There are just six matchdays left in the Superliga Argentina. While Racing and Defensa y Justicia are 10 points ahead of the third-placed Boca Juniors for the title run, there is only an eight-point difference between 3rd and 9th place (Cup Qualifier spots). Vélez have enjoyed a great season, which saw the team grow considerably under former Manchester United and Real Madrid defender Gabriel Heinze, finding a clear identity as a team. Heinze´s men now have a realistic shot at a Copa Libertadores spot, two points away with six games to go. This includes matches against Atlético Tucumán and Independiente, two direct rivals.
Despite only picking up six of the last 15 points available, Heinze’s men have been playing high-quality football. We’ll be taking a closer look at how Vélez has fared the past few games and why Heinze’s project has a very promising future.
Patronato v Velez (3-3)
The first match we’ll be looking at is their 3-3 away tie against Patronato. The match was a struggle from the beginning until the end. Vélez gave away a quick first-minute goal, after a lack of concentration from Laso (CB), saw Carbajal, a rival midfielder, spring free through the defence and slot the away finish against Hoyos.
Vélez, in their 4-2-3-1 then looked to get on the ball, dominate possession and use long balls into space looking to exploit their wingers’ speed, leaving them one on one with defenders (Vargas, Bouzat, and Almada, all very skilful and quick dribblers). They have a quality passer in Gastón Giménez, who manages the rhythm of the game with his range of passing.
The tie came at the 15th minute after a long ball found Bouzat with space on the counter, who took on his man and played a good cross into the box which found a streaking Domínguez for the finish. The midfield trio of Gímenez, Domínguez, and Robertone is a very dynamic group, with Gímenez playing the holding midfielder role, and the other two box-to-box roles, often looking to get into the box and get on the end of the balls played in by the wingers. The poly-functional Nico Dominguez averages 3.6 tackles per game, 2.1 interceptions. 1.4 dribbles, 55.5 passes per game and has three goals and one assist to his name in 19 games, demonstrating the 20-year-old’s versatility. With these three getting on the ball, the game looked to have shifted in favour of Vélez now, who controlled possession.
Unfortunately, as it had been a custom of late, Vélez began committing individual errors. At the 25th minute, as Hoyos looked to play out the back, he gifted the ball away to Patronato’s Sperduti who simply had to lob the keeper to score. At the 40th minute the Peruvian centre back, Luis Abram, received a red card, after an off the ball challenge.
Vélez came out the second half with the same gameplan to dominate the possession and keep looking to exploit spaces down the wings. Unlike the first half, they looked to keep the ball in their own half, leaving spaces in the rival territory, banking on the individual skill of their wingers. In comes Matías ¨Monito¨ Vargas, who scored two goals to put Vélez ahead, despite being a man down and looked to take the three points. The 3-3 came after a set piece goal from Patronato, where the referee missed a clear foul on a Vélez defender.
Vargas has arguably been Vélez’s best player this season scoring five goals and assisting four in 18 games. Though his influence goes beyond numbers. He’s very dangerous in one-on-one situations, averaging three dribbles per game. His crossing and shots from outside of the box have been a vital part of Vélez’s system this year. At 21, he’s already received an $8millon offer from Flamengo, but will surely be looking to get better offers from European clubs.
Estudiantes v Vélez (1-2)
Against Estudiantes, Vélez went with Salinas at centre forward instead of the youngster Almada, who would be playing for the Argentina U20 team in the U20 Sudamericano. In a 4-1-4-1, with Giménez, Domínguez, and Robertone in the middle of the pitch, Vélez would look to outwork Estudiantes’ 4-4-1-1
One of the repeated weaknesses this team has shown is the inability to defend set pieces. This time it was Lucas Albertengo who headed home the cross from Gastón Férnandez for the 1-0 Estudiantes lead at the 21st minute.
Vélez looked to keep possession and dominate the flow of the game transitioning from a high press into a low block on defence. In attack, they showed to be very patient in the build-up looking to draw out the defence with possession play in their own half and then attack the space behind the midfield press. Always looking to find spaces out wide, their wingers would tuck in and leaving open lanes for the full backs.
Vélez averages the 2nd highest possession percentage in the league with 56.2%, with the 4th highest pass percentage at 78.7%. The midfield trio for Vélez again began making easy work of the Estudiantes press and although down 1-0 on the scoreboard, they looked confident. Vélez consistently broke down Estudiantes midfield, who left spaces in the middle when they pressed.
Estudiantes adjusted and they began dropping one of their two forwards into the midfield to even out the numbers. Vélez then turned to long balls into wingers who would stay high upfield and wide to would find themselves one-on-one with space, once again.
