Thiago Almada is one of the most promising players from Argentina. Born on 26th April 2001, Almada was called to the 2018 Russia World Cup at 17 years of age. Not as a squad member, but to practice and develop with the team. That is clearly quite an achievement for such a young player.
Often called ‘La Joya‘ and hailing from Tevez’s hometown, Thiago Almada is a quick, agile attacking midfielder who can also play as a secondary striker. Here, we shall analyse what makes this player of Velez Sarsfield such a promising talent using statistics.
Almada’s role at Velez
Gabriel Heinze’s Velez play in a 4-3-3 attacking formation. Almada will usually play in midfield as a right or as a left attacking midfielder. But he isn’t given many defensive responsibilities so it’s quite common for him to stay forward while Velez are defending. During transitions from defence to attack is when he plays as a true secondary striker. The reason he is instructed to stay ahead is his dribbling which we will take a look at later in the analysis. The Argentina U20 international is yet to establish himself in the first team with just 6 starts in 14 games. He plays an average of 45 minutes per match.
In the example shown, we can see that Almada is in a very advanced position. Velez get the ball on the break. He shows great composure and awareness as he is tightly marked. But he pushes the ball to the inner side of the pitch, which is his outer. He then uses his low centre of gravity to his advantage to turn very quickly, leaving the defender tackling thin air. This is quite explanatory of his 67% dribbling success in his first season in the first division. Now he is being advanced upon by the other defender. At one point Almada is on the edge of the box and the remaining defender is almost about to close in on him.
What happened after this allows us to examine to attributes of the youngster: decision making and finishing. Many players might have tried to cut inside rather than shooting in this situation to completely take the defender out of the equation but also get a shot on goal. He does the opposite and hits the ball with a powerfully driven shot which slots into the bottom-left corner.
One might argue, the chances of failing to score from that angle and the chances of not being able to cut in are not too far off from each other. But one important factor was that the defender Almada left in the dust earlier could have dispossessed him had he cut in. Which means Almada showed good awareness and decision making to execute that shot.
An almost ideal attacking midfielder
Thiago Almada is growing into an ideal attacking midfielder. He has been compared to Messi but he is now reminiscent of Bernardo Silva rather than the Argentine. He shows elusive dribbling, quick changes of direction, good awareness and vision and on top of that he has the technique to execute the passes, just not feet as quick as Messi’s in tight spaces.
In the example shown below, Almada is on the edge of the box and he has the ball in his possession. He can see his teammate calling for the ball. Here, the ball can either be chipped or passed through. However, the young Argentine is aware of the fact that the opposition defender is close to his teammate and ready to close in or tackle. Playing a through ball might have caused loss of possession. Instead, the ball is chipped by Almada who perfectly weighs it into his teammate’s path. This creates a great opportunity to score and shows Almada’s passing technique.
Here, we have another example which indicates how Almada again shows his maturity and quick thinking on the pitch. Playing as an attacking midfielder he is again on the edge of the box. His teammate has lofted a ball over to him. He has two options here: either he can control the ball and pass or head it first time to avoid risking dispossession. Almada shifts his body so as to have a better position for heading the ball, by estimating the bounce.
Now, he heads it first time over the defence. This means his teammate can let it run and let loose which is exactly what happens. Almada’s quick decision making here made the difference and he showed his willingness to go in physically against bigger opponents at his 171cm height.
One of Almada’s biggest weaknesses is definitely his upper-body strength. He isn’t exactly the tallest as stated before and this makes him a target to the bigger, stronger players. While we see this happening to many small players, it is still something Almada needs to develop and work upon to make it to the very top.
This shows why he is dispossessed an average of 0.7 times per match. Which isn’t quite that bad but this is 1.4 times per 90 minutes seeing as he averages 45 minutes per match. This also means that Velez Sarsfield can’t rely on him to make big defensive contributions. However, he has the job of blocking passing lanes and often pressing the back-line of the opponents to try and intercept the ball, which he does 0.1 times per game.
This doesn’t make him ideal for a physical league unless he grows his pure technique and skill rapidly. Because after all, players like Coutinho and Bernardo Silva have flourished in the premier league. This is where Almada’s quick turns really help him. Like we have seen with Xavi and now Arthur, having a low centre of gravity makes for highly effective turns which leave the defenders off-balance.
Instincts of a striker
Almada arguably has an eye for goal. The striker of Velez often drops back in which case Almada will make intelligent runs to receive the ball. And it is safe to say, that with a goal per 200 minutes, these instincts are quite sharp.
Here, we have an example of what exactly makes Almada a goal-scoring threat. He is making a run down the middle of the pitch when he sees the best passing option for his teammate. Knowing that that pass will be made, Almada is very aware of getting in behind the defender to become a passing option. Spotting his run, his teammate plays a pass to him which Almada lets run and strikes first time. Unfortunately, he lacks finishing here and it is a missed opportunity.
In the next example, in the first image, we can see Almada making a great pass to his teammate. But, the commendable thing to observe is that he sprints forward and makes the run into the box rather than making a run between the defence. This shows his willingness to play as a secondary striker as much as an attacking midfielder.
Thiago Almada is one of Argentina’s brightest talents. He does have the potential to become a very good player. Now, his future transfers and his mentality are the most important factors in determining his potential. If these factors play out, we’ll have another inventive and excellent Argentine to watch.