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Éderson: A Case of Aggression and Skill

Éderson has been one of Atalanta’s standout players in an unforgettable season that saw the club clinch their second major trophy and their first-ever European Championship. His performances throughout the campaign, especially on the European stage, have not gone unnoticed.

The 24-year-old midfielder has now caught the eye of several top clubs, with Liverpool reportedly already submitting a bid for him.

If He’s Not a Number 6, Why Are Liverpool Going After Him?

First, let’s clear up any confusion about Éderson’s role. Many might assume the Brazilian is a traditional number six, stationed in front of the defense to cover ground both vertically and horizontally. While he is capable of playing that role occasionally, it’s not his main position.

The Brazilian typically operates as a left-sided number eight in Gasperini’s 3-4-2-1 formation. Partnering with Martin De Roon, Éderson is part of Atalanta’s double pivot in midfield. In this setup, both players have the freedom to roam, contribute to the build-up phase, disrupt the opposition’s play, and support the attack in the final third.

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So, no, Éderson is not a natural number six, or at least he didn’t play that role this past season. This raises the question: shouldn’t Liverpool be targeting a proper defensive midfielder to sit back and cover spaces?

While it’s true that Liverpool might need a dedicated defensive midfielder, there’s an important detail to consider. Arne Slot prefers a double-pivot system rather than a single one. For Feyenoord, both Mats Wieffer and Quinten Timber operate similarly to how Éderson and De Roon play for Atalanta, as they are tasked with contributing in the defensive and offensive phases.

This makes Liverpool’s interest in Éderson more logical, even if he isn’t a traditional number six.

Ederson, a Gattuso-type of Player

Those who watched Atalanta’s games against Liverpool, or their Europa League final against Bayer Leverkusen, likely reached the same conclusion about the 24-year-old: he’s a Gattuso-type player. He relentlessly covers the pitch, makes tackles, and disrupts play whenever he gets the chance.

If you see Éderson this way, you’re spot on. The first thing you notice about the 2024 Europa League winner is his intensity and aggressiveness when out of possession. These traits have been further enhanced by playing within Gasperini’s masterful man-marking system.

Standing at 6 feet tall, he has a compact build that makes it tough for opponents to get around him. He uses his body to bully opponents and push them off balance. His frame also helps him protect the ball effectively when receiving it on the half-turn or with his back to play.

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In addition to his strength, the Brazilian has a great engine, driving his relentless style of play. His heatmap shows he’s everywhere on the pitch, despite being deployed as a left-sided number eight.

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Éderson uses his power and stamina to break down the opposition’s play. He ranks in the high percentiles among midfielders in the top five European leagues for the percentage of dribblers tackled, passes blocked, and interceptions. Despite his frequent challenges, he only loses 0.55 duels per 90 minutes, underscoring his impressive ability to win his battles.

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What’s even more impressive is that despite his aggressiveness, Éderson doesn’t commit many fouls when trying to dispossess opponents. He ranks highly in defensive duels per 90 minutes, yet he suffers fewer fouls than the majority of Serie A midfielders. This demonstrates his ability to win the ball cleanly and efficiently.

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This sequence from Atalanta’s game against Monza earlier this season perfectly illustrates how relentless the player is. Here, you can see him pushing high from his position to press Monza’s defender. Despite the ball being passed to goalkeeper Di Gregorio, Éderson continued to push aggressively, putting more pressure on Monza’s backline. Even as the ball moved away from him, he kept pressing, targeting three different players in this single sequence before finally giving up when his teammates didn’t join in the pressing.

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Certainly, such determination and eagerness to press and win the ball back are valuable traits in a player. However, this sequence we highlighted isn’t a one-off, and sometimes Éderson can become overly aggressive in his pressing.

This can lead to a lack of discipline in holding his position, causing his team to lose their shape out of possession. However, Éderson’s aggressiveness can be harnessed as a strength rather than a weakness with the appropriate coaching.

