Mauricio Pellegrino was a towering defender that helped sides like Valencia and Liverpool win titles, before moving into management. He has had stints in his native Argentina with Estudiantes and Independiente, as well as time spent in Spain managing Alavés and Leganés. After leaving Leganés in October Pellegrino was given the chance to return to the club that he played for in Argentina, Vélez Sarsfield.

Taking over after Gabriel Heinze’s departure, Pellegrino will look to implement his style of coaching to the Buenos Aires football scene. In this tactical analysis, we will take a look at Pellegrino’s time in Spain and what he is bringing to the young Vélez squad.

Usual Formations

While managing in La Liga Pellegrino used a variety of formations, primarily the 4-2-3-1, the 5-4-1 or the 5-3-2. During his time in Madrid, the Argentine would send Leganés out in a line of five in the back. Below are the most used players in these two formations this season at Leganés.

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While this certainly comes across as a defensive-minded formation, Pellegrino’s sides in Spain have been noted for their bold attacking play. By using a mixture of short and long passing, Pellegrino’s tactical philosophy has claimed victories against the likes of Barcelona, Sevilla, and his former club Valencia. In the next part of the analysis, we will look into the ways the Argentine likes his team to attack.

Attacking

At both Alavés and Leganés, Pellegrino would have his sides attack in a 3-4-3 or 3-1-4-2. When attacking in the 3-4-3, two midfielders push higher closer to the center forward while the pivots provide support. The wing-backs provide width to stretch the opposing defenders. This tactic allows for the midfielders who played closer to the forward to drop into space or run behind defenders.

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Here we see Alavés building up using the 5-4-1 formation. The wing-back lays the ball off to the supporting midfielder. The advanced midfielder moves out of the middle towards the flank to give the midfielder space to dribble into.

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As the midfielder drives into the cleared space, we can see the striker checking to receive the pass. This action draws the defender out of position, which exposes the Betis backline. This space is then exploited by the supporting midfielders through ball to his teammate.

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In a 3-1-4-2, his sides would look to play in a more vertical fashion. By overloading the middle, they could play long passes to the forwards, or one of the wing-backs. Against Eibar, we see Leganés in the midst of their vertical build-up. After one of the centre-backs played a long ball to the highlighted midfielder.

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He then lays the ball off to the supporting wing-back who plays another long pass to one of the forwards. The forward is able to bring the ball down and Leganés are in a 4 v 4 situation against the defenders.

Mauricio Pellegrino at Vélez Sarsfield - incoming head coach analysis - tactical analysis tactics
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Mauricio Pellegrino at Vélez Sarsfield - incoming head coach analysis - tactical analysis tactics
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In the following section of the analysis, we will see how Pellegrino has his sides defend.

Defending

When defending, Pellegrino’s usually had a distinct line of five defenders. Depending on the formation the midfield would defend with a line of four midfielders or a midfield trio with one pivot. Using the 5-4-1 the lone forward would maintain positional discipline and discourage passes through the middle.

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In the above image, we can see the midfield form a compact horseshoe shape. By congesting the middle Pellegrino looks to make his sides difficult to play through the centre. This tactic would encourage the opposing team to play the ball long diagonally, where they would press with a numerical advantage.

Mauricio Pellegrino at Vélez Sarsfield - incoming head coach analysis - tactical analysis tactics
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Using a similar tactic with the 5-3-2, Leganés forces Rayo Vallecano to play wide while maintaining numerical superiority in the center. The two forwards maintain a narrow shape to discourage a pass into Rayo’s pivot. Lega’s midfielders position themselves in a triangle that also makes passes in the center difficult.

Regardless of the midfield shape or the number of forwards, the line of five defenders played similarly. In the example below the ball has been played to the flank, and the wingback presses the receiving player. The remaining defenders maintain balance with a line of four while the midfielders drop to deny Barcelona space in the center. This makes the opposition to play around the perimeter.

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Pellegrino would also have his teams adjust after giving up ground to the opposition. In the next section of the analysis, we will look at the different tactical setups that the Argentine preferred.

High Press and Low Block

Pellegrino has his teams adjust if their initial form of defending breaks down. Depending on the team they are playing the will sometimes start with a high press to attempt to win the ball back in their attacking third. This tactic allows them to counter higher up the field with numbers.

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When using two forwards in a high press, the midfield trio works to lure the opposition into passing centrally. Here we see this being executed against Rayo Vallecano. The pivot steps to tackle the receiving player while his closest teammate drops to cover if he loses the duel. In this case, the pivot dispossesses the Rayo player, and Leganés immediately have a 4v3 situation.

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In the 5-4-1 the midfielders are charged with pressing to force a mistake into the middle. In the Alavés match against Betis, we see the right midfielder applying pressure to the Betis left-back. As this is happening, the midfielder in the center quickly drops to cut off the pass forward. The right wingback steps forward to deny the passing option down the line.

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The Alavés midfielder is able to intercept the ball and immediately dribbles at the defender in front of him. The left midfielder uses his run to pull the defender nearest him away from the dribbler. This turns a potential 2 v 2 situation into a 1 v 1 which Pellegrino’s men are able to convert.

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If the high press has broken down, they will clog the middle and create a low block. Pellegrino’s sides were happy to concede space on the flanks and allow the centre-backs time on the ball. This encourages the opposing team to attempt high risk passes in the form of long aerial passes to switch the point of attack.

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Defensive Transitions

The weakness of attacking and defending with such numbers lies in the transitions. When both wingbacks have committed to the attack and the team loses possession, the flanks are exposed and exploited. This is something that Vélez already struggle with due to the brave attacking play instilled by Heinze.

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During Leganés match against Eibar, we see the Basque side counterattacking after a set-piece. After moving the ball rapidly Leganés is now at a numerical disadvantage. Their only option is to concede space while attempting to slow the ball carrier down so that the midfielders can get in a good defensive position.

Conclusion

There is no question that Mauricio Pellegrino will continue Vélez’s brave attacking nature. What will remain to be seen is if he will transition them from a 4-3-3 to one of his preferred formations. Their attacking shape will be similar to what they are used to but without predetermined rotations.

Vélez Sarsfield wants to solidify their return to form in Argentina and perform well in the Copa Libertadores. Mauricio Pellegrino is a solid manager with experience in Europe’s top leagues that will continue Los Fortineros ascension.


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Carlos Rivera