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Copa America 2021: Venezuela – tactical analysis

Venezuelan football is going through a rather fruitful period of time, where many of the players in their Copa America squad are playing high level football outside of Venezuela. In fact, the likes of Wuilker Farinez, Josef Martinez, Yangel Herrera, and Salomon Rondon are well known players across the globe, whilst much of their squad plays in Serie A, La Liga and the MLS. 

The Copa America will provide an opportunity for Venezuelans to focus purely on football for a short period of time, and their players, led by Head Coach Jose Peseiro, will fancy their chances of making a deep run in the competition, with the aim of uniting the nation behind the team. Despite the country’s national football team making leaps in terms of quality, they are still way behind the favourites for the title in terms of quality. Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Colombia are all still leagues ahead.

Venezuela find themselves placed in group B, where they will face Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Whilst there are only 10 teams in the competition, it’s probably fair to say group B is marginally the kinder draw. Avoiding Chile, Argentina and Uruguay means that aside from Brazil, who will be strong as always, Venezuela will likely vy with Colombia for that second spot. Of course the top four in the group will go through, and Venezuelan fans will no doubt be expecting their team to progress through.

This tactical analysis will look to give an in-depth analysis into the players who will represent Venezuela, along with an analysis of the tactics we are likely to see in the four moments of the game: In possession, out of possession, transition to attack, and transition to defence. On top of this we will look at Venezuela’s stand out performer, and make a prediction on their chances this summer.

THE SQUAD

When looking at the  provisional squad Venezuela have announced for the Copa America, there is truly a very even mixture of players coming towards the end of their playing days, those in the peak of their playing careers, and those who are just starting out.

Goalkeepers:

Wuilker Farinez

Alain Baroja

Jose Contreras

Defenders:

Wilker Angel

Jhon Chancellor

Rolf Feltscher

Alexander Gonzalez

Yordan Osorio

Roberto Rosales

Mikel Villanueva

Midfielders:

Cristian Casseres jr

Yangel Herrera

Junior Moreno

Romulo Otero

Tomas Rincon

Jefferson Savarino

Yeferson Soteldo

Forwards:

Fernando Aristigueita

Darwin Machis

Jhon Murillo

Sergio Cordova

Josef Martinez

Salomon Rondon

Venezuela play with a back four and a midfield three, with their formation tending to switch between a 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3 based on how much attacking freedom is afforded to their wingers. Generally speaking though, we will see a 4-3-3 in possession and a 4-1-4-1 out of possession.

Either way, they opt to use a single pivot, with captain Tomas Rincon of Torino filling this role. Yangel Herrera and Cristian Casseres jr will generally complete the midfield three. Salomon Rondon is likely to start as the lone centre-forward, whilst Darwin Machis will play on one of the wings, and Wuilker Farinez will start in goal. Finally, Wuilker Angel is likely to start at centre-back. However, the final centre-back role, both full-back positions and one spot on the wing are still up for grabs. It’s difficult to say who will take these positions, however, right now it seems like one of Jhon Chancellor orYordan Osorio will take the last centre-back spot, and Rolf Feltscher and Luis Mago will take the full-back spots. Finally, Yeferson Soteldo may well take the last spot on the wing.

Venezuela 2020/21: Their tactics at Copa America 2021 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

We can see their predicted line-up in the preceding image.

The next graph shows us the ages of Venezuela’s squad options and their minutes played over the last calendar year. There are some interesting conclusions we can draw from examining this. 

Venezuela 2020/21: Their tactics at Copa America 2021 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

First of all, there are some key players coming towards the end of their international careers. Rincon is the oldest, whilst Rosales, Rondon, Feltscher and Chancellor are all in or at least coming towards the twilight of their Venezuela careers. In terms of players in the peak of their careers, there are a good number, but the likes of Mago, Osorio, Machis and Josef Martinez stand out. There are some exciting young prospects though, and potentially a golden era for Venezuelan football is dawning. Football manager fans will be all too aware of Wuilker Farinez and his vast potential, whilst Casseres jr, Cordova, Soteldo and Herrera are also individuals already playing at a high level and with an equally high ceiling to Farinez.

