Inverting full-backs and rotations: What to expect from André Jardine’s Club América in 2023/24 – tactical analysis
Club América are the most successful team in the history of Mexican football. The iconic side have a record-setting 13 titles to their name, with Club Deportivo Guadalajara following just behind on 12 championship wins.
However, the famous club have not won any silverware since the 2018/19 Clausura — a baron spell of four straight seasons in which they’ve remained one of Mexico’s strongest teams but have failed to convert that strength into trophies.
This season, they enter the Apertura campaign as the country’s biggest spenders, with both of the two biggest signings — 24-year-old right-back Kevin Álvarez, signed from Pachuca, and 26-year-old centre-forward Julián Quiñones, signed from Atlas — moving to Estadio Azteca.
On top of that, 43-year-old André Jardine, who won the 2019 Toulon Tournament and 2020 Olympics while managing his native Brazil at youth level, has taken charge of the Mexico City-based club for the new campaign.
With all of that said, Águilas lost their first game of this season 2-1 at home to FC Juárez — a side that they could and should realistically be beating. So, it hasn’t been a perfect start to life in charge of the Mexican giants for the promising Brazilian coach.
In this tactical analysis, we’ll take a look at Club América as we enter the 2023 Apertura. We’ll provide analysis of their 2022/23 campaign before looking at Jardine with Club América’s domestic rivals Atlético de San Luis from the same period and what can be expected from the coach in terms of strategy and tactics before moving on to looking at the squad itself and how the expensive new signings will fit in at Estadio Azteca.
Club América 2022/23
Fernando Ortiz replaced former Real Madrid manager — and current director of the LaLiga and UEFA Champions League royalty’s Valdebebas training ground — Santiago Solari in March 2022, remaining in charge of Águilas for the 2022/23 season.
Ortiz had a good record at Estadio Azteca but, as referenced at the beginning of this article, ultimately failed to deliver any silverware for the club.
In terms of how Club América approached the season under Ortiz, then, on the surface level, it’s more or less what you’d expect from a massive team in their domestic game. Club América dominated the possession among LigaMX clubs and pressed with a fairly high level of intensity. However, there were more aggressive teams than them in LigaMX, and they were often a bit passive until the opponent reached the middle of the pitch — so, not super intense pressing.
Out of possession, they left something to be desired — and their defensive record for the campaign suggests as much — but Club América stood out massively in possession. They were highly successful at progressing the ball into the danger zone, making the most passes into the final third of any team in LigaMX (53.7 per 90) and taking the most touches inside the penalty box among their domestic rivals (18.34 per 90).
Within their 4-4-2 / 4-2-3-1 structure, Álvaro Fidalgo (LDM) and Richard Sánchez (RDM) acted as key ball progressors. Figure 1 highlights their respective progressive pass maps for 2022/23 and shows the types of areas they typically pass to and from.
The two holding midfielders often dropped deep and wide to get on the ball from where they could find some time and space to get their heads up and pick out a decent progressive pass from the movement ahead of them.
Fidalgo, in particular, was excellent at finding space and becoming an option behind the opposition’s first line of pressure, making him a precious asset for his teammates in the backline. No Águilas player was more heavily involved in the team’s possession play than Fidalgo was last season due to this ability.
The Mexico City club were often forced out into wider areas during build-up, hence the midfielders’ frequent slightly wider positioning as indicated above; this also resulted in Club América’s full-backs, Luis Fuentes (LB) and Miguel Layún (RB), frequently being involved in the ball progression — receiving deep and wide before either picking out a pass into the final third or carrying the ball forward with a progressive run.
The full-backs were critical, creative outlets for Águilas last season, especially Layún, who ended the league campaign with six assists to his name.
The two players’ respective shot assist maps are shown in figure 2, further highlighting their creative contribution to Ortiz’s side last term. Layún often crossed from slightly deeper positions, whereas Fuentes generally carried the ball high before drilling the ball in. Both men generated a nice expected assist tally from their wide positions.
In terms of creativity, we can’t discuss Club América last season without mentioning Diego Valdés. The attacking midfielder ended the league season with a total of 10 assists, showcasing his value to the Mexican giants.
