Juan Sforza: Newell’s Old Boys young deep-lying playmaker – scout report
With Enzo Fernández, Julián Álvarez, and Thiago Almada all making appearances during this international break, Argentina’s future generation is already becoming a reality. In 2022, there has been a significant number of young players making the move from Argentina to Europe. From UEFA Champions League clubs such as Celtic and Man City to smaller clubs such as K.R.C. Genk, European sides have been going to Argentina for the next generation of stars.
Juan Sforza is one of the newest players to attract international attention. The 20-year-old midfielder has cemented himself in Newell’s Old Boys starting eleven, and with consistent performances, has become one of the most promising midfielders in the South American country. Similar to Benfica’s Enzo Fernández, Sforza is a technical midfielder capable of dictating possession and providing defensive support.
In this scout report, we will conduct a statistical and tactical analysis to provide an in-depth look into Juan Sforza’s playing style. Considering Newell’s Old Boys’ tactics, this analysis aims to explore the 20-year-old’s characteristics and strengths.
Before dissecting individual aspects of the Argentinian’s profile, we can contextualise his role and tendencies through data. This season, at the time of writing, the left-footed midfielder has featured in 27 matches, amounting to a total of 1,999 minutes. While Newell’s Old Boys have been fairly inconsistent, currently sitting in 10th place, Juan has been extremely regular with his performances.
The deep-lying midfielder features in a double pivot, where he and his partner have distinct roles and characteristics. In such an important position, the 20-year-old is tasked with playing a key role in and out of possession. This has not been a problem for Sforza as the young midfielder possesses an extremely well-rounded statistical profile. As he operates much deeper, he excels in everything except actions in the final third.
Defensively, despite not having a significant physical stature, he is able to effectively protect the backline and provide cover in a high press. Overall, he averages 10.81 successful defensive actions per 90. More specifically, however, we are able to see where these come from. Most impressively, Sforza has an incredible ability to read and anticipate passes with 5.31 interceptions per 90. Additionally, he averages 7.34 defensive duels per 90, winning an impressive 65.64% of them. Finally, the 20-year-old wins 56.04% of his 4.1 aerial duels per 90, a relatively high figure.
In possession, Juan Sforza is a pass-first midfielder. Similar to the likes of Thiago and Xabi Alonso, Sforza plays a key role in his side’s construction and ball progression. Despite Newell’s only averaging 46.4% possession, the 20-year-old averages 41.42 passes per 90 at an 83.26% completion rate. These are balanced in verticality, with 15.26 of them being forward and 15.67 being lateral. On the other hand, Juan rarely resorts to carries or dribbles. The Argentinian only averages 0.59 dribbles per 90 and 0.23 progressive runs per 90.
After a general overview of Juan Sforza’s profile, we are now able to have a more detailed look at where and how the 20-year-old excels. As we’ve seen, the Rosario-born midfielder provides a significant contribution in possession through his passing. His movement, however, is what enables and enhances this involvement. Additionally, out of possession, his relentless movement is the biggest factor behind his defensive effectiveness.
His heatmap below provides a general insight into his positioning on the pitch. In 2022, Newell’s Old Boys have constantly rotated their formation, especially due to managerial changes. In those systems, he has featured either as part of a double pivot or as a central midfielder in a trio. Regardless, Sforza is able to be everywhere in the midfield. Naturally, there is a slight inclination to the left side as he is left-footed.
By looking at NOB’s passing networks, Sforza’s importance is further highlighted. As seen below in a match against Huracán, the 20-year-old is essentially the link that connects the defence to the attack. He is able to combine with all of his teammates and become the reference in possession.
In possession, the young midfielder frequently drops in between the centre-backs to form a back three and initiate possession. With a well-rounded passing profile, as we will see in the next section, Sforza is able to dictate possession and essentially become the ‘quarter-back’ of his team.
There are other times, however, when Juan finds gaps in between the defensive organisation to receive the ball. Especially in the build-up, he will position himself behind the first line of pressure and create passing lanes to receive the ball before progressing it further.
