The main attraction at Velez Sarsfield this season has been former Manchester United defender Gabriel Heinze at the helm. Before stepping down in March, he guided one of the youngest squads in the league from near relegation to third place. One of those young attackers that have stood out has been Thiago Almada. A product of Velez’s academy, Almada began attracting attention with consistent performances for club and country in 2019.
In this tactical analysis in the form of a scout report, we will take a look at what makes the young Argentine a prospect to look out for. We will analyze his performances in the Argentine Superliga, and in the Copa Sudamericana.
Almada has lined up in a variety of different positions for Velez. Heinze typically sent him to play as either a winger or one of the attacking midfielders. This was in a variety of formations, which shows his ability to adapt to different systems.
He primarily has been played on the left side but has played a few games on the right. Looking at his heat map one can notice how versatile, tactics wise, Almada is. You can also tell from the heat map that Almada provided the width for Velez when deployed as a winger.
Using an example from the match against Godoy Cruz, we can see Almada is giving the team width. This makes it easy for Velez to switch the point of attack and create a numerical advantage on the weak side.
In the next part of the analysis, we will look at Almada’s attacking contributions.
Thiago Almada was a consistent contributor to the offensive production of his team. He finished the Superliga tied for Velez’s third-highest scorer with 4 goals. Almada took 23 shots from outside the penalty area, which shows his shooting preference.
One of the ways Almada creates shooting opportunities for himself is by taking the shot after he beats his defender. As seen in the previous section of the analysis, Almada starts in a wide position when he plays as a winger. In the example above, it creates a 1 v 1 against the Argentino Juniors defender.
Almada quickly beats the defender and begins to dribble into the open space at the top of the penalty area. Using his pace, he creates space to be able to take a shot on goal.
Another strength of the young Argentine is his ability to receive the ball. He received an average of 34 passes per game. Heinze’s system required players to arrive in space, and Almada did so consistently to receive the ball.
During the match against Godoy Cruz, we see a perfect example of Almada’s execution of this tactical principle. After receiving the ball from a throw-in, he plays his teammate and immediately begins to move into the space behind the defender. He is then able to receive the pass higher up the field.
Following Heinze’s principles allows a player of Almeda’s calibre to exploit space easily. In the next part of the scout report, we will take a look at the young Argentine’s strongest attribute.
Progressing the play
Almada’s passing distribution is also something that is incredibly high for a player his age. Almada had 45% passes per game, which was the fifth-highest in the Superliga. This stat is further enhanced by his 81% pass accuracy. He finished the league with 6 progressive passes per game, which was sixteenth among attacking players. Almada had a total of 109 attempted progressive passes with a 79% completion rate.
Looking at the progressive pass graph above, we can see how much Almada contributes to Los Fortineros’ forward play. The most impressive stat is his accuracy with longer passes. He completed 100% of his progressive passes that were further than 40 meters, and 93% of progressive passes ranging between 30 and 40 meters.
In this example, we see Almada playing in the midfield looking to receive the ball between Aucas’ lines. Since he has arrived in the space unmarked, he opens up his hips to play the ball forward. Noticing the forwards run, he quickly plays the ball behind the entire backline. During this sequence, Almeda is able to eliminate seven opposing players by himself.
While he can certainly pass, Almada is also a very smart player when it comes to dribbling. Boasting a 75% success rate, the youngster knows how to protect the ball no matter where he is on the field. In the following sequence, Almada has just received the ball and beat his defender.
Recognizing the space available inside, he drives at the next defender drawing him away from his teammate. Having drawn both defenders to himself he then uses a skilful backheel pass to play his teammate in open space.
His intelligent play will continue to add to these numbers. It is worth noting that Almada began the season as a substitute, coming off the bench 12 times. In the last 11 games of the Superliga, he started 10 times. The more games he plays will also increase the volume of his successful actions.
The only knock on Almada’s play is his size. Measuring in at 5’6 feet (171 cm) and 136 pounds (62 kg), he isn’t going to win the ball through physicality. This shouldn’t be an issue as he grows older, as whatever club he lands at will increase his strength.
Here we see Almada taking on a defender during a Copa Sudamericana game against Ecuadorian side Aucas. He begins to dribble past the defender, but the Ecuadorian is able to successfully dispossess Almada using his strength.
While he is able to use his clever play to get around defenders, there are times where he uses his slight frame to his advantage. By using putting his body between the ball and the defender he draws fouls in important areas. In the following sequence, Almada collects a loose ball in his defensive third. He easily beats the defender and proceeds to use his speed to get past him.
As the defender tries to recover, Almada shields the ball and draws the foul. Winning the free-kick allows Velez to retain possession towards the end of the second half.
Thiago Almada is definitely a talent to keep an eye on in the coming years. In my opinion, he could easily play in Serie A, or La Liga if he keeps being consistent. With transfer rumours linking him with a host of clubs such as Atletico Madrid and Manchester City, the future is bright for the Argentinian.