Often playing as a ‘number 10′ if in a 4-2-3-1 or a second-striker in a 4-4-2, Valdés loved to drop deep into space and receive with his back to goal before turning and sending a through pass into the path of a runner ahead of him. We see a textbook example of Valdés’ game last season in figure 3 above.
In this case, the 29-year-old found some space, duly dropped to occupy that space and played a very nicely-weighted ball over the top for Henry Martín — Club América’s leading goalscorer last season — to receive and tuck away calmly at the near post.
Figure 4 shows Valdés’ shot assist map for the season, further indicating the central areas in which he most liked to operate and create from. He created a good connection with Martín up front, with the two players combining very well on many occasions, including instances of them swapping roles and Martín turning creator, dropping to generate space for Valdés to charge into. This made the pair difficult for opposition defences to control.
As for their defensive approach, a typical example of Club América’s mid-block can be seen in figure 5.
Here, we see their two centre-forwards initially focusing on blocking the passing lanes into the opposition’s midfield (in this case, the opponent is, actually, Jardine’s Atlético de San Luis from a 2022/23 LigaMX clash).
As the opponent tries to go around the centre-forward duo defending diligently with their respective cover shadows — playing the ball out to the left centre-back and then into the left central midfielder’s feet as he moves out into a slightly wider position to get involved — Club América’s right central midfielder aggressively approaches, forcing the opposition’s midfield receiver to play the ball backwards.
Club América’s central midfielders were the most-heavily involved players for them out of possession last season, and this provides an example of why that was the case. They were constantly on alert to attempts by the opposition to play into the central zone, and they pressed aggressively in this part of the pitch to ensure the opposition couldn’t play through this valuable zone.
After figure 5, the opposition try to play the ball in behind the Águilas midfielder, who’s aggressively stepped out, and this is met with more aggression, as the opposition’s dropping forward is followed by Club América’s right centre-back. Again, this is typical of Club América’s defensive strategy under Ortiz last season. The central players had to be active and aggressive in engaging opponents in defensive duels, and they had to be reliable in such situations to ensure their team’s safety.
Effectively judging time and space, along with knowing when and how to press or not, were crucial skills that Águilas’ midfielders and centre-backs needed to possess for their approach to be successful. It often was, but Club América could’ve defended better at times also. Sometimes, what seemed like lapses in concentration set in and cost them while they also failed to press with the required intensity at times.
So, we’ve said plenty about the squad that new boss André Jardine has walked into, but how about the new manager that the squad has received? Despite already having a coaching career spanning two decades under his belt, Jardine is somewhat tough to predict, mainly due to his adaptability depending on circumstances.
The 43-year-old has spent the vast majority of his coaching career managing youth teams, and while we had a chance to witness him in this very league last season with Atlético de San Luis, they had the fifth-lowest valued squad in the league and the job the coach had to do there is hardly comparable to the job he’ll have to do now with the big boys.
Adaptability is undoubtedly a common theme when researching Jardine, whether that’s his adaptability in terms of strategy and tactics as a coach or whether it’s the adaptability he requires from his players. He likes the team to be ready to alter their approach depending on the situation that occurs in-game.
While there are some plans that will undoubtedly be set quite solidly, you’d be hesitant to say anything is set in stone with Jardine. Of course, there’ll be certain things he wants his team to do, but at the same time, he always acknowledges the need to react to the opponent and the unique challenges they present.
This can be anticipated, for sure, but not everything that happens in a 90-minute match is something you can prepare for, and he makes his players well aware of this, seemingly intending to empower their own decision-making more than rely on his plans and instructions.
Definitely, this season, you’ll see a Club América side that will be open to adapting depending on situations, with good decision-makers thriving and players who rely more on very clear instructions, perhaps taking some time to find their feet.
While when managing Brazil at youth level, the coach’s teams often displayed an intense defensive approach and free-flowing possession-dominant football, his Atlético de San Luis team last season finished the campaign with the least possession (44.8%), fewest shots (8.9 per 90), fewest passes (302.3 per 90) and highest PPDA (13.36) in LigaMX.
Still, they achieved a 12th-place finish which certainly isn’t massively exceeding their ability but is not an underperformance for them either.
Jardine primarily lined his side up in a 4-2-3-1 shape last season, with 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 also featuring fairly commonly. In-possession, an essential aspect of all the 43-year-old’s teams is frequent positional rotations and fast-paced short passing to progress through the opposition’s press.