Moreover, Éderson’s defensive contributions extend beyond his pressing and play-breaking abilities. When one of Atalanta’s center backs pushes high, he often drops back to fill the gap, providing protection in the vacant spaces.

Regarding his aerial play, Éderson can also be dominant, winning 56.1% of his aerial duels. While this might sound modest, it places him in the 75th percentile among midfielders in the top five European competitions, which is quite commendable. Additionally, three of the seven goals he scored this season were from headers, making him fifth in Serie A for most headed goals with two in the league

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Breaking the Stereotype!

Seeing a player running all over the pitch, putting in tackles left, right, and center, and pressing almost without limits, you might assume he’s average or even below average with the ball at his feet. It makes sense—spending all that energy out of possession can affect a player’s performance and technique on the ball. However, for Éderson, it might be a different case! When compared to other Serie A midfielders, Éderson ranks eighth for xGBuildup with a score of 10.71.

This metric measures a player’s involvement in creating scoring opportunities without directly providing the assist or taking the shot. It quantifies the contribution of a player to the buildup of play leading to a shot attempt, focusing on their actions in the buildup phase rather than the final pass or shot.

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Being ranked this high shows how involved Éderson is in Atalanta’s build-up phase. Not only is he first in the Atalanta squad for xGBuildup, but he’s also the player with the most touches, totaling 2027, with 1159 of those coming in the middle third. This is mainly due to his tendency to be the deeper of the two eights, often dropping back further to act as a left-sided center-back to receive the ball and initiate the build-up phase.

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To clarify, there’s nothing fancy about how Éderson progresses the ball. He opts for short and medium-range passes to wide players, keeping things quick and simple.

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Another key aspect to mention is that, whether he’s involved in passing the ball or not, Éderson frequently looks to attack vacant spaces to provide passing options to his teammates. This movement allows the team to steadily progress the ball on the left-hand side.

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This is why he ranks first in the Atalanta squad for most passes received, with 1373. He always makes himself available for a pass!

Again, there’s nothing fancy about his passing, but that doesn’t mean he lacks the ability to break opponents’ lines with sharp passes! Compared to other Serie A midfielders, Éderson ranks 9th for progressive passes, 15th for forward passes, and 16th for passes into the final third per 90 minutes.

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Yes, he has the ability to find the spare man during the build-up phase and can break opposition lines with a pass from deep to progress the play. However, he doesn’t use this ability frequently, which could be a matter of confidence or simply instructions from his manager.

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Not Limited to Deeper Areas!

As mentioned earlier, Éderson also has the freedom to roam up the pitch and contribute offensively.

He often bombs down the left-hand side, using his body to hold the ball, combine with his teammates on the edge of the box, or even put passes and crosses into the box.

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He frequently attacks the left half-space, getting himself into goal-scoring positions. In this example, you can see him moving forward into the left half-space while his teammate progresses the ball on the other side of the pitch. Once he reached the final third, Éderson slowed down his pace and took a few steps back, peeling away from his markers, which resulted in him occupying a dangerous area.

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Aside from this, it’s worth mentioning that Éderson’s progressiveness in deep areas can also be seen high up the pitch. He ranks in respectable percentiles for passes into the final third and for passes and crosses into the penalty area, showcasing his ability to contribute effectively in advanced positions as well.

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Yes, he’s not that creative compared to other midfielders, but he has the ability to surprise the opponents with a pass, setting up a teammate for a clear chance. However, just like his line-breaking passes from deep, he doesn’t do this frequently, which explains his single assist and low expected assists of just 2.3xA.

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In summary, Éderson is aggressive without the ball and has an unreal engine that allows him to run for days. Contrary to the popular belief that this type of player is not good on the ball, Éderson proves to be an exception. His involvement in Atalanta’s build-up phase and his contributions high up the pitch show that he’s more than capable with the ball at his feet.

Whether the reports suggesting that Liverpool have already launched a bid for Éderson are true or false, the club’s interest in him remains concrete and logical, as the player suits the profile that Arne Slot likes to use in his double pivot.

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