Antonio Rattin, Gabriel Batistuta, Carlos Tevez and Martin Palermo (the club’s all-time leading goal scorer). Boca Juniors have produced their fair share of world-class footballers across the last few decades. Tevez was the club’s hero as Boca overcame Gimnasia 1-0 to pip arch-rival River Plate to the Superliga Argentina title. Miguel Ángel Russo’s team won 14, drew six and lost only three games in a captivating 2019/20 season.
One player who is yet to establish his talented presence for Boca is Jan Carlos Hurtado, Venezuela’s promising striker who only featured 14 times this campaign – behind the likes of former Manchester United and Juventus forward Tevez and Colombian forward Sebastian Villa. Without further ado, this tactical analysis will give you a clear insight into the forward’s exciting potential.
Hurtado started playing football at the age of 12 when he joined Deportivo Tachira. After impressing in the Under-17 South American Championship, the 20-year-old had an impressive breakthrough season with El Lobo – under first manager Pedro Troglio in a 4-3-3 formation, before switching to a 4-4-2 formation under his successor – Hernán Darío Ortiz.
His performance and winning goal against Boca in the Copa Argentina sparked interest from the Azul y Oro. The Venezuelan international also attracted interest from Serie A side Genoa, but the forward – who has been likened to Colombian legend Faustino Aprilla – opted to join the Argentine side. He became the first-ever Venezuelan to play for the club, replacing the departing Dario Benedetto who left for Ligue 1 outfit Marseille.
Let’s talk about his contribution. Hurtado scored one goal this season and made one assist this season. The forward has had a difficult first season in Argentina, to say the least, but the Boca Juniors attacker still has plenty of time to make his move a successful one. This scout report will dig deep into the Venezuelan’s potential and why he is a star in the making.
When talking tactics, Russo mainly sets up his team in an initial 4-1-3-2 formation. Eduardo Silva and Agustín Obando often drift wide in the build-up, whilst Jorman Campuzano acts as a deep-lying midfielder by protecting the two centre-backs. The other midfielder, Guillermo Matías Fernández, joins the midfield three, with Salvio and Obando coming wide. As a forward, Hurtado is tasked to support one of Mauro Zarate or Tevez in the attack.
As you can see here, Emanuel Reynoso comes in from the left, whilst full-back Julio Buffarini comes higher up the pitch to support the attack. Tevez comes deep to receive the ball, before offloading to Buffarini. Hurtado remains higher up the pitch on both defenders to possibly provide a passing option in-behind San Lorenzo’s defence.
Tevez’ tendency to drop deep has advantages. First, it drags a San Lorenzo midfielder out of position to track his run, allowing Salvio and Tevez to double up on the full-back. This then allows Hurtado to quickly exploit this space and possibly have an opening towards goal.
Hurtado’s strength and pace caused numerous problems for San Lorenzo defenders since he replaced Franco Soldano. Boca’s narrow lead would have put the impetus on the hosts to push more men forward, therefore the game would have opened up for the likes of Hurtado and Tevez in a counter-attacking opportunity.
As you can see on the next image, Hurtado is fundamental in Boca’s build-up. He also operates on the flanks to provide additional support for Reynoso.
Hurtado’s ability to hold up the ball or take the ball past the defenders shows glimpses of the complete modern-day forward that he showed during his spell at Gymnasia. He comes wide to support Reynoso and has two options; get past and vacate the space in-behind his opponent, or cut inside and return the ball to his team-mate.
Crucial in operating the flanks
Boca Juniors had an average of 51.5% possession per game in the 2019/20 season. It’s safe to say the attackers provide a decisive contribution to that number.
As mentioned before, Hurtado likes to receive the ball and operate down the left-flank. This constant movement then allows his strike partner to come more centrally, whilst also providing extra space for the supporting player behind him.
Rosso places emphasis on his side with an attacking line up in terms of personnel in an asymmetrical 4-1-3-2. Reynoso and Villa often stay wide, with the front two often rotating.
As aforementioned, one of them will drop deep and hold the ball up, whilst the other stays centrally in the hope of a cross coming into the box. Reynoso and Villa both have three assists this season for the Azul y Oro, highlighting the importance of the wide threat that Boca look to employ.
Secondly, Boca Juniors are highly effective when it comes to counter-attacking. Away from home, they scored 28 goals this season and only conceded 13. A shown in their encounter against Velez Sarsfield this season, they sit deep and invite the pressure onto them, before counter-attacking in numbers.
Boca originally started the game in a 4-4-1-1 formation, before switching to a 5-4-1 formation later on for a more defensive approach. The hosts had 62% possession compared to Boca’s 38%, highlighting Russo’s counter-attacking approach to the game, with the defenders offloading the ball quickly to the frontman, which in this case is the 20-year-old Venezuelan.
Roles in the final-third
Statistically speaking, Boca averaged 1.58 goals per game this season – with 34 of them coming from their central forwards. The acquisition of Salvio this season proved to be a smart one, with the Argentinian-born winger contributing 10 goals this season. Salvio and Reynoso operating as inverted wingers provide additional support for the central striker.
