Souza made a strong impression during his loan tenure at Espanyol, featuring in 37 matches last season. His performance metrics compare favourably to top Premier League defensive midfielders, notably João Palhinha, who excelled in that role during the previous campaign.
What are his strengths?
Vinícius Souza is far from the “bums off seats” type of player. But, he is extremely effective at breaking up play.
The Brazilian will rarely pop up on the edge of the opposition box and unlock a defence. The majority of his touches occur in his own half and in the middle third. His style of play can be likened to Rodri at Manchester City, his main role is to protect the back line and keep things ticking over in possession.
Souza’s pass completion percentage last season was 80% per 90 [FBref], which is below average compared to midfielders across Europe. One of his strengths in possession is his ability to spot a long-distance pass, whether that is a switch of play or a ball over the top of the defence.
But Sheffield United have an exceptional defensive-minded midfielder on their hands, and this is mainly what they are paying for.
Over the past year, Vinícius Souza has averaged an impressive 3.67 tackles per 90, placing him among the top 2% of midfielders, in the top divisions in the world including the Champions League, in this aspect. Additionally, he ranks in the top 3% for successful aerial duels per 90 [2.67] and the top 4% for interceptions per 90 [1.78].
His playing style closely resembles that of Fulham’s João Palhinha, who notably was the Premier League’s finest defensive midfielder in the previous season. While Palhinha boasts a slightly higher tackle rate at 4.26 per 90, Souza surpasses him in interceptions, aerial duels won, and clearances.
Vinícius Souza is tough to beat in 1v1 situations. Not only does he engage dribblers a lot, he often comes out with the ball as a result – registering a very high (compared to midfielders) dribbler tackle success rate of 56%.
What are the negatives?
As mentioned earlier, supporters should not expect anything overly fancy from Vinícius Souza, and his forward passing numbers aren’t great. But they can expect somebody who provides stability in the team.
That being said, if Paul Heckingbottom can improve on his attacking intent and output, i.e more passes into the final third and penalty area, then Souza could become somewhat of a duel weapon for the Blades. In doing so, that would alert every major club in Europe.
This is a player that was once touted as a wonderkid, and he has stepped up in level every season. The jump from Belgian football to La Liga football is massive, and that clearly shows that he is capable of playing technical football, as well as defending against it.
Formation-wise, the acquisition of Vinícius Souza has opened up plenty of doors for United. With his defensive and covering qualities, this can allow the likes of Ahmedhodzic and Trusty to push further up the field.
Out of all of the signings Sheffield United have made so far, this is the most impressive addition. The fact he compares, and even outperforms, versus last season’s best defensive midfielder in the Premier League [João Palhinha] fills me with confidence.