We can also see who key players are within the squad by looking purely at the minutes played, and unsurprisingly Yangel Herrera is at the top of this graph. Herrera is currently on loan at Granada in La Liga from Man City, and may well finally get his chance to impress manager Pep Guardiola in the first team next season. On top of Herrera being a key player we can also see that Rincon, Machis, Soteldo, Graterol, Ramirez and Murillo have played plenty over the past 12 months.

ATTACKING PHASE

Venezuela are a side that plays with considerably less possession than their opponents. Over their last four games they have averaged just 36% possession. This has been from a mixture of being outclassed, like in the 3-0 loss against Colombia and 1-0 loss to Brazil. However, in their 1-0 loss to Paraguay and 2-1 win over Chile they were equal to their opponents and yet had only 39% and 37% possession in those two fixtures, respectively. Whilst with far less of the ball than their opponents they play with a disciplined defensive shape, which we will detail in the next section, they also play with a very direct style of play when they do have the ball. We can see by looking at the radar graph that they have an incredibly direct style of play by seeing how high their percentile rank is for directness in possession and long pass tendency.

It’s interesting to see that they have a very low offensive duel win percentage on top of an already low amount of offensive duels per 90. And yet, despite their low level of possession and direct play, Venezuela are able to forge an average amount of shots per match and their xG is equally average. But what stands out the most is that they hit the target at a far greater rate.

Venezuela 2020/21: Their tactics at Copa America 2021 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

The data above certainly gives us an insight into how Venezuela play in possession, but it doesn’t give us any specifics. However, upon watching footage we can start to add flesh to the bones provided by the radar graphs. 

Firstly in terms of their directness, Venezuela aren’t necessarily a long ball team. They do have the ability to do this though, and Rondon is a true threat when operating as a target man. The ex-Premier League man is strong in the air and can hold the ball up well, even when outnumbered, whilst he is able to compete for any long balls to provide knock ons for the likes of Machis in behind.

Rondon’s presence, despite being a lone forward, provides enough of a concern to the opposition back line for them to focus on covering the front man at all times. This can lead to them purely focusing on him and providing the opportunity for third-man runs in behind, which we can see in the following image. 

Venezuela 2020/21: Their tactics at Copa America 2021 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Venezuela look to play forward quickly, and will look to play through passes in behind for midfield runners. All the while this allows Rondon to stay central where he can then look to latch onto any crosses.

These passes in behind, as well as the long balls forward to Rondon aren’t the only type of direct passes. Watch for Venezuela’s centre-backs to drive forward with the ball before launching long, accurate diagonal passes over the top of the opposition defence for their wingers to run onto. Again, just as with the through passes, this allows Rondon to stay central, ready for the final ball into the box. Venezuela’s centre-backs will generally play these passes rather than any of their central-midfielders, and they have the range and accuracy to play them. 

Venezuela 2020/21: Their tactics at Copa America 2021 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

And it is with Rondon staying central, lingering in and around the six-yard box, where Venezuela can be so dangerous. Unsurprisingly, Rondon is very strong aerially in the box as he is in hold up play or just in deeper areas in general. If the quick break is on, Venezuela will then hit that whipped, low cross. However, otherwise they will tend to look to hold their crosses up. Rondon will look to isolate himself in space against one defender, where he can beat them aerially in that 1v1 battle. In the next image we can see how he peels away from the centre-backs and creates an aerial mismatch against the opposition full-back. Because of this mismatch he can easily win the aerial duel and head home from close distance.

Venezuela 2020/21: Their tactics at Copa America 2021 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Teams will need to be wary of allowing Rondon to find space close to goal when the ball is out wide. Even if he isn’t able to finish, he will cause enough of an issue whereby the ball may well fall loose around the six-yard box and Venezuela’s supporting attacking players will be ready for this.

