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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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