This is how the first goal came to be, as a quick transition from Robertone found Vargas with a long ball into space. Vargas easily scurried away from Schunke cutting from the left inward and tucked away his 5th goal of the season at the very end of the first half.
The second half began in a similar fashion, with Vélez looking to control the possession, and working the ball down the wings. Robertone and Domínguez both constantly looking to arrive at the box often and generate a lot of opportunities. Robertone found himself on the end of a top of the box shot after a Salinas layoff pass and buried it into the top right corner after 55 minutes. After they went 2-1 up, they stuck to possession play and set a low block in defence, looking to counter. They kept 67.2% possession. With 85% pass success and completed an impressive 13 dribbles.
Laso, who had already been carded found himself committing fouls too often. Laso played on edge all game until the 70th minute in which he was replaced. Vélez suffered in the last 20 minutes of the match as they kept giving away a lot of fouls in their own half. Senseless back to the goal fouls, which ended in balls into a packed box. However, they managed to hang on to the 2-1 win.
Vélez v River Plate (1-2)
Vélez lined up in a 3-4-2-1 with Gímenez joining the backline of Laso and Gianetti. Cufre the wingback on the left and the newcomer Galdames on the right. Dóminguez and Robertone shared the midfield. Up front Vargas on the left, Bouzat on the right and the big man Salinas up top.
Vélez did well to match River Plate’s intensity, pressing them in the build-up. When River pressed, they patiently tried to play through it, generating numerical superiority with three centre backs and two midfielders looking to be outlets. This Velez side are all very fit, very well trained players, capable of keeping the intensity shown at the beginning of the match all the way through. A job well done by Profesor Javier Vilamitjana, their fitness coach, which translates directly to the team’s style of play.
Galdamez’s movement in attack confused River’s midfield, as he would abandon the right wing and move centrally, where he is more accustomed to playing.
An effective press by Robertone forced Pinola to commit an error at the back resulting in a penalty for Vélez. Which Salinas had saved by the River idol, Franco Armani. This save injected energy into a River Plate side which had looked lost in the first 25 minutes, subdued to Vélez’s press and possession play.
A poorly cleared ball by Laso fell to De la Cruz. With the defence in a bad position after the poor clearance, De la Cruz played Borre in for an easy finish against Hoyos at the 49th minute. Again, individual mistakes cost Velez a goal in a game where they were more deserving.
The “Fortin” kept pushing for the equalizer, turning to Vargas for a creative spark. With his dribbling skill, Vargas is very adept at attracting defenders and playing his teammates in. Vélez had several efforts, but they were all swallowed up by an inspired Armani in goal.
When defending one v one against the tough River strikers, Pratto and Santos Borre, it was evident that Gímenez lacked in some aspects, being a centre defensive midfielder, not a centre back. This was the case when he made a mistake playing out the back. Recently subbed into the game Matías Suárez pressed him and stole it from him, drawing a (very questionable) foul in the box. Gímenez received a red and River a penalty, which Juan Quintero scored. Once again, an individual mistake had cost Vélez, and also meant losing one of their best players for the next match.
After the second goal, Velez became much more direct, launching long balls into dangerous territory and piling men in the box. The 2-1 came from a rebound in the box from the defence, and a chance fell to youngster Álvaro Barreal, who slotted away his first goal of the season. Heinze’s men went on to push towards the equalizer in the final five minutes, but River held and the time ran out.
A silver lining in this match was the debut for Leandro Férnandez, who hadn´t played since May 12th, 2018, for Independiente. A more technical and skilful player than the target man Salinas, who adds more movement to the attacking front as he can drift out wide.
Huracán vs Vélez (1-1)
Against Huracán, Velez lined up in a 4-3-3, his second most used formation this season. In defence, the repeated backline of De la Fuente, Gianetti, Laso and Cufré. With Gímenez suspended, Domínguez had to take a much more central and holding stance with Galdames and Robertone next to him. Up front, Vargas, Fernández, and Bouzat looked to provide movement and speed in attack. This midfield was clearly lacking in the defensive department. But with three box-to-box, passing midfielders, Heinze’s intent was to defend with possession. In this year’s Superliga, Vélez is the team that faces the least amount of shots per game with 8.8.
As soon as the game began Vélez once again began giving away silly fouls in their own half. Against dangerous Huracan aerial threats in Barrios, Mancinelli, Salcedo, and Garro, this was not what Heinze wanted. Vélez is the lowest in the league in aerial duels won with 16.4 per game. It was clear throughout the whole match they struggled against set pieces and balls into the forwards. Again Laso, earned a yellow card at the 19th minute for a tough foul from behind on Lucas Barrios and played on edge all game.
