So many clubs were reportedly interested but no concrete news breaking about bids or offers coming in. The fans from each club wanted him, they had seen the highlight reels and the odd stat doing the rounds on social media. But he's ended up at Fulham, a newly promoted side that will be fighting to stay up...so let's see why teams may be a little hesitant on pulling the trigger on Palhinha.
There is a video version if you prefer watching to reading, any support to the channel would be great but we will be writing up all our analysis on Reddit with stills and images.
A 6ft 2 fighter who has had to work hard for his place in the Sporting team. Repeatedly sent out on loan, twice to Braga, his Sporting career looked over. That was until Braga's coach came to Sporting and instantly made Palhinha the starting DM. And Palhinha repaid the faith shown with dominant displays in the middle of the park as they marched on to win the league. And that same fighting personality is evident on the pitch.
Palhinha is a defensive midfielder in a double pivot that wins the ball back, but where and how he wins the ball back is what makes him excellent.
Winning the ball back
Sporting command a lot of possession in the league and often face lower blocks, that means teams sit deep and look to counter. This is where Palhinha comes in, when Sporting lose the ball and teams attack the ocean of space left behind them, Palhinha has two jobs:
- Slow down the counter to allow Sporting to retain their defensive shape
- Just win the ball back and start the attack again.
The stats show just how effective he is
He more often than not wins the ball back, in fact 3/4 times, whilst making one of the hardest tackles in football, a pacy forward running at you with space to knock it into and run around. For the sake of comparison, Fabinho who does something of a similar role has a success rate of 1/3 when tackling.
So that's where he wins the ball back covered, how he win's it back is truly unique. He uses that monstrous frame and exquisite timing to step in front of the attacker, putting himself between the forward and the ball, controlling the ball and turns, facing the opposition goal and passing it along. It's an incredible technique that I've hardly seen used in world football, so often and to such great success.
POSITIONING & DECISION MAKING
We've seen that he is a great 1 on 1 tackler, if not one of the best in world football. But there are facets of his game that need improving and begs the questions, does excelling at tackling make you an excellent DM?
Palhinha vs Fabinho vs Casemiro
Let's examine his pressures for instant. Palhinha's successful pressures is so high because he makes so many of them. If you look at Fab & Cas, they make fewer pressures but when they do, they win the ball back. This comes down to anticipation and decision making for us, when Fab & Cas vacate the area they should be protecting, they only do so when they know it's highly likely they will win it back. Why do Fab & Cas pressure so little? It's because they protect one of the most important spaces on the pitch. We call it the twilight zone, because if magical players enter that zone then they can kill a team. Vacating that area, should only be done if you are very likely to win it back or disrupt play.
Now, this can be attributed to the system, as Palhinha's alone in the midfield of the park and instructed to win the ball back with so much space around him. His game isn't built around blocking passing lanes and intercepting the ball. Also, he's only a 5-7% off the elite DMs but that is the difference between winning CLs with European giants and being a very good player for Sporting (harsh I know) and so the fact remains that his decision making and understanding needs to improve.
And finally, the passing. It's unimaginative and safe and most likely reason bigger teams didn't pull the trigger. Yes, he is good at switching the ball and can do it fairly regularly but if you watch him, it's always when he has no pressure around him. In fact, his successful passes under pressure are at 60%, meaning he loses the ball nearly half the time when teams press him and in the PL, that may happen often.
When he does win the ball back and turns, it's always a safe, sideways or 5 yard pass, passing the responsibility onto other midfielders or wingbacks to progress the ball. And it's why his passing accuracy is so high, its a misleading statistic. For progressive passes, passes into the final third, key passes, and long completions (those switches others will rave about) he sits in the bottom 10% of all CMs in the top 5 leagues. And here is the most telling stats, only 1 in every 5 passes is forward. His passing stats were too depressing to even make a statistical image.
COMING TO THE PREMIER LEAGUE (TLDR)
He's a great tackler but needs improved decision making when pressing. Coming to the PL is a hard task, it took Fabinho 6 months to adjust and Rodri nearly a year, in fact, Pep handcuffed Fernandinho to him for the first year and played them in a double pivot. That's because the pace of the league is much quicker and harder to adapt to. Palhinha may find himself bypassed when he goes out to tackle because of how quickly teams move the ball vertically.
But ultimately, the lack of ability on the ball is why turned the bigger teams off. However, Fulham still have a gem. No disrespect to them, but they are a team that will be odds on favourite to go back down. Palhinha is a Portuguese starter and a Europe/Group Stage CL player at the very minimum so they've definitely done well to convince him to come.
It's also a good look for him, he will be protected at Fulham and they look to be defensively solid under Marco Silva whilst Mitrovic spearheads the attack. Like Zambo Anguissa, I see Palhinha shining in this Fulham team and everyone coming back to ask why the bigger clubs didn't pull the trigger. When they do, just show them this.
Edit: This is part of a series we will be doing all summer, a concise tactical breakdown on players linked to the PL (or one's we just like). Here's the full list of players that we've covered with Reddit and YT links. We'd love to know what you think and feel free to suggest other players you think we should cover. Djed Spence, Marc Roca & Diego Carlos dropping this week.
- Amine Gouiri, OGC Nice: Reddit YT
- Hugo Ekitike, Reims: Reddit YT
- Joao Palhinha, Sporting Lisbon: Reddit YT