As the Argentinian Superliga reaches its climax, long-term leaders Racing are closing in on their first league title since the 2014 Torneo de Transicion. Surprise package Defensa y Justicia have pushed them close but La Academia have maintained their relentless form throughout to see of their challenge. Top scorer Lisandro Lopez and the metronomic Marcelo Diaz have enjoyed plenty of plaudits but one of the most consistent performers has been young academy prospect Matias Zaracho.

Zaracho, who recently turned 21, was born and raised in Avellaneda and joined local side Racing when he was eight years old. The youngster progressed through the ranks of his boyhood club and made his debut at the tail end of 2016 against Union.

Following some decent performances for Argentina under-20s, Zaracho began to get more of a run of games in the second half of 2017, as well as making five starts in Racing’s run to the Copa Sudamericana quarter-finals. However, it was the arrival of new manager Eduardo Coudet at the end of the year that signalled the start of Zaracho as a first-team regular and he’s not looked back since.

Now with over 60 games under his belt, Zaracho is already a key fixture for Racing and this season has contributed three goals and three assists in 21 games. He endeared himself to the fanbase further with standout a performance and goal in the clasico victory against eternal rivals Independiente.

The club has duly recognised his progression – and the interest of La Liga giants Atletico Madrid among others – by increasing his buyout clause to €24 million. A debut for the Argentina senior national side is in the offing after being called up for the upcoming friendlies.

So what makes Zaracho one of the most exciting young talents in the Superliga and one of Argentina’s midfield hopes for the future?

Versatility

One of the most notable aspects of Zaracho’s game is his versatility and his ability to slot into various midfield roles. Given that he started out as a right back, Zaracho’s flexibility is no surprise. He possesses the intelligence and tactical understanding to do a job wherever he plays.

For Racing this season Zaracho has primarily operated in the midfield three in a 4-1-3-2 formation. He’s also turned out on the right-hand side of a diamond, with Marcelo Diaz orchestrating from deep and the likes of Zaracho, Solari and Pol Fernandez able to bring the energy and box-to-box running.

Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here we see Zaracho in his preferred central midfield position, always looking to break forward and join the attack with the likes of Diaz and/or Cardozo sitting.

Having said that, Zaracho also has the ability to play wide on the right, either as an auxiliary winger or even further forward in a more attacking midfield role. Furthermore, it’s not uncommon to see him pop up on the left if needs be. In this respect Zaracho is a very all-round, modern midfielder and is a manager’s dream as he is comfortable and can switch between various systems.

Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here we see Zaracho in a more attacking role, cutting in from the right and breaking forward into the box from a wider position.
Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
This time Zaracho pops up on the left, once again showing his versatility, to deliver a beautifully weighted cross which is headed into the net.

Passing

Zaracho is a midfielder who looks after the ball well, as attested to by his 87.8% pass completion rate in the Superliga this year. Equally as comfortable playing short passing combinations as spreading the ball wide with mid and long-range passes, Zaracho has a good range to his passing as demonstrated by the example below.

Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Zaracho receives the ball in the centre of the park without any options near him, and launches a raking ball out to the right.
Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Zaracho’s searching ball perfectly finds Saravia hugging the touchline, spreading the play, making the pitch as big as possible, and giving Racing a chance to get in behind.

Given his aforementioned versatility, Zaracho can also execute a good through-ball and his decision-making in the final third is often very sound. Furthermore, from his time spent on the wings, he can also deliver an impressive cross.

Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Zaracho drives the ball forward but has the presence of mind to slip a perfect ball in behind the defensive line and put Bou through on goal for a chance.
Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here we see Zaracho’s excellent crossing ability, putting the ball on a plate for the late arriving Martinez, who volleys against the post.

Tackling

As well as his passing ability, Zaracho’s all-action displays have been capped by his capacity to contribute defensively as well as going forward. The Racing midfielder has averaged an impressive 2.4 tackles per game in the Superliga this season and is very diligent in tracking runners and helping out his defenders.

Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Argentinos have a 2v1 breakaway but Zaracho doesn’t give up the ghost and uses his speed to chase down the man with the ball.
Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Zaracho makes up plenty of ground and cleanly gets his foot in to dispossess the Argentinos player just as he’s about to release his teammate.
Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
As well as tracking back, Zaracho’s tackling and defensive capacity also comes in handy when pressing the opposition. Here we see him break forward from the midfield line as the Boca player receives the ball.
Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Without rushing in, Zaracho closes and then, when the Boca player takes a poor touch, realises the trigger to kick in, accelerate and win the ball, freeing the ball up for his teammate.
Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Not content with just starting the counter-attack, Zaracho motors forward to join the attack and even ends up being the furthest man forward.

Dynamism

While not necessarily being a world-class dribbler, Zaracho still offers plenty of dynamism going forward. His three goals and three assists in the league may not jump out as a huge return or demonstrate the signs of an out-and-out attacking midfielder. Nevertheless, Zaracho carries the ball well, has the skills to go past a man and can break the lines with late runs into the box.

Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Zaracho receives a quick ball forward at a difficult height, stooping to head the ball to his teammate, before making the dart in behind the Boca player to receive the one-two.
Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Zaracho drives forward at the Boca defence, drawing two players in before slipping the ball to Lopez, who curls the ball into the net from the edge of the area.
Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here we see Zaracho’s ability to break from deep and arrive late into the box to provide a goalscoring threat. There don’t seem to be many options for the man on the left but Zaracho’s lung-busting run gives an extra option.
Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Zaracho is found, controls the ball well, and half-volleys the ball into the net to double the lead.

Boasting fantastic stamina which enables him to get up and down the pitch to contribute at both ends, Zaracho was described as a “60kg tractor” by manager Eduardo Coudet for his relentless ability to plough forward for the entire 90 minutes.

Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Again we see Zaracho’s attributes on show. He breaks forward from a central midfield role, carrying the ball forward before playing a sharp one-two with his teammate.
Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Zaracho receives the return ball and continues his run into the box, rounds the keeper and slips the ball into the net, despite a desperate lunge from the defender on the line.

Areas to improve

Zaracho may be a tough customer but there is still room to develop the physical side to his game. While not necessarily a big aerial presence, Zaracho has shown glimpses of decent heading ability. Although not strictly his role on the pitch, if he could add more end product in the final third then he would move from an exciting talent to a truly outstanding one.

Matias Zaracho Racing Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here we see one of Zaracho’s rare headed goals. Even if it isn’t his forte, his back post run and leap show that there are the ingredients for Zaracho to build on his aerial ability.

What next?

First and foremost, the main aim will be to be securing a league title with Racing and after that another crack at the Libertadores. However, as is often the case, whether he stays in Argentina for another year may well be out of his hands as clubs in Europe have taken notice of his role in Racing’s excellent form. Atletico Madrid are most heavily linked but there will no doubt be a whole host of top European clubs chasing his signature.

Furthermore, his well-deserved call up to the national team sees him enter the running as a dark horse to sneak into the Argentina Copa America squad. Along with Exequiel Palacios, Zaracho has emerged as the type of modern, energetic midfield all-rounder that the national team is crying out for. Even if this summer’s tournament comes a bit too early in his nascent career, if he continues his trajectory he should be part of the picture for the foreseeable future.


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