Recently, we released a data analysis report that identified a number of young creative midfielders in the Eredivisie who have showed great potential so far in their short careers. One of the standout players from the analysis was PSV playmaker, Mauro Júnior, who spent the 2019/20 season on loan at Heracles Almelo. The data highlighted the young Brazilian’s skills within passing and goal contribution, making him an exciting prospect for PSV to further develop in the near future – maybe into a future Champions League level player, as they look to close the gap on Eredivisie giants, Ajax. This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of Mauro Júnior’s role for Heracles during the 2019/20 Eredivisie campaign, and whether he has the potential to one day compete in a major league such as the Premier League.
Role and Position
As we can see from the heat map above, Júnior operates in attacking midfield role, mainly centrally or on the right-hand side. His positioning in front of deeper midfielders but behind the attacking unit sees him undertake a number of roles and responsibilities. In possession, he looks to link the attack up fluidly but quickly either by beating players to then release the next pass, or performing some impressive combination play in a tight area with a nearby teammate. The youngster also looks to be an extra body up front during some attacks, making bursting runs from a midfield position to a centre forward location, making it difficult for the opposition to adjust and mark him quickly. For Heracles in 2019/20, he was a staple of their attacking game, often dictating the team’s attacking tempo and direction, as well as contributing to goals himself.
Off the Ball Movement
As we’ve just touched upon, Mauro Júnior has a tendency to make smart and quick runs off the ball to offer support to a teammate in possession. These moves often occur when Heracles are attacking on the break or in transition, with the opponent not fully organised in a defensive capacity.
The analysis above is a great example of Júnior’s anticipation and attacking desire, as well as his game understanding. With his teammate running down the left with the ball, and the opposition’s defensive shape disorganised and lacking numbers, Mauro Júnior is presented with a great opportunity. The defender in front of him is too concerned about the player in possession and opts to close him down, leaving a much larger space for Júnior to exploit and make himself available for a goalscoring opportunity. The full-back on the opposite side is too far away to prevent Júnior’s run as well as keeping track of the Heracles winger making a run behind him. The Brazilian just has to time his into the marked box zone well, which he does. This sets up a goalscoring chance for him and, despite a decent first touch, his strike on goal was stopped by the goalkeeper. However, the impressive run hugely accelerated the Heracles attack and turned a half-decent attack into a very dangerous one that should have resulted in a goal.
This run comes in a different scenario, but the playmaker still has the intention of breaking into a space in front of a defender, which has the possibility to unlock one of two outcomes: either the defender follows Júnior as he makes the run, shuffling across his backline to make sure the Brazilian is tightly marked. However, doing so would create a larger gap between himself and his central defensive partner, giving the Heracles striker more room to operate in. Or, the opposition defender opts to keep the defensive shape intact, allowing Júnior to make the run unopposed, which would also be a potentially dangerous move for his backline. Either option could present Heracles with a chance to majorly progress their attack, thanks to the run of Mauro Júnior.
As an attacking midfielder, even at a young age like 21 years old, there is an expectation that you offer various methods of contribution when it comes to attacking and scoring – Mauro Júnior has this season demonstrated that he is more than capable of this. The PSV loanee registered six goals and six assists in 26 appearances for Heracles in the 2019/20 – a seriously impressive set of numbers. However, scoring and assisting aren’t the only ways that Júnior can help his side on the attack, as seen below.
The analysis above is one of Júnior’s smartest assists all season. The attack began around the halfway line, where the youngster made a long but fast run from the centre of the pitch to the corner of the edge of the box – just a few yards deeper than he is positioned in the image. After receiving the ball, he shows great composure to face up to the defender in a one-on-one situation, which quickly became a two-on-one encounter thanks to some defensive reinforcements arriving. Júnior, instead of attempting to dribble past either defender, spots the run of his teammate at the back post, causing him to quickly set the ball up to execute a perfectly timed and weighted lofted cross with his left foot. The chance was well- finished by the back-post runner, but the perfection of the delivery meant he good hit the ball home without breaking his stride. In this example, as well as numerous other occasions, the young midfielder displayed great levels of vision and technical ability. His crossing ability will certainly be one of his main assets in years to come: he has an average of 0.96 cross attempts per game with an accuracy rating of 33.33% – considering his age and the fact that he is primarily a central playmaker, these numbers show great promise.