Figure 6 shows an example of Atlético de San Luis’ in-possession shape from a LigaMX game. A holding midfielder would drop between the centre-backs while the full-backs advanced. However, while it was common to see Atlético de San Luis’ right-back advance on the outside, providing the width on that side of the pitch, the left-back frequently inverted, forming a new double-pivot.
This movement still leaves two in midfield but 1. Puts players in positions where their abilities are utilised better and 2. Can help players to lose markers and create space to progress upfield.
As play moves on into the top-right corner above, we see how the centre-forward drops to form a central diamond which is critical to Jardine’s side’s progression here. The centre-forward is able to receive and lay the ball off to the teammate on his right — the inverted left-back.
The pass is played a bit too hard, forcing the left-back to play it back yet again; however, the team recovers well, ending up playing it back to the left-back in a bit more space now out wide again, where he can play the ball down the line for a runner to chase.
This is an example of the type of intricate, quick passing plays that Jardine likes his team to be familiar with. The movement from the striker to drop and create a central diamond is typical of the coach as well, and he loves the kinds of combinations we’ve observed here.
Defensively, Jardine has typically advocated for aggressiveness and intensity over time but, as mentioned above, his Atlético de San Luis team last season was the opposite, so he’s adaptable depending on the strength of the squad and the players available to him.
Figure 7 shows an example of Atlético de San Luis’ defence from that same game versus his new team Club América from last season, as previously mentioned. While initially, Jardine’s side looks to be defending similarly to how América defended in the previous example, with the two forwards aiming to close off the central progression, we see a big difference once their line is broken.
Firstly, in the top-left corner, look how the midfielder just behind the receiver reacts to the player receiving the ball. Where Club América’s midfielder pressed aggressively, this midfielder starts dropping off, focusing on closing up the space behind him and between the lines for the incoming Club América attack.
In the top-right and bottom-left corners, we see how Atlético de San Luis’ midfielder just adjusts his positioning to keep closing off the central passes but doesn’t aggressively press the ball carrier. He’s aiming to force them away from the centre by their own choice rather than fight them in this area where they’re very vulnerable if they lose the fight.
As the ball is ultimately played out wide in the bottom-right corner, we now see Atlético de San Luis’ right-back pressing more aggressively, and this is where they finally decide actually to engage the attacking side in the defensive duel — once the ball is away from the centre and out wide where space is less valuable than in the centre of the pitch.
While Club América’s central midfielders were more involved in defensive engagements than any other players for them last season, the same was true of Atlético de San Luis’ full-backs. This was a result of the two teams’ differing defensive styles. While Club América aimed to engage in central areas and win the ball back as quickly as possible, Atlético de San Luis were more cautious and would only enter a defensive engagement when they were happy the risks of losing it were lower.
This likely says more about the gulf in quality between these two teams than anything else, and I wouldn’t at all suggest Jardine will approach managing Club América the same as how he approached managing Atlético de San Luis. Still, we’ve got further evidence of the adaptability depending on circumstance that this relatively young coach constantly showcases.
Jardine at Club América in 2023/24
So, now we’ve got an idea of the team and the coach; let’s put them together and see how things may transpire while also getting an idea of how the new big-money signings may fit in.
Starting with Kevin Álvarez, no right-back generated more expected assists than the former Pachuca man did in 2022/23. In the attacking and creative departments, there are very few holes in the 178cm/5’10” right-back’s game, as the pizza chart in figure 8 indicates.
Furthermore, we mentioned that last season, Jardine’s full-backs were his most active players out of possession and if that is to be the case with Club América too, then he’s got the right man in Álvarez, as the 24-year-old is hugely reliable in defensive duels, as his 94th percentile rank in defensive duels success % indicates.
We know that Miguel Layún was a key creator for Águilas last season, bombing forward from right-back, and we know that Atlético de San Luis’ right-back tended to provide the width for Jardine last season, which we mentioned in the previous section.
Wing play was a key feature of Jardine’s approach last term in LigaMX, and the right-back played a vital role in this as a creative force, as did off-the-ball movement from the winger / central midfielder nearest to him to create more space for the full-back to use.
