On March 27, 2022, Canada qualified for the World Cup, for the first time since 1986. The likes of Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies evidently played their part, but perhaps no man was more key to Canada’s success in the lead-up to World Cup Qualification than the beating heart in Herdman’s midfield – Stephen Eustáquio. Now an FC Porto regular playing week in and week out in the Champions League, the 25-year-old will be integral to Canada’s success at the upcoming tournament. Here is our analysis of Stephen Eustáquio, and why he’s prepared to play a pivotal role for Canada at the 2022 World Cup.
POSITIONING & ROLEEmbed from Getty Images
Fully capable of playing either as a ‘6’ or ‘8’, Stephen Eustáquio plays a slightly different role for his club side than the Canadian National Team. For FC Porto, the 25-year-old is more of a box-to-box presence, even arriving late at the end of moves to score crucial goals. He still exhibits those same ‘tempo-setting’ mentalities he possesses for Canada, but from a slightly wider and often higher position for Porto.
Sérgio Conceição deploys Colombian midfielder Mateus Uribe in more of a true ‘6’ role instead, allowing Eustáquio more opportunities for adventures higher up the pitch. While Uribe possesses his own fantastic engine and covers severe ground across the pitch, he’s more of a ‘Midfield Destroyer’ than the passing class of Eustáquio, creating a nice balance between the two midfield men.
But for Canada, Eustáquio is the beating drum for everything they do in possession. He’s the Rodri, the Keira Walsh – operating in that ‘6’ slot and dictating possession and control. From central channels more so than the half-spaces, Eustáquio will create as a ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker’, switching play left to right and helping the team break through the thirds, whilst remaining calm and composed in passing the ball around.
If Canada opt for possession and control in certain matches, he will therefore be key in breaking down an opposition’s low-block. If Les Rouges than have less possession, he’ll be key to the compactness in midfield, and the team’s responses to defensive transitions.
Nevertheless, the discrepancy in style of play between club and country is a tremendous positive for Canada, injecting variety into how they can set their team up for success. The Canucks boast a wide-range of midfield sitters capable of playing in that Uribe role, from Atiba Hutchinson to Ismaël Koné, Mark-Anthony Kaye and even Samuel Piette. This means that the Leamington, ON born playmaker will be expected to contribute to attacking areas as his midfield partner sits and screens instead. Throughout qualifying we even witnessed a wonderful balance between himself and Jonathan Osorio – a typically more adventurous attacker. In some moments, Eustáquio would be the one to step up and press, or join the attack higher up the pitch, as the TFC man sat instead. The wide-ranging talents of Stephen Eustáquio simply means that Herdman has options within his midfield, without ever having to leave out one of his stars in pursuit of success.
ATTACKING STYLE OF PLAYEmbed from Getty Images
Stephen Eustáquio would best be described as a pass-master, and someone the Canadians will have on the ball at every opportunity. For FC Porto, he frequently drifts out to the left-half-spaces wide of his two centre-backs. He will then use this position to get on the ball and loop long passes over the top for runners to sprint onto. He’s adept at finding runners in space with these long loops, with a 61% success rate in league play so far this season in the Primeira Liga.
The likes of Liam Fraser and Samuel Piette may be more adept at picking moments to display these long-passing moves, but they don’t exude the same class in possession of the ball prior to the passing thrust. Eustáquio’s been dispossessed just 0.53 times per 90 this season, completing 100% of his attempted dribbles in league play. Only Ismaël Koné surpasses his press-resistance from a statistical standpoint, but the Montreal man is a less progressive, line-breaking passer.Embed from Getty Images
Eustáquio’s awareness of where to take his first touch is aided by a constant scanning of the field, and a quickness in disguising the direction of the touch. He wants to play forward at any opportunity, and this will result in lower passing percentages than some of his Canadian teammates, but he’s also keenly aware about when to recycle play if he finds himself under pressure.
