’s note: This article first appeared in May 2022, on our sister site, Total Football Analysis and was written by Caio Miguel