With the role of the full-backs having been so crucial for both Jardine and Club América last season, it definitely makes sense that this will continue to be the case in 2023/24 with the 43-year-old in charge of the Mexico City club.
Álvarez shone as a creative asset on the right wing last season, providing plenty of deep crosses — to an even greater extent than Layún did. His ability to whip the ball in will be an advantageous asset for Águilas on the right wing and could end up being a valuable weapon for Club América as they attempt to end their trophy drought this term.
Where does this leave Miguel Layún, though? Well, though he’s primarily a right-back, the 35-year-old has plenty of experience at left-back too and in their first game of the 2023/24 season, the former Serie A, LaLiga and EPL full-back — to name a few of his past leagues — was deployed on the left, in the inverted full-back role that we discussed earlier which Jardine used with Atlético de San Luis last season.
On the left, we have Layún’s touch map from Club América’s first league game this season — a 2-1 loss to Juárez — and on the right, we have the player’s touch map from a 3-1 loss to Guadalajara late last season.
Note how wide he stayed on the right; he properly provided the width and got up and down the touchline, whereas this season, in the clash with Juárez, he came much more central and didn’t venture as much into the final third at all.
This could save some of the 35-year-old’s energy while still allowing the team to capitalise on his experience and technical ability both with and without the ball, so perhaps that’s the main logic behind Jardine’s decision. In any event, it’s an exciting change and one that will be curious to keep an eye on over the next few games.
Jardine still has a competent option in Luis Fuentes, who would be more of a typical full-back, so if the coach wants an inverting full-back, we may see Layún remain on that side this season, especially with Álvarez now available on the left.
Up front, Quiñones has been signed, and we can see some of his standout areas from LigaMX last season in the pizza chart above. Immediately, we see the 180cm/5’11” attacker’s dribbling as a significant plus to his game, along with his dangerous passes, which rank in the 84th percentile among LigaMX centre-forwards for 2022/23.
Quiñones’ off-the-ball movement was one of his greatest offensive weapons in 2022/23. He’s a dangerous runner who can provide a threat in behind the backline via his pace or just ghosting off a defender’s shoulder, as we see in figure 12. This provides an excellent outlet for the creator in midfield to keep an eye out for and take advantage of when the time is right.
Once his new teammates get used to him and his movement, Quiñones will be another dangerous weapon for Águilas and one that new right-back Álvarez could well make good use of with his crossing from deep on the right wing.
In this case above, as play moves on, the attacker meets the ball in the air and nods it home past the goalkeeper, showcasing the danger of his intelligent movement and reliability in the air on top of that.
So, where might Quiñones fit into the Club América attack that did so well last season?
Earlier, we mentioned Henry Martín and Diego Valdés as two of Águilas’ greatest attacking threats in 2022/23 — either as a centre-forward duo or with Valdés playing just behind Martín as a ’10’ in the 4-2-3-1. I wouldn’t suggest breaking up this partnership that has worked so well for the Mexico City giants, and Quiñones’ addition to the team won’t necessarily require that.
Figure 14 shows Martín’s heatmap from last season next to Quiñones’s heat map for the same period. Martín is another striker with excellent off-the-ball movement who’s happy to come deep, as mentioned earlier, allowing other attackers like Valdés to then run in behind.
Quiñones will love playing on the left next to Martín, either in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, as the striker’s movement will allow the new signing to dart in behind and become a significant threat behind the opposition’s backline time after time. As Martín drops, defenders will either follow and create space for someone like Quiñones to exploit or allow Martín to receive and continue the attack centrally.
Furthermore, the link-up play between Quiñones, Valdés and Martín via the quick short passing combinations and positional rotations that Jardine has shown throughout his coaching career thus far is something that can have Águilas fans salivating as we head into the new season.
In conclusion, while Jardine’s start to life at Club América hasn’t been as smooth as he’d have liked, it’s clear that there’s plenty for Águilas fans to be excited about, provided the new coach gets their trust and confidence, as well as that of the players.
Can Club América finally achieve glory once again this season with Jardine at the helm? That’s tough to say, especially with the format LigaMX takes. However, with the new signings joining an already impressive team, there’s potential for a lot of exciting football to come out of Estadio Azteca in 2023/24.