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What Nuno Santos Can Bring To Charlotte

By Brian Maurer and Tyler Trent

Image Courtesy of Charlotte FC

The arrival of Nuno Santos to Charlotte has the fanbase who has been screaming for an attacking midfield signing all season excited. The Portuguese midfielder has arrived in Charlotte, but is currently awaiting approval of his Visa. Hopefully Nuno Santos, along with our other two signings, will be available for the Orlando City or Toronto FC matches, but in the meantime the TopBin90 team has taken a dive into the film of our new attacking midfielder.

Positions And Roles

Nuno Santos has been asked to play in a variety of different midfield roles in his young career. This past season, for Pacos de Ferreira, Santos played in a more advanced midfield role, as a deeper lying midfielder, and as a wide midfielder. His heat map for the 2021/22 season shows that he has positioned himself frequently all over the field.

Image courtesy of SofaScore

When you take a look at a few of Santos’ individual performances his positioning heat maps show that he is being given a variety of different assignments and roles depending on the opponent and situation.

​Moreirense 3/20/22*

​CS Maritimo 4/9/22*

​Tondela 5/2/22*

This variety in his positioning shows that Santos should bring some flexibility to the midfield both at the end of this season and next year. With limited options in Charlotte FC’s midfield, Santos will likely play a more advanced attacking role. Depending on how the winter transfer window shapes up his role and positioning in the squad could change to a more deep lying “8”. Santos has shown glimpses of real potential at both of these positions. These glimpses are shown in both attacking and defensive phases of the game.

Defensive Phase

Physicality - Santos has spent the past three years on different loan spells to mid-bottom of the table teams in Portugal’s Primeira Liga. He has had to play in very defensive minded systems against world class teams such as Sporting Lisbon and Tottenham Hotspur. In these games he has shown an ability to make strong challenges in ground duels and fight to regain possession. Once gaining possession he also shows the strength to maintain possession in tight spaces and when dealing with physical challenges.

Work Rate - While at Boavista for the 2020/21 season, and this past year at Pacos de Ferreira, Santos shows a fairly high work rate and willingness to track back and support the other midfielders and the center backs in defense. He shows a willingness to challenge opponents who are on the ball by making timely presses, and also works to position himself to make interceptions and to strike quickly on counter attacks.

Attacking Phase

Progressive Passing - Santos has been asked to play multiple different midfield roles in the attack. One of the skills that stands out regardless of where on the pitch Santos plays is his ability to find teammates in more advanced positions. He is able to do this regardless if he is playing in a deeper lying “8” position or if he is in a more advanced attacking “10” position.

Off Ball Runs - Another trait that Santos possesses is the ability to make strong off ball runs. What stands out specifically is his ability to make a pass and then quickly advance into open space so he can receive the ball again or pull defenders with him to open up space for his teammates. When Santos is able to combine his ability to quickly progress the ball forward with his passing and his ability to recognize and move into open space he is able to help his team unlock opposing defenses and get goalscoring opportunities. Below is an example of his passing and movement that led to a goal in the U-20 World Cup group stage against South Africa.

Santos is on the ball and then finds a teammate with a through ball on the byline. After passing the ball through, Santos immediately notices the open space near the top of the box and takes it.

In that process, he pulls multiple defenders with him who try to cover him in the open space. This opens up the wing for a teammate who runs up to receive the ball for a cross.

With the crosser having space and time, he puts in a dangerous ball to the striker who finishes off the play for a goal. This play was started with a progressive through ball pass by Santos, who then opened up space with his movement after making the initial pass.

Positioning In The Box - Another skill that ties in with his off ball runs is his ability to put himself into dangerous positions in the box to find shots. He is clever at finding space both near the six and at the top of the box. His ability to find pockets of space around the box allows him to get scoring chances and allows space to open up for his teammates so that they also get scoring opportunities.

How He Fits In Charlotte

After watching film of his matches with Paços de Ferreira, Boavista, and the U-20 Portugal National Team, it’s clear Santos has technical skill with the ball that far exceeds most of the current Charlotte FC squad. He seems to operate with the ball in a similar manner to Swiderski where you can tell he processes the information around him quicker than most other players on the field. He has physical attributes as well and is regularly prepared to go shoulder to shoulder with other players when needed.

Playing for mid/lower table teams in Portugal has not allowed Santos to show his full offensive potential. However, it has made him more battle ready. While Charlotte fans should expect to see him in an attacking midfield role, at Pacos he often was playing deeper. Defending in the box, pinging balls from the center circle out to the wings with six players playing ahead of him. For Pacos, he was often the player taking free kicks and corners looking for ways to assist his teammates.

With the wingers currently at Charlotte FC, adding Santos seems ideal. His passing range and work rate should exceed what was seen from Titi Ortiz, and he should be able to progress the ball effectively to wingers like Reyna and Gaines. After releasing the wingers, he’s often driving toward the box that opens up space for his team as well. While playing from a deeper position, he has the ability to play incredible balls from the center circle into offensive positions on the wing. He likes to follow this by positioning himself near the edge of the box as you can see on his wonder strike against Vizela last season.

As for Swiderski, he should benefit as well. Often this season Swiderski has dropped into positions that Nuno Santos will be taking up which should allow lots of interplay between the Polish striker and the new Portuguese midfielder. This should also allow Swiderski to play further forward and not have to drop as deep to be the only outlet moving the ball forward.

What To Expect For What’s Left Of This Season

With the amount of inexperience currently in Charlotte FC’s midfield, Santos likely becomes starter to finish the season once he is match fit. For the remainder of this season, Santos will likely play in a more advanced attacking midfield role as the fourth attacking option behind Swiderski and the wings.

Charlotte FC will likely be hoping to see him progress the ball forward to the wings in the attacking third, and then use his movement to help open up space in dangerous areas for other attackers, especially Swiderski.

Ideally, Santos will also be able to build a little rapport with Swiderski through what remains of the season, and the two of them are able to connect with some quick combination passes through the middle. This too should help open up space for both Santos and Swiderski, as well as other attackers.

What To Expect For Next Season

Charlotte FC being able to secure the transfer of Santos at a lower cost than a young designated player (YDP) gives them a lot of flexibility going into the winter window. This also means that there is a decent chance that Santos’ position and role in the club is likely going to change, unless he absolutely tears it up in the last month of the season.

What this roster flexibility should provide for Charlotte is the ability to spend big at the midfield position. If Charlotte FC do end up signing a DP-level attacking midfielder during the winter, then Santos will likely switch to the deeper lying “8” position.

If Santos shows out this season as an attacking midfielder (which is not likely given the limited amount of playing time left), then Charlotte would also have the flexibility to spend big on other attacking options or in other midfield roles.

Regardless of the outcome of the season, Santos will likely provide some excitement both by the end of this season, and heading into the winter transfer window, when the team is looking to evaluate other signings who could fit in the midfield, and in the attack, around Santos.

*Images and heatmap data was all found on SofaScore.