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FEATURE | Matheus Cunha to Atlético Madrid: What to expect

Matheus Cunha is a dynamic forward with many strings to his bow having excelled as the key attacking outlet in an unpredictable Hertha Berlin side. Coming off the back of his most successful Bundesliga season to date and having won Gold in the men’s football at the Tokyo Olympics, Cunha’s stock is unsurprisingly higher than ever. Leeds and more recently Everton were long rumoured to be admirers of Cunha however, the Brazilian has joined Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid for a reported €30m. Here’s how Cunha fared in Germany and how he may function/fit in at Atlético.

Matheus Cunha’s time in Germany

Going back to the beginning, Cunha began his footballing career at Coritiba, one of the largest Brazilian sides from the southern state of Paraná. Aged 18, Cunha came to Europe via Sion in the Swiss Super League. At Sion, Cunha was an instant hit bursting on to the scene with 10 goals and eight assists in under 30 league games. After just one full season playing football in Europe, RB Leipzig were impressed enough to pay around €15 million to sign the then 19-year-old.

Cunha’s time in Leipzig was very mixed. He impressed in his debut season when given opportunities in the Europa League scoring six in 12 and scoring twice in the Bundesliga, including a mesmerising goal vs Bayer Leverkusen where he rouletted away from two defenders and delicately chipped the goalkeeper. In the 2019/20 season Cunha made only 13 appearances and understandably struggled to dismount any of Leipzig’s well-established forwards from the starting line-up. It was in the January of 2020 where Cunha made the permanent switch to Hertha Berlin. Much like his time at Sion, Cunha hit the ground running with five goals and two assists in his first 11 appearances in the German Capital.

Last season, Cunha cemented himself as one of the Bundesliga’s more productive forwards, scoring eight and laying on seven assists in all competitions for Hertha. This is made more impressive due to the circumstances Cunha played under. Die Alte Dame  finished 14th and only four points off automatic relegation despite spending relatively big in the transfer market in comparison with fellow lower to mid-table sides. Cunha also played under three head coaches in only 18 months at the club but has undoubtedly presented himself as the brightest spark at the club in this period.

What type of player is Matheus Cunha?

In 2020/21, Cunha was largely deployed as the focal point of Hertha’s attacking line, sporting the No.10 shirt. The 22-year-old has also played right and left wing in his career, as well as playing as a deeper attacking-midfielder. Cunha likes to come deep for the ball and take players on. He completed 3.25 dribbles in the Bundesliga last season, putting him in the top 10% for this metric, additionally he averaged a healthy 2.8 shots per game and made 4.4 shot creating actions.

Cunha is very direct and unlike many players that excel in completing a high number of dribbles, he does not fall into the trap of lacking an end product. Six goals from just 29 shots in the penalty area last season is respectable for a player who is more creative and not a traditional striker. One goal from 40 attempts outside of the box may display some recklessness and decision-making issues in Cunha’s game which will likely be ironed out under Simeone however, many will take it as a positive that Cunha has the confidence to regularly take on shots from distance.

As touched on previously, Cunha’s attacking productivity is made all the more impressive when factoring in the fact that Hertha underperformed and were often on the backfoot at times last season. They were helped by the fact that sides below them were just as poor defensively and struggled to score goals. Cunha himself only needed seven goals to finish as Hertha’s joint top scorer last season.

Matheus Cunha in 2020/21 vs Select Bundesliga Forwards

What role could Cunha play under Simeone’s tutelage?

Last season Atleti pipped Real Madrid to the title by just two points, and it will presumably be the pair of them in direct competition for the title again as Barcelona will be expected to be significantly weakened by financial strain and adapting to the colossal departure of Lionel Messi.

Typically, the media has described Simeone’s Atlético as incredibly defensive and nasty to play against due to the physical intensity at which they play. This is true to a degree with Atlético keeping a remarkable 18 clean sheets last season and only conceding 25 goals in La Liga. However, Simeone has worked hard to ensure they are more dynamic going forward, proven by the big money spent on João Félix, the acquisition of Luis Suarez and the tactical use of Angel Correa and Marcos Llorente at times.

Cunha compares to Correa most similarly as a player. Like Cunha, Correa completes a high number of dribbles per 90 and is a good ball carrier, in addition to being productive in the final third. Cunha is a surprisingly hard worker in defence, with almost 1.5 interceptions made per 90, and 1.55 blocks made last season. This will appeal to Simeone as he favours attacking players that also help the team defend as a unit and Cunha’s defensive numbers will shoot up further under Simeone.

Whether Atleti line up with two or one upfront, Cunha fits in perfectly as he is capable of playing as a dynamic forward in a front two, but he is equally fitted to playing as an attacking-midfielder or even coming in from the left/right.

Atlético have bolstered their attacking options as they look to secure back-to-back league titles, and Cunha offers true value for money. As for Cunha, this is a big step in his career and the chance to work under an elite coach such as Simeone may really take his game to the next level. Still only 22, Cunha will relish a chance to prove himself in the Champions League and if successful he will be knocking on the door for his first caps with the Brazil national team, having been sensational at U23 level and seriously impressing at this summers Olympics.

Joe Langlands

Sources: Fbref.com, Transfermarkt.com, UnderStat.com

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