DEFENSIVE PHASE

With Venezuela spending more time than their opponent without the ball on average they naturally have to show a great deal of patience and discipline in the defensive phase. 

Generally speaking, the more possession dominant sides competing in the Copa America are more than happy to take large swathes of the ball and are patient in possession. As such, those teams playing with less possession will spend particularly long periods of time without the ball.

A glimpse at their defensive radar graph shows this. Firstly we can see they rank high for their PPDA, showing they don’t tend to press the ball with any great intensity. As a result it isn’t a surprise to see them rank low for recoveries in the final third or recoveries per match. 

There are some concerns though. With a side that presses so little, you would expect a higher defensive dual win rate than a side that press high. With a team that presses high they are going to be engaging in a higher amount of defensive duels and forcing these opportunities at a greater rate than a side that sits off. This may make it more difficult to win a greater percentage of defensive duels. And yet, with Venezuela, they have a relatively high amount of defensive duels, but an incredibly low win percentage. Of similar concern is their very low aerial duel win percentage. The final metric that most definitely raises an eyebrow is shots against per match, where Venezuela rank very high. When playing with less possession, a team is naturally going to concede more shots than those who have more of the ball, but for it to rank as high as it does tells us that their defence is far from water-tight.

Venezuela 2020/21: Their tactics at Copa America 2021 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Out of possession you’re going to see them sit in a compact 4-1-4-1 shape where the pivot bridges the gap between the midfield and defensive lines. Rondon will sit close to the midfield five, protecting the centre of the pitch. As the ball is played wide, their midfield five will shift across with Rondon doing likewise to prevent the opposition from being able to switch play easily.

Venezuela 2020/21: Their tactics at Copa America 2021 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Whilst we know they don’t press with any intensity, they will look to cut off areas of the pitch and dictate where the opposition play. Initially they will start relatively wide as a midfield five, however, Rondon will look to curve his press to force the opposition to play forward and to show them to one side of the pitch. As this occurs, the far side central-midfielder and far side winger will tuck back inside. We can see this pattern in the following image.

Venezuela 2020/21: Their tactics at Copa America 2021 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

TRANSITIONS

As for transitions, Venezuela don’t do anything vastly specific for defensive transition, other than to have the team drop into that 4-1-4-1 as quickly as possible, get players behind the ball, and protect the centre of the pitch.

In attacking transition, Venezuela are even more direct than when they have the chance to build from the back.

Firstly, they look to stretch the pitch horizontally as quickly as possible, and this allows them to find an easy pass out wide. From here, Venezuela’s centre-backs or full-backs will look to drive forward, attacking the open space with the aim to get into a position where they can play a through pass from.

Venezuela 2020/21: Their tactics at Copa America 2021 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

On instant turnover, their two number eights will look to find space in between the lines to allow them to immediately play forward and past the press, whilst Rondon will also present an option. We can see this in the next image as a long ball forward from Brazil is brought under control by Venezuela’s centre-backs. The full-backs immediately stretch the pitch horizontally, creating space for a line-breaking pass to any of the three options highlighted.

Venezuela 2020/21: Their tactics at Copa America 2021 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

FORWARDS

Over the next three sections we are able to take a look at how Venezuela’s forwards, midfielders and defenders rank on a range of different metrics. 

Here we look at their forwards. Eric Ramirez ranks high for touches in the box per 90 and shots per 90 as well as for goal contribution percentage and xGoal contribution, however, he has featured minimally in the national team so this is a small sample size. Rondon ranks well in both though, as does Aristeguieta. Savarino is the last forward that ranks well for touches in the box per 90 as well as shots per 90, however, his goal contribution and xGoal contribution is relatively disappointing.

Otero, interestingly, ranks well for shots per 90 but very low for touches in the box per 90. Similarly Juanpi Anor is underperforming against his xGoal contribution, suggesting he has been unlucky not to contribute more. 