Vélez struggled to defend combinations down the wings as their 4-3-3 leaves them more exposed on the wings than the previous formations he had been using, with the wingers further up the pitch. Several balls into the box were played into the dangerous Barrios and Lucas Gamba, who each had a chance to score early and missed.
Gímenez´s absence began to weigh more and more as the clock ticked on, as Vélez struggled in build up against a tight 4-4-2 from Huracán and in finding line-breaking passes. Their possessions frequently ended in failed long ball attempts from Laso, Gianetti or Domínguez, neither as adept at long balls as Gímenez. Gaston Giménez averages 84,3%, 52.6 passes per game, 3.1 long balls completed per game and is key in breaking that first line of pressure.
The best plays from Vélez came from when the build-up worked its way up the left side, with Vargas cutting inward and using his speed dribbling to leave players behind.
At the 37th minute, Vélez found the opener after Robertone left a pair of defenders behind in the midfield. He then played Vargas out wide who took on Chimino, the Huracán right back, got to the byline and pulled back a perfect pass for the streaking left back Cufré who scored his 3rd of the season.
At the 52 minute mark, De la Fuente grabbed Garro in the box and earned the penalty. The second consecutive match they give away an unnecessary penalty. Lucas Gamba scored the penalty and game was tied 1-1.
In the second half, the team showed intensity throughout. They continued to get their midfielders into attacking positions and build the play out wide. However, Huracan did well to try to break up play in their own half and then looked to play their forwards.
The game became scrappy, with lots of fouls, back and forth play with quick transitions and without many clear chances for either. In this intensity, Heinze´s men looked the fitter side, pushing Huracán into their own half. Unfortunately, when making their final push at the 90th minute, Robertone saw his second yellow (10th card of the game) and was sent off. This sealed the 1-1 tie which left a bitter taste in Heinze´s side, as they conceded on an avoidable error once again.
Vélez v Colón 1-1
For the second match in a row, the newly acquired striker Leandro Fernández got the start over Salinas, and Galdames played in place of the suspended Robertone in Heinze’s 4-3-3.
This time Vélez got started with the right foot, scoring at the minute mark. As per usual, Vargas went on a run from the left side of the pitch cutting inward and drawing defenders. After reaching near the top of the box he pushed it wide to the streaking right back De la Fuente, who struck home the 1-0.
All looked as it should for an important home win, as Vélez comfortably dominated possession. Unfortunately, a wreckless Cufré challenge earned the left back a red card at the 33rd minute, leaving Vélez with 10 men. Their 4th red card in the last five games. And yet another, individual mistake, that would leave them shorthanded for the majority of the game.
Vélez re-arranged into a 4-4-1, with Luis Abram at left back, and the wingers dropping back into midfield. This way, they held a solid defensive shape and still had individual skill to generate opportunities, which they did, generating a total of six shots. But only one went on target.
Colón also had theirs, after a Laso and Vargas mixup at the back left Vigo, the Colón right back, one-on-one with Hoyos, who pulled off a fantastic save. Hoyos had his best performance since earning the starting role in December, piling up saves and claiming crosses into the box.
Colón’s equalizer came from a penalty, once again, an unnecessarily foul by Cubero, on a man with his back to goal. The former Atlético Tucumán star, Luis Rodríguez scored the penalty at the 83rd. The third consecutive match in which they give away a penalty goal. Although Colón kept pushing for the go-ahead goal, Vélez did well to fall back and not allow spaces in the defensive third, and the game ended 1-1
Vélez is an extremely young group, averaging 24.3 years of age, and that includes Fabián Cubero´s 40 years of age. Regardless of their youth, this is a very patient team, always playing safe passes in the build-up, they swing the ball around until they find the correct lane to move forward, usually on the wing, stretching the defence wide. They often use long balls to find those alleys of space, which also usually leaves the winger one on one with the fullback.
There´s a general thought that due to their lack of a consistent goal-scoring, Velez lack in the goal-scoring department. The reality is that despite not having a consistent goal-scoring forward, they sit 8th in the Superliga with 24 goals for in 19 games. (1.3 per game). They find goals from their wingers Vargas (five) and Almada (three), midfielders Robertone (four) and Dominguez (three) and even left back Brian Cufré (three). Of those named players, they have an average of 20.2 years of age.
If you eliminate the individual errors in these past six games, Vélez would be in 3rd place. Heinze´s men have tactical discipline as a unit, but still need to work on their individual discipline. With the youth this team has, if they can reduce the number of mistakes they have defensively, this can be a top side not only in Argentina but in all South America.
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