Their game against Club Atlético Lanús earlier this season is a typical example of this. Boca set up in an initial 4-4-2 formation, with Zarate sitting in-behind Hurtado. This would then effectively bring the wide players into the game.
As previously mentioned in the piece, Boca have a tendency to play on the counter-attack away from home. This suits Hurtado’s playing style, with the 20-year-old using his pace and power to make a run in the space highlighted. Not only does this drag players away from Salvio, but it also creates more space for the winger to come inside. This may explain why he has also been caught offside seven times this season.
The new Asprilla?
Hurtado has drawn many comparisons to former Colombian forward Asprilla, with the latter having a brief spell at Estudiantes La Plata during the 2003-2004 campaign. Hurtado offers a lot of variability in terms of Boca Juniors’ attacking options. With Ramón Ábila (30), Zarate (33) and Tevez (36) all approaching the tender years of their respective footballing careers, it certainly seems like Hurtado (20) and Soldano (25) are the favourable options to lead the line at the Estadio Alberto J. Armando for many years to come.
Similar to Aprilla, Hurtado likes to latch himself onto the last opposing defender and beat him one way or the other, whether that be through pace or skill. He likes to get his body in front of the defender and use his physical attributes to his advantage – explaining why he has been fouled 17 times this season, an impressive number for a centre-forward.
The Superclásico was a prime example of his positioning strength. Boca win the ball high up the pitch and Hurtado comes deep and wider to provide a passing option. This can then launch a counter-attack for the away side with a numerical advantage going forward.
Russo prefers to set up his team in a fluid 4-1-3-2 formation when not having the ball. Mainly, he asks his players to pressure from the frontline with a wide containment area. Within the shape, the players could also prevent passing option for the on-ball opponent and force him to go back or go long as a result.
As a centre-forward and the highest player up the pitch for his team, Hurtado shoulders the responsibility of closing down the centre-backs. In this process, he would maintain his position and then provide a passing option once his team have retrieved the ball. The objective is to not let the opposing defenders have time on the ball and receive it comfortably. Not only that, but pressing the defenders will also make the opposition uncomfortable on the ball and potentially force them into mistakes.
Boca’s press is naturally more aggressive when the ball has reached the flank. When this happens, Rosso instructs his men to close all nearby passing options while also pressing the on-ball opponent. In this instance, Hurtado is tasked with closing down the passing option back to the centre-back, subsequently forcing the right-back to come inside.
However, the Azul y Oro can also play a higher pressing system when needed. In this instance, their wide 4-4-2 formation is effective in closing down the opposition. Tevez and Hurtado coming deep around the halfway line presents a passing option if possession switches over, as well as helping to close down the passing lanes for the defenders/deep-lying midfielders.
Despite being more of a possession-based team, Boca still keep their counter-attacking identity intact – especially away from home. To put that into perspective, they average 48.48% possession per game on their travels. So, let’s take a closer look at Hurtado’s role in their transitional attacks.
Mainly, the 20-year-old serves as a holding-player; bringing other players into the game. For instance, when his team are under pressure, the ball will be directed towards him to hold up. This is done in two ways, by either spinning his opponent and creating further space, or holding the ball and offloading to a supporting team-mate.
Despite primarily acting as a holding-player, the El-Canton born forward can also join the attack as a runner. Hurtado has acceleration in his armoury to vacate space behind his marker when possible.
As shown from the image above, Hurtado’s positional sense to operate the space leaves him in a good position for a potential goalscoring opportunity. The support of Tevez and Salvio outlines Boca’s ability to transition from defence to attack with devastating effect, with Hurtado playing a key part in this phase against San Lorenzo.
The main issue of Hurtado’s game is his composure in the final third. There’s no doubt the 20-year-old has potential with his raw pace and ability to beat defenders, but his composure and final product often let him down on numerous occasions. It goes to show that he is far from the finished article Boca thought they snapped up.
Another potential issue is his decision making. Quite often Hurtado finds himself in good positions, but his lack of decision-making makes him lose possession of the ball. This causes his team-mates to be frustrated if they’re in space, thus losing trust when he has the ball at his feet.
Hurtado also needs to work on his positional IQ. On some occasions, he would focus too heavily on coming wide and not staying central to get into a goalscoring position. On another occasion, he would take too long to move out of position; thus obstructing other players’ potential runs into space.
One thing that the Venezuelan needs to polish is his composure. He often finds himself in very good positions centrally but remains early in his development and still lacks the finished article in terms of technical ability. In this image above, Hurtado picks up a good position in space, before finishing past the goalkeeper. He often likes to drift wide where he isn’t as effective, but coming inside where he has an eye for goal will help to fulfil his potential.
Hurtado is an exciting striker and very capable of playing in the Premier League one day. This analysis outlines his raw pace and ability to beat defenders with his power makes him a nuisance for defenders. However, he needs to adapt his game and operate more central positions that make him more of a goalscoring threat. Playing as a centre forward requires knowledge of the space, broader vision and anticipation. He also needs to improve his decision making offensively – to provide him with a killer final product.
There’s no doubt the 20-year-old has untapped potential. The big question is: can he justify his move to Boca and become Venezuela’s next big superstar? Time will tell.