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‘Similar to Kalidou Koulibaly’ – Everton lead Chelsea in transfer chase for Lille centre-back Gabriel and it could be a huge coup

Defending is art form and in the Premier League only the best will do, hence the scramble for Europe’s brightest talents.

Dayot Upamecano is getting the major headlines but Lille ace Gabriel is also wanted by a number of teams, including Everton and Chelsea.

Reports have even suggested the Toffees have a deal all but done. But just what can he bring to Carlo Ancelotti’s side? got the lowdown from Total Football Analysis

Lille star Gabriel is impressing suitors around Europe
Getty Images – Getty

With the tactical evolution of the modern game, the role of the central defender is changing noticeably.

Gone are the days in which these players performed a purely functional role and now they are expected to be able to progress the ball and create opportunities for teammates in advanced areas.

This change in the role of the central defender has changed the market for the recruitment of players to play in these positions.

Now, we are seeing young defenders come through the ranks that are capable of defending well but who can also progress the ball through the thirds when in possession.

Talent recognises talent as Neymar swaps shirt with Gabriel
Getty Images – Getty

As this position has changed so has the general structure teams adopt when they have possession.

It is now fashionable for teams to keep a high defensive line with central defenders stepping up when their team are in possession of the ball.

This has also increased the need for defenders to be comfortable both physically and technically when turning and defending in space towards their own goal.

In recent weeks, despite the lockdown, there has been considerable speculation a defender who meets these criteria is firmly on the radar of Premier League clubs. That defender is the 22-year-old Brazilian Garbiel Magalhaes who currently plays in the French top tier with Lille.

Gabriel, as he prefers to be known, moved to Lille in 2017 having made his professional debut in his native Brazill with Avai.

His transition from South America to Europe was carefully managed as he had to become used to not only the style of football but the culture in general of a new country.

Initially, Gabriel played for the second team at Lille before spending time on loan at Troyes and then at Dinamo Zagreb before firmly establishing himself in the Lille first-team.

The purpose of this scout report is to provide an insight into the type of player that Gabriel is and to see why Premier League clubs are so interested in the player.

Data Check


One of the strengths of Gabriel’s game is his capability to progress the ball through the thirds of the pitch.

Above we have taken all central defenders in the top 5 European leagues that are under the age of 24 and have played at least 1,000 minutes.

As with any other form of recruitment of data analysis we have to take into account the style of play that the players that interest us play in.

Lille are a side that attacks quickly through vertical passing movements that take the ball through the thirds. They are not possession orientated and as such the central defenders do not spend a lot of time cycling possession and moving the ball laterally.

Indeed, the role that Gabriel plays when in possession is to move the ball forward and look for the runs of attacking players in the final third.

The chart above is tracking the number of passes each player has played into the final third and comparing that to the number of progressive passes that they have made.

You can see the clear outlier is the French central defender Dayot Upamecano, who has also been heavily linked to a big transfer, but just behind him comes Gabriel. He is averaging 10.12 passes to the final third per 90 and 11.46 progressive passes per 90.


This time we are looking at how effective they are in the defensive phase. Gabriel is only averaging 5.22 defensive duels and 5.26 aerial duels per 90 respectively. He is very effective in these duels with a success rate of 64.34% and 69.23% respectively.

Ball Progression

As mentioned above there is a huge emphasis being placed in football on central defenders who are capable of progressing the ball.

Players who can receive the ball in central areas before breaking the lines of the opposition defensive block through vertical or diagonal passes are becoming extremely valuable.

This is a skill that Gabriel has in abundance.


With Lille, we see a number of patterns of play that are repeated over and over again with player rotations designed to create and take advantage of space in the final third.

We see an example of these rotations in the image above as the left-sided attacker, Lille tends to play in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, comes off of the left touchline and into the half-space.

This movement is designed to create space for the left-back to move into the final space and make a late run that can penetrate behind the defensive line.

Gabriel is generally partnered by the former Southampton defender Jose Fonte and the experienced Portuguese defender does not progress the ball well at all.

The onus for this, therefore, falls on Gabriel and the pattern above is a regular feature with the ball being played to the Brazilian defender as the rotation takes place. The ball can then be played accurately and with the correct weight to find the discovered run of the left-back in space.


A similar situation here although Gabriel is deeper and being put under more sustained pressure by the Nantes forward.

As the Brazilian defender rolls out to the outside to look for a passing angle we again see the left-sided attacker moving inside, and back towards the ball, once again this rotation is designed to create space that teammates can attack into.

In this instance, it is the forward player who takes advantage of this space as he makes a curved run to move behind the opposition right-back.

Once again the rotation is successful thanks to the accuracy and range of passing that we see from Gabriel as he plays a perfectly weighted pass to the feet of the striker as he makes his run.

Gabriel in Champions League action against Chelsea this season
Getty Images – Getty

Defensive Phase

It is, of course, not enough for a defender to progress the ball, they also have to be able to defend effectively.

With full-backs being used more often as attacking outlets and teams no longer playing with a ‘6’ that is purely used in a defensive function. It is, therefore, key that central defenders are able to defend when isolated and in space.

While Jose Fonte struggles in this area of the game Gabriel is extremely mobile. He covers space very well and is agile enough to defend effectively against forward players who look to turn quickly and attack on the inside or on the outside of defensive players.


We see an example of this here as Gabriel has been pulled across to the wide areas tracking the run of the forward who has moved out to receive the ball in space. One of the opposition players looks to quickly take advantage of this situation with a run underneath Gabriel to access the penalty area.

It would be easy for him to be drawn back to cover the run but instead, he is agile enough to use his body to block the potential passing lane to access that player. As the man in possession then looks to twist back inside into the space behind the runner Gabriel again reads the intention and is in position to win the ball back and start an attacking move for his team.


We see a similar situation above as Gabriel has been pulled wide to defend against the Amiens attacker who has received the ball in a wide area.

The Brazilian defender has good balance and he positions his body to cut off the route to the goal while also being able to defend should the attacker go down the outside or the inside. 

As the attacker fakes outside and then quickly cuts back in towards the centre we again see Gabriel calmly win back possession of the ball before moving forward to start the attack.


Gabriel is also very good when it comes to reading the game. He tends to average a high number of interceptions per match as he prevents the opposition from penetrating into the penalty area early.

We see an example of this above as space has been opened up between Gabriel and the left-back.

An opposition striker will look to move from Gabriel’s blindside to quickly attack this space and receive the ball.

Although the movement is initially outside the field of vision of the Brazilian defender he is still aware that the space presents danger and, as the forward makes a move to receive the ball, Gabriel has followed the run and comfortably intercepts before moving towards the opposition half.

Gabriel attempts a long range pass for Lille
Getty Images – Getty


Everton are one of the clubs that have been most heavily linked to a move for Gabriel and the Brazilian is likely to be a perfect fit for Carlo Ancelotti.

Indeed, the Italian coach moved to Everton from Napoli and there are definite similarities in playing style and effectiveness between Gabrial and the Senegalese central defender Kalidou Koulibally.

A move to the Premier League seems inevitable. It is just a matter of which club wins the race to sign the Brazilian central defender.

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