Combine that with a bit of an adventurous side, and Eustáquio is clearly the most complete midfielder in the side. Only Osorio touched the ball in the attacking third or the penalty area more than Eustáquio in 2022, and none boasted anywhere close to his 2.13 key passes, and 4.63 shot-creating-actions per 90.
This means that whether he plays as the true ‘6’ or slightly advanced alongside someone more defensive, Eustáquio will be a driving force for the Canadians in attack. Given the quality he’s shown in remaining cool under pressure and composed with his finishing at Porto, Canadian fans can feel safe if the ball lands at his feet inside the box. You can also expect a few pile-drivers from range if given the space to let one fly, and even for Eustáquio to be a key creator from set-pieces in Qatar. He’s just a complete midfielder, and this should mean John Herdman relies on him to play nearly every minute of tournament action in 2022.
DEFENSIVE STYLE OF PLAYEmbed from Getty Images
Encouragingly for both Canada and FC Porto, Stephen Eustáquio is not only a driving force in-possession, but integral to combusting opposition attacks in the defense. Both Canada and Porto play with a press that requires him to sometimes step up out of his deeper position, and press higher up the pitch. This can look like a 4-1-3-2 if Canada set-up in the 4-4-2 formation that brought them so much success leading up to World Cup qualification. Normally that man might be your Osorio type as Eustáquio plays at the base, but the Canadians will remain adaptable about which midfielder steps up to press an opposition ‘6’ if required.
For FC Porto, the 25-year-old is also excellent in covering the wide areas in behind an opposition winger. Porto’s defensive structures will typically adapt to more of a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2-2 mid-block, which means that space can be sought in between that gap between wing and full-back.
Eustáquio understands his role in quickly covering that space when required, and even doubling up with his full-back if the situation requires. This allows his full-back to hold more of a defensive stance closer to goal, in case someone like the Canadian finds himself beaten. But in finding himself dribbled past less than any of his regular partners in midfield (0.92 per 90), Eustáquio’s not easy to bypass. He’s won a decent 58% of his defensive duels this season, and 2.9 tackles + interceptions per 90 in a possession-based side. He sometimes finds himself flying in too fast and easily beaten by a disguise, and so his positional awareness and ability to hold rank and shuffle with the play will be crucial for the Canadians. He should not make himself overly-aggressive in stepping up unless that is ready to be backed by the entire team. Instead, he should continue to use his expert reading of the game to position himself and intercept line-breaking attempts, recognizing that he has the legs and mobility to cover more ground than many of his midfield compatriots.
Speaking of covering ground, not only is the 25-year-old active in stepping up during pressing phases, but he also smartly adopts positions in the box to defend crosses at the other end of the pitch. No midfielder in the squad made more than his 1.47 blocks per 90 this season, and his aerial win rate stands out above the majority of the pack – at 55.6%. Those transitional moments will be particularly key in defending central areas upon losses of possession, and so Eustáquio will need to be on his game in racing back and breaking up the play. He’s done this exceptionally well since making his debut for the Canucks, and now he will need to illustrate his greatness on the greatest of stages.
CONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Stephen Eustáquio is not only Canada’s best, most complete midfielder, but a driving force for the team in their success. He’s both a capable creator and a capable screener in front of the back-line, and will play a vital role in Canada’s ability to control and dictate the flow of matches. Likely set to be play as more of a ‘Deep-Lying-Playmaker’ for John Herdman’s side, Eustáquio could also play as more of a box-to-box ‘8’ as he does for FC Porto, and inject something different into the Canadian attack. How Canada will fare at their first World Cup in 36-years remains to be seen, but Stephen Eustáquio will be pivotal to the process.
So there it is! An analysis of Canada’s beating drum Stephen Eustáquio, ahead of the 2022 World Cup. Be sure to check out more of our Player Analyses, and more on Canada ahead of the tournament. Also be sure to follow @desmondrhys and @mastermindsite for coverage of Canada and more across the World Cup. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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