With Boca Juniors’ new manager and the hype the Copa Libertadores final attracted, it seems fitting to scout some of Boca’s youth players coming through and see if any them have what it takes to make the esteemed step to Europe. Even though the final between Boca and historical rivals River Plate received immense negative coverage, it is important to know which young players are performing well in Argentina. This player analysis will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Almendra’s game using statistics.
Agustin Almendra has just broken into the Boca first team with only 12 appearances to his name. He comes from the Boca academy, which boasts the development of recent players like Carlos Tevez, Fernando Gago, Ever Banega and Nicolas Gaitan. In terms of positioning, Almendra plays at either 6 or 8 and is a very dynamic player. He makes significant contributions in both defensive and build-up phases.
Several big European clubs including Valencia, Barcelona, Manchester City and Napoli have cast interest his way. It isn’t difficult to see why. He is currently valued at ₤4.5m by transfermarkt.com but the club has stated in the past they won’t let Almendra leave for less than ₤13.4m. His release clause stands at approximately ₤18m.
The first key aspect of Almendra’s game that stands out to is his press resistance. He has an innate ability to claw his way out of tricky situations using close ball control, perception and raw upper body strength. Almendra is one of those players who seems to have glue on his boots. At times, it seems like the ball just doesn’t seem to slip away when he is beating opposition players in 1v1 and 2v1 situations.
His perception when he is in 1v1 situations is very good, and this is reflected in his body orientation. Often you will see him use his hips and upper body to orientate a defender one way by dropping the shoulder and then switching direction. This then leads to advantageous dynamics like switching the angle of play to gain final third entries.
In the image shown above, Almendra looks like he is going to pass into the half space. He perceives the space behind his marker and performs a 1v1 move to beat the press. Almendra demonstrates physical attributes scouts purr over when analysing new talent: balance and agility.
In this example, Boca have created an overload and drawn five defenders into the half space and wing area. The opposition have essentially shut the triangulation down with the Boca players engaged. Was the Cruyff turn move the correct decision for Almendra to make? This is also a good opportunity to switch the play. This will be discussed later on in the article.
Here you can see Almendra beating two defenders with sheer upper body strength. This visual is in an attacking transition phase and Almendra has just dispossessed his opponnent. He then effectively breaks the middle line which is disorganised due to transition, and initiates a final third entry.
Running with the ball
In terms of possession, Almendra’s ability to run with the ball, especially in transition, is very good. He exhibits good perception before and after dispossessions to see the space and dribble into it. Almendra is very powerful in this facet of his game. He can change the state of a game with his explosiveness and dogged determination when running with the ball.
Almendra keeps the ball a few yards in front of him when running at pace and can easily beat 1v1 from side pressure. He takes a touch every three to five yards with just enough finesse to keep the ball under control. This is reflected in the raw statistics, with Almendra performing the most dribbles in the Boca squad with 1.7 successful dribbles per 90 minutes.
Like with all good number sixes, strong tackling technique is important. Almendra reads 1v1 defensive situations well, allowing him to interpret the correct time to apply side pressure. His slide tackles are usually well-timed. Amongst the Boca squad, Almendra ranks second for tackles per 90 minutes alongside Wilmar Barrios with 4.1. He is quickly becoming a staple part of the Boca first team.
One assumes that a number six who likes to tackle consistently fouls. Even though Almendra registers a lot of tackles, they are often so clean and well-timed, no foul is committed.
So what makes his tackling and dispossessions so well-timed? A pressing trigger that really resonates with Almendra is exploiting players’ blindside. He can see when a player is not scanning and will aggressively press said player. He knows when to make a sliding or poke tackle to dispossess cleanly, regain possession and begin transitions.
Almendra’s decision making
Almendra’s decision making in terms of pressing is quite good. His mental strength and ability to back himself puts him in good stead here. But when it comes to ball possession, Almedra can definitely add some different dimensions to his game. As stated before, he has demonstrated a good running with the ball technique coming out of the defensive third within transition.
A common feature of his game consists of breaking the first line then looking for diagonal options beyond the second and third line. When he performs these lofted passes, there is often vast space between the first and second line. This could be a tactical instruction from his manager. If Almendra wants to develop, he really needs to look for opportunities to run with the ball to try and create overloads in the half spaces.
Could Almendra look to engage two or three defenders immediately after dispossession and then switch play? In the above example, he looks to break the line quickly which might seem like the right decision. Ultimately it wasn’t though, because it didn’t lead to a goalscoring opportunity.
His execution was superb so this wasn’t the problem. The problem was his decision-making. If Almendra had looked to create an overload and then maybe even use his terrific ability to change the angle of play, could a more dangerous scenario be crafted? Audiences love a good lofted diagonal switch of play from deep, but good defences can quickly reorganise into a compact low block.
You can see Almendra going for the long diagonal when he could look to create a combination in the right half space and use his 1v1 strength. If he does transfer to a club like Manchester City, Pep Guardiola would demand this play. Guardiola loves triangulation play, with a lot of his training involving rondos and small-sided games. In the above example, Almedra has a great opportunity to create triangulation play and drag three midfielders out of position.
Almendra shows infinite potential. He boasts a number of qualities that would suit English football such as strength and 1v1 ability. At just 18 years old, Almendra has only just broken into the Boca first team. Is this the optimal time for him to make the big move to Europe?
More and more big clubs in South America are keeping their promising talents a little longer. With Boca keeping Cristian Pavon longer than expected, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Almendra hang around. This seems the best option for him and for Boca. The club could work on decision-making and increase his valuation.
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