Venezuela 2020/21: Their tactics at Copa America 2021 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

What we can ascertain from these graphs though is that Venezuela are right to be starting Rondon. The front man has performed well and we can see from these graphs that he is a very well-rounded striker with the ability to play by himself as he offers so much.

MIDFIELDERS

With the midfielders we can see that there is a far smaller group of players that Venezuela have to pick from then with their forwards. Interestingly, we can see how their three most used central-midfielders, Yangel Herrera, Casseres jr, and Rincon, are their least progressive ball players. That could be seen as somewhat of an issue, but we know already that Venezuela’s centre-backs play a great deal of their forward passes, so potentially this skews the data somewhat. Nevertheless, we can see that Rivas and Manziano are strong ball progressors.

Venezuela 2020/21: Their tactics at Copa America 2021 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Aside from ball progression we can also see that Contreras and Herrera are respectable goal contributors and essentially perform along with expectations for goal contributions.

Martinez, Moreno and Rincon all rank low for goal contributions along with xGoal contributions too. 

The midfield is perhaps Venezuela’s least eye-catching department when we look at their data, but with Rincon and Herrera they have two very experienced players plying their trade in Europe, albeit with both at different stages of their career.

DEFENDERS

With defenders we can examine their basic defensive metrics along with their ability as ball progressors. For successful defensive actions per 90 and padj. interceptions we can see that Fuentes, Osorio, Conde and Mago are all strong performers. And yet Feltscher and Gonzalez are the stand out performers when it comes to ball progression, with both being strong ball progressors as passers and dribblers.

Venezuela 2020/21: Their tactics at Copa America 2021 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Feltscher is the most well rounded of these players when it comes to all four metrics though. Whilst he ranks well for ball progression and admittedly isn’t a stand out on the defensive graph, he is nevertheless a respectable performer in both of these categories.

It’s interesting to see that Angel, who is likely to be a locked-in starter for the tournament, really only ranks well in progressive passes, with him performing considerably lower in progressive runs, and disappointingly in the defensive metrics too. Likewise can be said of Chancellor, who is undoubtedly Venezuela’s weakest ball progressor.

BEST PERFORMER

Venezuela 2020/21: Their tactics at Copa America 2021 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Yangel Herrera, as mentioned earlier in this piece, is a 23-year-old central-midfielder on loan at Granada from Manchester City. If he isn’t able to get that squad role with the Premier League champions, there will undoubtedly be a host of clubs across Europe looking to secure his signature this summer, whether that’s on a lean deal or as a permanent transfer. 

He stands at 1.84m tall and has a strong but lean build. His energy and athleticism is key for Venezuela, and we can see by looking at the defensive actions section of his graph that he is involved in a large number of aerial duels per 90 and defensive duels per 90. Herrera wins a good amount of his aerial duels, he wins a below league median amount of defensive duels. On top of this he commits a vast amount of fouls per 90, and at the same time makes a high amount of interceptions. Whilst Herrera has a good forward pass ratio, we can see from looking at his passing and progression section of the chart, that he makes very few passes per 90 and his pass accuracy is also concerningly low. 

When we look at his attacking and creativity we can note that again with his passing he is unsurprisingly disappointing when it comes to smart passes, through pass and pass to the penalty area per 90. However, we can also see how his energy and forward intentions make up for this with him taking a large number of touches in the box per 90 on top of him taking a decent amount of shots, along with a subsequently high xG per 90.

Herrera is a key performer for Venezuela already and yet he is still relatively in the early days of his career. He is one to watch in this tournament and will be a player Venezuela can build around for future tournaments.

PREDICTIONS FOR THE TOURNAMENT

Venezuela are still some way away from being serious contenders for the Copa America. Despite this, they are growing as a footballing nation and should progress from the group stages of this year’s competition. Anything more than this though, would undoubtedly be seen as a very good achievement.