Above is another goalscoring chance for Heracles thanks to the creativity and technical capabilities of Mauro Junior. He turns the attacking threat into a chance which would result in a goal 99.9% of the time. After successfully dribbling around the opposition goalkeeper, he finds himself in a dangerous position but realises he is too far wide to take the shot on himself. He therefore executes a wise pass into the path of this teammate who is free in the box after making a movement to the edge of the six-yard box and just has to simply place the ball home. However, due to the heroics of the highlighted opposition defender who manages to scramble to the goal line and block the shot, no goal was scored on this occasion. Focusing on the contribution of Júnior in this example, though, it is clear to see that he has a special something in his Arsenal to cause a lot of danger on the attack. With an average rating of 5.77 attempted dribbles per 90 minutes, and a success rate of 39.31, he clearly has an eye for the skill – he may just need guidance on when to utilise such talent to increase his success. His pass that followed the dribble was faultless, which isn’t really that surprising when you consider his passing performance over the course of 2019/20. With six assists and 82.17% overall passing accuracy, it is no surprise that he offers a lot in the way of attack. Furthermore, his attacking passes hold equally impressive stats – 76.92% of his passes in the final third reach a teammate, making him reliable when tasked with progressing the attack into its final phase.
While the defensive side of the game isn’t a primary concern for a player of Mauro Júnior’s role, there will definitely be instances throughout his career where certain skills such as tackling and pressing will be of high importance. It does, however, remain an area of his game which needs some coaching and guidance.
This analysis is an example that his defensive attributes aren’t necessarily poor, just that he is still inexperienced in the skill. Here, he finds himself attempting to slow down a central opposition duo who are looking to break into the final third to attack. Up to this point, Mauro Júnior has succeeded in the sense that he has slowed the attack down and forced the opponent to consider going backwards. From a coaching point of view, what his next move should be is to hold the position he currently occupies, without rushing into a tackle – the opponent on the ball has a good enough position and stance to release the ball to the nearby teammate when the challenge does arrive. Once he fails with the first challenge, his hunger to rectify this mistake gets the better of him, as he can be seen wildly chasing after the ball, allowing the two opponents to exchange a quick combination to pick the youngster off and move the attack forward. If Júnior had held his position, he would have forced the opponent’s hand to either slow the attack right down and play backwards, or slow down before attempting a 1v1 situation, by which time, Júnior would have more defensive support close by.
The image above is a demonstration that Júnior does possess some potential and talent in a defensive area, as he can be seen coming out on top of a duel with an opponent. The opponent’s first touch was poor, which acted as a trigger for Mauro to go and apply maximum pressure to the ball. Upon applying a tackle, he comes away with the ball and immediately accelerates away down the right-wing for around 10-15 yards. At this point, he shows great skill in turning defensive into attack as he plays a pass into the central midfielder who has more space to launch a counterattack, with Júnior making a supporting run down the right-hand side. He shows no hesitation in helping his team out defensively, making 156 recoveries throughout the season. His quick thinking and quick feet allow him to make fast progress when it comes to winning the ball back and halting, but instead pushing to attack.
At the age of just 21, Mauro Júnior has demonstrated that he is a player with immense potential in many areas of the game. His ability to carry the ball, perform tight combination sequences, execute accurate passes and score goals is incredibly exciting to watch, especially if you’re connected to PSV. With the current pandemic situation impacted many clubs financially, PSV may have to look no further if they’re looking to introduce a new dynamic to their midfield ranks. First team match experience with his parent club who are typically further up the table than Heracles and participating in European football more often than not could be invaluable to his development. If PSV decide to involve him in their squad in 2020/21 instead of loaning him out, we could see the Brazilian take the next steps in his development.