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Joao Neves: SL Benfica’s defensive midfielder on Manchester United’s radar

Joao Neves: SL Benfica’s defensive midfielder on Manchester United’s radar

Football in Europe is dominated by the top five leagues where the best of talent ply their trade. These leagues are responsible for the biggest transfers, the best teams, facilities and dominate the UEFA Champions League. A level down from these are the Eredivisie and Primeira Liga, which are feeder leagues that sign top talented players when they are young, developing them before selling them off for big money.

It is a trend that has gone on for decades, and the latest player who has been subject to interest from top clubs is Benfica’s Joao Neves. The 19-year-old is the product of the club’s successful youth system that has churned out many stars in previous years.

Neves, for years, had been earmarked for greatness after performing brilliantly for the youth teams. And after the club sold Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea for a British transfer record, Neves was accommodated into the first-team setup.

He performed admirably in the latter half of the season and has been one of their best-performing players. Benfica are currently top of the table (on goal difference) and the teenager has been one of the key reasons why.

So, who is Joao Neves, and how good is he?

Joao Neves profile 

Born in the coastal municipality of Tavira, Neves, like millions of children, was attracted to football from a young age. Thus, he was enrolled in the local club Casa Benfica Tavira, where his father worked as a coach. The club was a perfect platform for Neves as it was one of the many feeder clubs to SL Benfica.

After spending four seasons at the club, the youngster got his dream move when Benfica accepted him into the academy. It was bold as he was only 12 and had to move more than 300 kilometres away.

Neves joined SL Benfica in 2016 and quickly rose through the ranks. His brilliant performance also caught the eyes of the national setup as he earned a call-up to the under-15 squad. However, his first significant contribution to the club would come in the 2021-22 UEFA Youth League.

The midfielder played six games in the competition as Benfica defeated Red Bull Leipzig 6-0 in the final. This was the club’s first continental title since 1962, significantly increasing Neves’ prospects at the club.

His real breakthrough came when he was picked to be the successor of Enzo Fernandez, who was sold to Chelsea in the 2023 winter transfer window. Neves scored one goal in 17 appearances. He averaged a passion accuracy of 87 per cent and won more than half of his aerial and ground duels.

𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝟏𝟗-𝐲𝐞𝐚𝐫-𝐨𝐥𝐝 𝐖𝐡𝐨 𝐏𝐥𝐚𝐲𝐬 𝐋𝐢𝐤𝐞 𝐇𝐞’𝐬 𝟑𝟎

Bernardo Silva: “I’ll make a move for him to go to City.”

Bruno Fernandes: “I’d love to have him by my side.”

João Neves is at the centre of a #MUFC/#MCFC tug of war, but what sort of player is he? 👇🔗

— Opta Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) November 22, 2023

And he has come into his own this season, manning the middle of the park for Benfica as they sit on top of the table. Neves has been integral to the high press game that manager Roger Schimdt demands. It is no surprise that he initiated 27 counter-pressing actions, the most in the league and among the top across the top five leagues.

In addition, he also has won 21 tackles, second only to his teammate Florentino in the league. Stats from fbref also prove he wins 2.99 tackles per game, among the top one percentile of midfielders. 0.79 of these also come in the attacking third, again showcasing the high press style he and the team play.

Neves also averages 1.78 blocks per 90 minutes, among the best in Europe.

On top of that, Neves is also an adept passer and is the lynchpin of his team in the middle of the park, averaging close to 90 per cent accuracy. Neves is also adept at playing both short and long passes. His passing is effective, creating several chances.

His ball holding capability has also made him a target with the played drawing 2.97 fouls, among the top six percentile of midfielders.

Joao Neves style of play 

Joao has played in two roles this season: the first as a double pivot in the midfield and the second as the wide man in a four-man midfield. This shows his versatility, as despite being a holding midfielder, Neves is very quick, which makes him a menace to the opposition’s defence.

Neves is also a player who is brilliant with the ball at his feet. According to fbref, he receives 66.67 passes per 90 minutes and is among the top six percentile of midfielders. He also has raw pace, so Schmidt has played him both in a double pivot and as a wide man in a four-man midfield.

For a player in his game, Neves has the almost perfect blend of attacking and defensive skills, something similar to Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich. Neves also has tremendous tactical insight and is always in the best position, especially when his team loses the ball. His constant runs up and down the pitch, defending under the circumstances, ensure that overloads of the opposition’s team never threaten Benfica.

Joao Neves potential 

According to recent news, English powerhouse Manchester United has seriously inquired about adding Neves to their ranks. Others to express interest are Barcelona and Manchester City. Bernardo Silva even said he will try to get Neevs to choose English champions over United.

“For City instead of United? If I can, I will pull strings to Joao Neves to go to Man City. I’d like to see João joining City instead of Man United, of course,” Silva said.

🔴🇵🇹 Benfica have no intention to open talks for João Neves in January despite Man United sending their scouts many times to track talented midfielder.

There’s same clause as Enzo Fernández one year ago into his contract: €120m. pic.twitter.com/jHdSJlhq71

— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) November 20, 2023

This is perhaps the best way to express the high potential that Neves has. His performance has ensured that big clubs will come for him in the summer. Benfica know that, which is why they will try to eke out as much money as possible from the bidding clubs. Reports suggest that the youngster has a realse clause of €120 million.

This, however, will not deter his suitors, who will try everything in their power to sign him. However, Neves, for now, should concentrate on making himself even better and justify the tag of a future star that has been labelled on him.

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