As the Copa America 2019 gets underway, all players are looking to get as close to the prestigious trophy as possible. Each team has some players which can make the difference for them if given the chance.

There are the obvious ones like Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez,  James Rodríguez and such who will definitely play a huge part in their team’s result. However, there are some players which most people would overlook when thinking about this competition. In this tactical analysis, we shall take a look at five such players who are worth keeping an eye on.

Federico Valverde

Real-Madrid’s 20-year-old Federico Valverde is definitely one of the players to keep an eye on during the Copa America 2019. Primarily a central midfielder, 20-year-old Valverde is a very attacking-minded type of one. He has progressed through the ranks of Real Madrid and is now a first-team regular though not a starter and recently made his senior Uruguay debut.

Valverde is very skilled in driving forward into space from the central position to lay-off a pass or play very good through balls. He averages 0.8 dribbles per match with a 75% success rate. However, this is when he doesn’t start. In the two matches of La Liga that he played 90 minutes in, he averaged 2 dribbles per match. He has a very high passing accuracy of 94% and he also averages 0.6 key passes per match. Here, we have an example of his dribbling and passing.

In the first two examples, we see his dribbling ability in helping the ball transition from defence to midfield. He is aware of the player looking to dispossess him in the first image. He judges the opponent’s momentum and uses it against him to start dribbling into the red area which denotes the available space.

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Valverde is aware of the opposition’s press on him. He uses the opponent’s momentum to his advantage.

He then drives forward catching two more opposition players off-guard. This allows him to get into space near midfield. This ability to transition the ball from defence to midfield is very useful as it allows him to play as a defensive midfielder, too. Valverde can also make the most of counter-attacks and an attacking style thanks to his skill in driving forward.

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Valverde catches the opposition unawares and dribbles past three players to transition the ball from defence to midfield.

In the example shown next, we can take a look at the Uruguayan’s tactical awareness and passing skills. The first image shows Valverde spotting the space between the three opposition players. Now, a pass would have also been possible but both passing options are clearly surrounded by the opposition.

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Valverde spots space to drive into.

Hence, Valverde drives forward as seen in the second example. Here, he is aware of the three players closing in on him and he is simultaneously aware of Cavani making a run. Hence, he executes a pinpoint pass to find the striker.

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Valverde makes a pinpoint pass to the player making a run through the opposition’s lines.

Valverde is a very talented midfielder who might make appearances of the bench in the earlier rounds of the tournament.

Maxi Gomez

Celta Vigo’s Maxi Gomez is already a starter for his club scoring 10 goals and 15 assists this season. Though not a regular starter for Uruguay with Cavani and Suarez ahead of him in the pecking order, he is a very reliable goal-scorer and a well-rounded striker.

Gomez is a modern striker. He frequently drops back and holds the ball up or spreads play very well. Though not the best passer at 73.5% accuracy, we have to consider the fact that he plays most of his passes in the final third. He is, however, very familiar with playing long balls after good hold-up play. This is one of his signature traits.

In the following image, we see an example of this. We can see Maxi Gomez with the ball near the half-way line. This shows how deep he drops back to hold-up play and facilitate the linking of passes. His teammate on the far side has made a longer run than the one on the near side, resulting in less crowding on the far side.

Hence, Gomez plays the ball to the left wing. His statistic of 0.8 long balls per match is a very useful asset for teams with pacey wingers. He can drop back and allow the wingers to make runs which he can pick out.

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Gomez is very good at playing long passes which means he can contribute to the build-up a lot.

The 22-year-old is also good at quick interplay to overturn numerical inferiority. He has a very good first-touch pass. A number of times, one of the Celta Vigo players making a run past him will pass to him and he will play a very-well weighted first-touch pass in front of them. This is why he is always a threat in attack, both as a goal-scorer and as a player to link-up with.

In the next example, we see how Gomez uses quick passing to help the play progress. He has the ball with three players surrounding him. There are many passing options available. But in this particular scenario, the opposition is clearly looking to push the attack wide as we can see from their defensive set-up.

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Gomez’s short and quick inter-passing allows Celta Vigo to progress through the centre of the field.

Gomez’s direct pass to his teammate higher than him on the pitch is very well thought-out as he can then make a run and his teammate can then pass the ball to him. This results in a shot on goal despite the numerical inferiority.

The Uruguayan is also very strong physically and especially his balance is very impressive. At 186cm weighing 91kg, he is well-built. His excellent balance allows him to swivel around and play accurate and unexpected shots. This is very useful when he needs to play in limited space. Here, we have an example of how his balance and first-touch helps him gain the upper-hand in unfavourable situations.

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The cross played is controlled by Gomez thanks to his head start due to better timing and good balance.

While the cross has been played into the box, the striker tries to get better of his guards with his movements and positioning. Gomez makes a perfect run which keeps him onside and also gives him a head start.

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Gomez’s chest control allows him to retain possession which is helped by his physical strength and balance.

He then controls the ball with his chest and volleys it. All this while, he had two players pressing him. Yet, because of his upper-body strength, Gomez does very well to not be dispossessed.

To conclude, Maxi Gomez is a very capable modern striker who can benefit Uruguay greatly in Copa America if he were to get the chance to perform with pacey players to complement his skillset.

Takefusa Kubo

Kubo is the youngest player in the Copa America 2019 tournament and is already somewhat of a role model to kids in Japan with his performances for FC Tokyo. While playing at La Masia, people said he was the Japanese Messi. Usually, such comparisons fade as the player faces more competition. Now, playing in the Japanese league with players much bigger, stronger and experienced than him, the comparisons have only increased. That says a lot about Kubo’s talent.

