Between January and February, nine of South America’s Under 23 teams gathered in Colombia for the Pre-Olympic Tournament. With only two qualifying spots up for grabs, teams had to navigate two round-robin style groups.
Led by Fernando Batista, Argentina’s under-23s emerged with their 5th tournament title in 11th appearances. Utilizing the wealth of talented players across the board, Argentina breezed through the first stage, going undefeated in the process. In the final stage, they won their first two matches against Uruguay and Colombia while Brazil tied theirs. Although they lost to the Brazilians, their early success secured them a trip to the next Olympics.
This tactical analysis in the form of a scout report will look at what made the Argentinians successful in the tournament. It will also look at what they would potentially fix so they can win their 3rd gold medal at the Olympics.
Formations and Top Attackers
Batista’s favoured formation during this tournament was the 4-2-3-1. While there were times they lined up in a 4-4-2, the idea remained the same. Regardless of formation, they played with one true forward, and an attacking midfielder that would play off of the striker. The usual combo was San Lorenzo hitman Adolfo Gaich and Brighton’s newest signing Alexis Mac Allister. Flanking the attacking midfielder were two wingers, typically Banfield’s Agustin Urzi and River Plate’s Julian Alvarez. Batista also utilized the double pivot for defensive solidity and to make it easier to play out of the back. The usual back four was also technically gifted and aided the team in distributing the ball.
Premier League rookie Mac Allister was the most dangerous player on the team with 4 goals and 1 assist. Gaich and Julian Alvarez both scored once and had 2 assists, while Agustin Urzi had 1 goal and 1 assist.
While there was a certain formation on paper, what it looked like going forwards is different. In the next part of the analysis, we will explore the attacking tactics that Argentina utilised.
Looking through the average positioning of the players, we see that the wingers occupied the halfspace in the 4-2-3-1. When in the 4-4-2 they played incredibly narrow, with Racing’s Matias Zaracho and Alvares playing behind Mac Allister and Gaich. The right midfielder in the double pivot pushed higher in possession, while Fausto Vera would play as a true holding midfielder.
Another tactic that was typical was the symmetry of the back four. They would alternate mid-game, with the analysis provided we can see this in different matches. Facundo Medina and Liga NOS centre-back Nehuen Perez would normally be the furthest defenders back while Argentina had the ball.
Analysing their attacking habits even further, we take a look at their average passing combinations. Most of the build-up was dictated by Fausto Vera and Mac Allister.
The strongest tactic that Argentina used in the attacking phase of the game was making runs from deep positions. In the game against Ecuador, Mac Allister is seen receiving the ball between the midfield and defensive lines. As the midfielder receives the ball, Gaich remains in his defender’s blind spot instead of making a run. Once Mac Allister begins to dribble he attracts the Ecuadorians towards him, which allows him to pass to the forward.
Gaich’s patience is rewarded as he receives the ball with plenty of time and space to play Mac Allister into the penalty area. The attacking midfielder is able to run in behind the Ecuadorian defense and put Argentina ahead with an easy goal. This type of run is dangerous because it gives the defenders something to think about. If they step towards the runner they give the forward space to dribble. Because the Ecuadorians stayed in formation, the runner was able to get in behind.
The next section of the scout report will focus on the Argentine’s defensive set up.
Argentina’s defensive tactic was to congest the middle and force the opposing team into the wide areas. Once this was achieved, they would win the ball back through the opposition’s errors or misplaced passes.
As the opposition established possession they would move from a mid-block and shift to a low block. With the 4-4-2 they would defend in a 4-4-1-1. Doing this, the Argentinians were able to stay compact and force the ball wide. This would allow Mac Allister to mark the holding midfielder, and exploit the spaces behind the defence if his team recovered possession.
In the 4-2-3-1, the team would block off the centre of the field according to the position of the ball. Using the example above from their match against Uruguay, we see the midfielders and wingers congesting the centre of the field. This tactic allows the opposing player space to play a high-risk long ball to his teammate on the flank.
The ball is easily intercepted by left-back Claudio Bravo, immediately starting the counter-attack by passing the ball to Julian Alvarez.
As mentioned above in the defensive analysis, Argentina would leave their striker high with their attacking midfielder marking the holding midfielder. They would play a quick long pass towards Gaich or Mac Allister and using the wingers’ pace Argentina was able to disorient the opposition with movement and verticality.
When Argentina lost possession, the players nearest to the ball would attempt to win the ball back. Using another example from the match against Ecuador, the Argentines have just lost possession after a throw-in. Fausto Vera delays the ball carrier, while Claudio Bravo and Julian Alvarez recover defensively.
As the Ecuadorian slows down due to Vera’s defensive tactic, Bravo makes his recovery run seem like he is going to attempt a tackle. This run then forces the ball carrier inside, towards Alvarez. As a result, Alvarez is then able to dispossess the Ecuadorian, and Argentina are able to launch an attack in a dangerous position.
One of Argentinians’ weaknesses lies in their strength. If caught in transition, they allow the opposition to create chances. Committing a high number of players to attack results in the defenders being left exposed.
As an illustration, during the match against Brazil Nehuen Perez’s forward pass is being intercepted by the Brazilians. Their first pass is to Paulinho, who is just in front of the back four. We clearly see that the Argentinians are at a disadvantage. The opposition wingers are in prime position to sprint into the space behind the outside backs. After Paulinho beats the advancing Facundo Medina it becomes a 3 v 3 going to goal.
The other weakness is not knowing what to do with the ball if they have the lion’s share of possession. Using the possession analysis below we are able to compare four different games. Looking at their victories, they allowed the opposition to have the majority of the ball. Against the Brazilians, the Argentines had more of the ball and lost 3-0.
Using the example below from that match, we see that Brazil employed a compact 4-4-2 in defence. This negated the space the Argentines enjoyed exploiting with their pace. By reducing the space between lines, Brazil were able to isolate Mac Allister from his teammates.
With the amount of individual quality, Argentina have shown they are one of the teams to beat at the Olympics. The Pre-Olympic tournament showed that Batista was able to bring that talent into a cohesive unit capable of getting results. The youngsters that will participate in this tournament are being linked to the Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A. This crop of players could easily form Argentina’s next national team and their future looks very promising.