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Profiling the breakthrough Palmeiras defensive midfielder

Palmeiras' Danilo
William Savage

JANUARY 24, 2022

Who is Danilo?

It’s no secret that Edu, Arsenal’s technical director, is a fan of Bruno Guimarães. He tried to sign the midfielder when he was still at Athletico Paranaense, and missed out as the club prioritised other signing, and the Brazilian wound in Lyon. 

Rumour has it, he’s looking to learn from his mistake, as Arsenal have shown interest in Palmeiras’ 20-year-old midfielder, Danilo. Whether he ends up at Arsenal or not, the young Brazilian is certainly a player to keep an eye on.

Danilo's style of play

With Arsenal’s next central midfielder likely to be a replacement for Granit Xhaka, it’s easy to see how Danilo would fit that mould, he has a lot in common with the Swiss-Albanian. No wait, Arsenal fans, don’t leave yet! Let me explain. Danilo is a left footed central midfielder. He’s a competent but safe passer, and an aggressive defender who doesn’t always make the best decisions when the opponent is in possession. Are you sold yet?

Let me go into a little more detail. For Palmeiras, Danilo tends to stay fairly deep. He’s comfortable being the deepest midfielder, whether playing as a lone pivot or as part of a two. He’s capable of dropping between split centre backs to help progress the ball, or receiving the ball from deeper while staying further up the pitch. When he’s on the ball, he tends to keep things fairly safe. That’s not to say that he doesn’t get the ball up the pitch, but he doesn’t take unnecessarily dangerous passes. He’s what some would term a recycler.

It’s not all sideways passes with Danilo. He’ll pop it forward in midfield if he can, and he’s more than capable of spraying the ball out wide for a full-back to run on to, or playing a longer ball into space from time to time. He certainly has the range of passing to be more direct when required. 

While he also has the ability to play the ball through the lines, he doesn’t tend to try that unless he finds himself in more advanced areas of the pitch. Generally speaking, he seems to have a very good awareness of what’s around him. He understand when to take a safety first approach, and when he has the cover behind him to try something with a little more risk.

He also has the ability to carry well, and is capable of beating a player on the dribble, but again the role he’s tasked with means this is something he rarely does. Unless he receives the ball in a tight space, or he’s freed from his deeper role to get into more advanced areas, he rarely looks to carry the ball, instead typically maintaining a conservative position and keeping the ball circulating.

Although he is technically secure, Danilo’s touches can often be quite loose. He doesn’t surrender the ball too often, and this could be something that he only does when he’s receiving the ball in space, but it’s an unusual trait for a player to have, and something that could be exploited in leagues with teams that press more efficiently. 

At times, he also takes more touches than seem necessary, taking three or four, when one or two should suffice. It’s not a fatal flaw, but it can slow play down, often for no real benefit, and again this could hold him back at higher levels, where executing transitions with precision is vital.

Off the ball, Danilo is just as interesting. He has a good awareness of what’s around him, and a strong positional sense, as is needed from the deepest midfielder in a team. 

He tracks back well, filling in in the defensive line when required, and he has a strong knack for intercepting cut backs crosses into the penalty area, which is always a promising sign. Although he seems to understand the positioning required from him, he’s quite aggressive in his decision making.

He will often be asked to back up the press, and he certainly has the energy for such a role, but all to often he gets too tight an opponent and is spun with worrying ease, exposing the defensive line. Generally speaking, he’s very proactive with his decision making, and looks to engage opponents rather than forcing them to make a decision. 

Danilo signed a long-term contract extension, through to winter 2026, in February 2022; despite that, he has been linked to Arsenal

This isn’t necessarily a bad trait, but at the top level players who defend like this need to be successful a lot of the time, and Danilo doesn’t have that just yet. That being said, he has a good awareness and is bursting with energy, so there’s no reason to think this isn’t an area of his game that can be improved.

He does have a tendency to ball watch when his team is out of possession, rather than tracking runners, and this is especially evident on set pieces. When defending corners, he frequently ends up grasping at the opponent he should be marking, grappling with them and potentially giving away a penalty.

Forecasting Danilo's future

All that being said, these aren’t terrible flaws for a player to have. Danilo is an unglamourous midfield, but that doesn’t mean he’s not gifted. He certainly has the tools to become a useful shuttler in midfield, while linking defence with attack. 

The back to back Copa Libertadores-winning midfielder may struggle with stepping up to the Premier League at the moment, but if his potential can be harnessed, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him on the biggest of stages in the future.

Danilo is an aggressive defender, and a comfortable (but safe) passer through midfield.

Danilo can be a bit conservative in all aspects of his play in possession, at times slowing play down unnecessarily.

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