The 18-year-old Japanese recently signed a contract with Spanish giants Real Madrid. He will be a great addition as a right-winger or as an attacking midfielder. Kubo is very fast, agile and has exceptional dribbling skills.

Here, we have an example of Kubo’s dribbling and awareness. He is passed the ball in a very high-pressure area. He is still aware of his surroundings and with one touch he drives through two of the defenders.

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Kubo is aware of the space between the defenders even though he is being pressured.

His pace and skill are much more than the opposition players’ which puts him in a position from where he can cross the ball. The youngster dribbles with the ball glued to his feet and has a knack for dribbling through tight spaces.

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Thanks to his pace and agility, Kubo is in a position from where he can cross the ball.
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Kubo shows decision-making in choosing the perfect pass out of a possible three options.

Kubo also has very good vision and passing skills. When he plays as an attacking midfielder, these are especially useful. His through balls are very well-weighed. Here, we have an example of this. He has dribbled with the ball and now has two passing options and the option to take a shot available. The opposition player right in front of him judges his movement and looks to move to block the shot.

However, this makes the through ball to the player on the far side easier for Kubo. Japan‘s national team does very well in keeping all options open until the very end without committing to any one option. This is a very useful asset in quick-paced games

In all, Takefusa Kubo is one of the biggest talents in world football as of now. And should he get the chance, he will surely boost Japan’s chances.

Yangel Herrera

Venezuela’s Yangel Herrera is a very promising player and his development in the MLS has been steady and positive. Now loaned off by his parent club Manchester City, Herrera is a strong defensive midfielder with an attacking mindset.

Now 21 years of age, the Venezuelan made 38 appearances for Ney York City highlighting just how important of a player he is. Herrera is a very aggressive player whose tackling is top-class. He often dispossesses opponents with his extremely strong tackles making 2.9 tackles per game.

Here, we have an example of his tackling technique. Herrera can be seen just behind the halfway line here. The player he has marked is about to turn and dribble past him. The opposition player has made sure to catch Herrera off-balance. However, Herrera is aware of this and wraps his leg around the opposition to execute a successful tackle. This type of tackle can be seen many times from the 21-year-old and is one of his traits.

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Herrera is aware of the player trying to dribble away by catching him off-balance. But, he uses his legs’ reach to tackle him though he is off-balance himself.

Apart from the defensive duties, Herrera is also very good in his tactical awareness. He always plays the right pass which is a very difficult thing to do. Unfortunately, his passing isn’t his strongest asset with a 76.5% accuracy. The following images show his ability to always be aware of his teammate’s position and to pick the best pass.

In the first image, Herrera is playing in a relatively advanced position. He spots the two players between the opposition’s lines of defence and midfield. He plays a delicately lobbed ball over the opposition midfielder.

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Herrera spots the two players between the opposition’s lines of defence and midfield. He plays a delicately lobbed ball over the opposition midfielder.

However, the teammate that the ball is played to has two players immediately advancing o him which is why he passes back to the Venezuelan.

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Herrera plays a one-touch pass to his teammate who made a run just seconds ago without any hesitation.

This is a  very good example of his awareness of his teammates’ position all the time. A trait like this is of course very useful and will allow him to play in more of a playmaking position if needed.

Yangel Herrera is a very skilled player and he is also very good physically which makes him a huge threat to the opposition. Though he needs to work on his discipline, in all Herrera doesn’t lack talent at all and he can offer Venezuela something different in the Copa America 2019.

Eder Militao

Brazilian defender Eder Militao was recently signed by Real Madrid. Just 21-years-old and he is already a starter for Portuguese club Porto. Militao is a central defender who is physically a force to be reckoned with and is surprisingly fast for his height and weight. At 186cm and 79kg, Militao is not an exceptionally big player but he is still physically sound.

The Brazilian youngster makes 2.2 interceptions and 2.2 tackles per match which are both on the higher side. He often drifts up the pitch and looks to cut passing lanes whenever possible. Being caught on the counter is not a huge problem as Militao is very quick and he knows how to perfectly dispossess the opponent.

Here, we have an example that shows how pacey he is and his technique in dispossessing opposition players. In the first image, Militao is behind the opposition player who is making a run. The opposition player may look to cut inside. To avoid this, the Brazilian doesn’t look to overtake him till the ball is at a distance to where he can outpace the opposition.

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Militao doesn’t allow the opposition players to cut inside which leaves him with the option of driving forward.

This leaves the player on the counter to have no choice but to try and cut inside using pace. To do this, he pushes the ball forward which is when Militao increases his pace to reach the ball first and clear it.

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When the opposition player tries to push the ball forward and outpace Militao, Militao uses his body to shield the ball and gain possession.

The Porto player is also very good in terms of driving forward. The way he does this the most often is using the opposition player’s momentum against him. Here, we have an example of that. As we can see, Militao pulls the ball back a bit. This makes the other player think he might turn around and pass it to the goalkeeper or look to dribble back. Hence, he looks to immediately press.

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Militao is aware of the player trying to press him and so he pulls the ball back a little to make it seem as though he is going to pass to the near side or back to the keeper.

To counter this Militao pokes the ball forward catching the opposition player off-guard and drives forward.

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Using the opponent’s momentum against him, Militao catches him off-balance and drives forward.

Militao is also a threat from set-pieces with headers. His tackles are always very strong and he manages to dispossess the opposition most of the times by using pure tackles or pushing them off the ball.

In general, it seems likely that we will see Militao in Brazil’s backline in Copa America 2019. He can definitely strengthen it and will be a very solid addition.

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Anurag Agate

Tactical analyst, Culé, tiki taka ftw
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