Given NOB are far from a possession-based side, Sforza’s 41.42 passes per 90 are very impressive. However, at a first glance, his completion rate may not be as exciting. At 83.26%, he does not have a very high success rate. This is largely due to his passing style rather than his passing ability.
Juan has as many forward passes as he does lateral ones. He is constantly seeking to break lines and progress forward, and these types of passes normally have lower success rates. His pass map further explores this. There is an extremely high volume of passes in the middle third, and these are balanced between lateral passes aiming to retain possession and forward passes looking to break lines.
Against Rosario Central, Juan completed 54 of his 61 attempted passes. This high-volume performance provides a clear representation of his passing profile. These passes are concentrated at the beginning of the middle third and vary in both distance and direction. There are a few significant examples of Juan’s successful attempts to progress the ball forward.
This season, Sforza averages a significant 7.07 progressive passes per 90. Similarly, his average of 8.42 passes to the final third per 90 is one of the best in the league. As a deep-lying playmaker, he is able to help his team in effectively progress from the middle to the final third. In the example below, he is able to play the wide player into space in the final third.
Another weapon Sforza regularly resorts to is long passes. His average of 6.39 long passes per 90 is one of the highest among midfielders. More impressively, however, is his completion rate. At 60.56%, Juan completes a fairly high amount of these difficult passes. In the image below, he plays a long pass to his right-back as he pushes up into the final third. These long passes from the beginning of the middle third are his trademark characteristic.
Defensively, Juan Sforza has an effective presence in all stages. Whether by covering significant ground in a high press system or effectively composing a mid to low block, Sforza has a very successful defensive involvement. At 180cm and 71kg, he does not have an outstanding physical stature. Nonetheless, he is able to contribute out of possession through other means.
As noted, he averages 5.31 interceptions per 90 this season. When possession-adjusted, this figure rises to 7.33. Additionally, though he does not engage with volume (7.34 defensive duels per 90), he is very effective when he does (65.64% success rate). Sforza’s defensive profile is then based on intelligent anticipation and engagement, not on volume or physicality. His 4.1 aerial duels per 90 are also impressive given he is not the tallest.
It is important to contextualise these actions by examining his defensive territory. The map below illustrates his actions throughout the pitch and highlights his average area of engagement. It is interesting how it bleeds well into the opposition half.
Despite operating as a deep-lying midfielder, he has an incredible contribution to NOB’s high press. In the map below, through the pink dots, we are able to see how often he is able to recover the ball through counter-pressing. These are spread out all over the opposition half and amount to a total of 78 recoveries, highlighting his relentless movement and presence. Additionally, the green dots illustrate his 11 dangerous recoveries, which have led to a shot within 20 seconds.
In the instance below, his aggressive movement is further highlighted. As Banfield try to build out of the back, Sforza advances all the way into the opposition’s third to apply pressure. He is especially impressive in these scenarios due to his ability to cover significant amounts of space.
In another example, we are able to see how he provides cover to his teammates. As Colón break out of NOB’s attempt to box them in, Juan immediately jumps to provide cover and keep them from advancing into the middle third.
Finally, against Huracán, we are able to see Sforza’s ability to anticipate passes. As the opposition’s centre-back attempts to find his teammate inside NOB’s mid-block, Sforza is able to read this pass and intercept it before the midfielder receives it.
In summary, the Argentinian is able to work around his lack of physical stature to provide defensive support in multiple ways. In a high-press, he is able to frequently win the ball and cover a large amount of space. In lower blocks, he is able to contribute through selective yet effective engagement.
Juan Sforza is one of the most exciting young midfielders in Argentina. The 20-year-old is starting to gain some traction after an extremely consistent 2022 season. As a technical midfielder with an impressive defensive presence, it will not be long before European clubs come knocking for him. With a market value of £2.52M, he may certainly be a cheaper alternative than some more popular South American wonderkids.