Analysing Brazil U-20s captain and Chelsea's winter signing
Who is Andrey Santos?
Andrey Santos was one of the many acquisitions Chelsea made this January. His lesser-known name may have been lost among the Fernandez and Mudryks, but the teenager swapped storied Brazilian club Vasco da Gama for Stamford Bridge for a not insignificant €12.5 million fee.
While Todd Boehly wasn’t afraid to splash the cash, Andrey was more than deserving of his fee. Prior to moving, the 18-year-old was a staple of Vasco’s midfield in their promotion season back to the Brasileirão. After the move, he captained Brazil’s U-20 team to success in the South American Youth Championships, further vindicating his highly-touted talent.
Andrey Santos' style of play
What is immediately impressive about Andrey Santos is he has all the tools to fulfill such a significant task of being the second deep midfielder who will – across the course of a game – fill every spot of a midfield three.
His awareness of space, of team-mates and of opponents is already very accomplished. The teenager is constantly scanning and has a seamless level of intelligence that enables him to move in ways that pin spaces for others, create overloads on either side, makes room for himself to receive short, and pick holes in both the midfield and defensive lines of the opposition.
Consolidating that is his receiving of the ball. So in tune with the level of pressure he’s under and his willingness to play forwards, the Brazilian is able to take on the ball with either foot; he uses that skill to counter the direction of pressure or open up his body to immediately be forward-facing. He shifts his body in time with the ball well too, courtesy of good balance, to be able to change direction effectively.
On the same note, his operation speed is excellent. Although he’s not a ‘big picture’ distributor of the ball who has it all mapped out, his speed of thought once he lifts his head coupled with his ability to get the pass off in such little time is such a high quality trait that allows him to work the ball out of pressure so consistently.
His ground passing is very tidy and consistent already. When not passing directly through the lines, the 18-year-old is utilising pressure well to (help) construct give-and-go exchanges. Beyond that, aspects of his range and creativity have shown promise but they’re not yet dominant aspects of his game. That makes him better-suited to his current connecting role as a result.
What the quick-thinking side of his game cancels out are the weaker aspects of his ball handling ability. For instances, his second touch is often one that lacks intent and tends to run astray largely because he’s unsure of his next action.
This can be damaging in deep midfield areas as he wants to play forward but doesn’t give himself the cushion of knowing what he’ll do if he can’t locate a forward option, which leads to many frantic attempts at shielding the ball into space and playing the easy pass.
This only gets worse when it comes to his full-length dribbling. Whilst Andrey is sharp thinker, very capable of withstanding physical pressure to hurdle challenges, nor short of tricks in tight spaces to open up angles, the way he adjusts the ball and keeps his head down produces the most limiting version of his ball progression. In extended runs, – off flanks or through the middle – he lacks both consistency in weight of touch and confidence to take on space or a defender.
Away from the odd blind spot catching him out, the timing of his runs through the inside channels off either side, as well as his bursts from deep in transitions, ensure he’s in great positions to attack the box at just the right time. Just like in deeper phases of play, there’s thought and recognition behind the timing of his runs from deep that overrule the above.
The ambition he has for what’s in front of him is what makes the Vasco product such a box-to-box threat, powering his outstanding goalscoring figures in the process. He scored eight at a 0.25 per 90 average last season, then went onto score in six of the eight games he played at the Sub-20 Sudamericano.
While his head-down attempts from distance are more prone to those looser touches, his composure when faced with just the goalkeeper in front of him is exemplary. Whether he has to take it on first time or take additional touches, he sets out the shot really well and has the wherewithal to pick the best finishes for the chance presented.
His defensive intent is a factor that has allowed him to be trusted as a deep midfielder, often positioned in the double pivot of a 4-4-2. Andrey’s eyes light up when a defensive opportunity presents itself ahead of him. His positioning from an attacking sense enables him to counterpress very effectively, and he’s great at latching onto scraps at either end of the pitch.
Where such front-footed ambition can backfire is in those large central spaces, where his technical skills break down a bit. He tends to approach opponents with a positive spread stance that is able to shift side to side quite well, often angled to best cover his blindside and jump to make good interceptions.
However, this approach is a little limited in its reach. In close quarters, the teenager is guilty of committing to the challenge far too early in his jockey. He tends to force it most of the time, even when the pressure applied has done the hard work it needed to, which can result in unnecessary fouls.
That, combined with his desire to close what’s in front of him, can expose areas of the midfield line because he doesn’t instinctively think to recover his position once being drawn out. Even if he’s angling himself well to block a passing lane, he doesn’t get back behind the ball quickly enough to close the gaps left.
Unsurprisingly, what hurts his ability to recover is his current lack of athleticism. He played 25 full 90s last season and it wasn’t a surprise to see his physical intensity nosedive in the last third of those matches, in and out of possession. That said, you must take into account his age – being able to play at full tilt for a full 90, game after game, is something that will come with time.
Forecasting Andrey Santos' future
All in all, Andrey Santos is an intelligent midfielder whose smarts, abilities and general instincts suit the modern number eight role. To possess such a vast and accomplished skillset at his age is something to marvel at. On top of that, it’s hard to look at his primary downsides and not see room for almost inevitable improvement.
He certainly has the potential to compete for a first-team spot at a high-level top-five league club but doesn’t have the physical level to sustain it just yet. A reported loan back to Brazil, former club Vasco da Gama in particular, would be a step that helps him grow further.
Andrey Santos is an intelligent mover off the ball and mover of the ball, whose smarts go beyond his years, supplemented by bundles of technical quality in and out of possession.
Andrey Santos currently lacks somewhat in the ball control department, particularly in his dribbling and how it effects his vision, as well as his durability due to his young age.