Cristian Pavon: Boca Juniors’ Europe-bound forward
The Boca Juniors talent program is chugging full steam ahead with their entire entourage of young talent ready to be plucked and shipped to Europe at every stop. It’s an unfortunate concept for a club like Boca having to sell such terrific players who have just graduated from the academy.
The next player in the series needs very little introduction and seems destined to move this transfer window. Cristian Pavon enjoyed a good World Cup campaign in Russia. This tactical analysis will break down some of Pavon’s best aspects.
It would have been an amazing experience for a player like Pavon who hasn’t played in Europe yet. He really does have an exemplary pedigree and important experiences under his belt despite being 22 and not playing in Europe. He’s experienced the heated Superclasico against River Plate multiple times. In addition to this, Pavon took part in the Copa Libertadores against the same fierce rivals. Arsenal are looking like the front-runners for his services. He’s previously been linked to clubs like Barcelona in the past.
Running with the ball
Pavon’s primary strength is his ability running with the ball. He loves taking on the opposition one-on-one with the ball at his feet. He completes 2.3 successful dribbles per 90 minutes at a 63% success rate. This is a strong success rate because of the volume of his attempted dribbles.
If we compare that stat with some of the other wide forwards from Arsenal, it is pretty much on par. Both Alex Iwobi and Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang post similar dribbling numbers. The Argentinian SuperLiga is ridden with fouls, so these numbers should work in Pavon’s favour if he lands a move to a competition like the Premier League.
Pavon’s technique running with the ball is very good. He uses the outside of his stronger right foot to keep the ball under control and then knocks the ball further with every touch when he has space. He also uses his perception to see the space, which gives him the information to determine when he needs to run with pace and then dribble in tight spaces.
In the situation above, Boca are in attacking transition and Pavon is utilising his running ability and pace to stretch the game. He has beaten his two opponents easily with his pace. Before beginning his run he also uses good body orientation and first touch to ease out of pressure. Pavon loves running at defenders. He possesses a terrific desire to commit a number of defenders before exercising another action at the correct moment.
This situation personifies Pavon’s play. The move begins with Pavon in a good position just beyond the second defensive line taking a good first touch. He actually uses his front foot to take the first touch. He then proceeds to run with the ball into space.
Pavon uses good decision making to take the defenders at an angle towards the penalty area. He commits the defenders at such an angle so they are orientated towards him and not the number nine. He releases the ball at the optimal time and makes a wall play pass. With that single segment, he has taken four defenders out of the picture and created a good opportunity to either hit the byline or take a shot.
Getting in between the lines in attacking transition
One of the primary skills for attacking midfielders or wide forwards is getting into positions to receive after your team has just won possession. Pavon has an implicit ability to ghost into pockets of space in transition and start a counter-attack.
In the example above, Boca have just won possession and are looking to ignite an attacking transition. Pavon was tracking the run of the River Plate player in the right half-space but uses impeccable decision making to halt his run. This allows him to stay in his space because he has anticipated the transition. He is situated between the lines with acres of space to run the ball into.
Pavon is cleverly situated between the lines again. This is also in attacking transition as he exploits the blindside of the second-line defenders and positions himself just off the half-space so the ball carrier can play a through ball for him to run onto. What he is engaging here is counter-dynamics.
The opposition is in possession and Boca’s players are pressing to manipulate the movement dynamics. Pavon positions himself in anticipation of a turnover. He exploits the opposition running angles and then uses a double movement to break away. Boca have invited possession, positioned the ball into the half-space and created space for Pavon to exploit beyond the second line.
Movement off the ball
Pavon has the ability to create space without the ball. He loves to move and drag defenders out of position. This is especially effective when the defenders are man-orientated in their pressing. His behaviour is similar to Liverpool’s Firmino in this respect. This behavior requires terrific perception.
Pavon intuitively asks himself questions: where is the opposition? Where are my teammates? Where is the space? Can I see the the sideline? Can the defender see me? Am I in his cover-shadow? Can my teammate see me making the run so he can drop into the space I am vacating? He is constantly taking pictures and creates dangerous dynamics without the ball.
You can see in this situation Boca have a throw-in. Pavon moves diagonally into the half space. You can see the run he wants his nine to make. What Pavon effectively does is manipulate the defensive shape to create space for his teammates.
Here you can see Pavon has used his perception to see the space. His run has triggered his number seven to release into said space. He is being tracked by a defender. In the next still, Pavon scans and sees that the defender has stopped tracking and is instead situating himself in the middle vertical zone. This gives Pavon enough information and he makes the decision to run at the defence. In the same phase, he decides to cross the ball to the far-side player which is easily cleared by the defenders. Could he have made a better decision?
This is simply amazing movement from Pavon. His teammate has the ball and is being engaged by three defenders. He interprets the space behind him and motions for a lob ball over the top. This movement is very intuitive and interesting as his teammate is under pressure, but instead of coming to the ball for support he moves very deceptively so as not to come short but still provide accessibility.
Pavon also sees that he has another teammate making a run which confuses one of the defenders. They create a three-man play. This gives Pavon the information he needs to make the move he makes. The triangulation play is actually being defended pretty well. Pavon looks to stretch the inner triangle.
In the next image, Pavon has successfully lured an opponent and given the ball carrier some time to make a good decision. He is creating depth as well. His teammate continues his run and brings the defender with him. Next, Pavon peels away from his marker to receive. He has now created the space for himself without the ball. The Boca players disguise their use of a three-man play and then lay it off to the fourth man which allows Pavon to make his own space.
Pressing in the final third
A skill that isn’t often prioritised by attacking players is pressing in the final third. It is something that managers Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp really rate in their attacking players.
In the situation above, Pavon makes a curved run to block the pass and keep the passing target in his cover shadow. He needs to make the tackle before the third target becomes available.
Pavon would be a fine addition to Arsenal. They have a number of wide creative players but with a few predicted departures, he would look to break into the first team pretty quickly. He boasts good sustainable creative stats over the seasons in Argentina.
Pavon’s expected assists have been decent for years. At 21 his xA per 90 minutes was 0.24. Lyon’s Nabil Fekir was running on 0.15 OpenxG assisted around the same time as Pavon’s numbers. This is a comparable metric to xA per 90. Eden Hazard had 0.22 OpenxG assisted in the English Premier League. You can definitely see the appeal of a player like Pavon when directly comparing xA metrics against higher profile players.
He could work on shot location and shot volume if he wants to develop as a player. Arsenal could really do with a threatening winger with the departure of Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez’s Arsenal contribution has never really been replaced at the club. It’s a simple question of could Pavon add more shot volume from better locations?
Unfortunately, there is no xGBuild Up data available. This is a terrific metric that interprets all the events leading to an opportunity. So deep-lying players who often assist the assist-maker miss out on the raw data of shot count and key passes can get an objective value.
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