No Country for Old Men: A tactical look at Gabriel Heinze’s exciting young Vélez side

by Daniel Fraiz-Martinez

A fertile ground for the cultivation of young talent on the field, the Argentine Superliga is gradually beginning to engender a similar culture in the dugout as well.

Chacho Coudet, Marcelo Gallardo, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Eduardo Domínguez, Juan Pablo Vojvoda and Co. have all made significant impacts on the domestic top tier already. Something that Vélez Sarsfield’s Gabriel Heinze is now looking to do second time of asking.

Having left Argentinos Juniors as flamboyant Primera B Nacional champions, and on a high. Heinze would take a brief sabbatical before joining the side from the barrio of Liniers, for a supposedly ambitious exercise in regenerating one of Argentina’s most storied clubs.

Barely six (official) games in, and post a couple of encouraging recent displays against both River Plate and Racing Club, the fans and spectators alike are beginning to see some of the traits that can be associated with El Gringo and his perceivable footballing dogma.

The most Bielsista of the new Bielsista’s? Argentina’s answer to Jürgen Klopp? Questons answered in this look at the burgeoning tactical construction that is Gabby Heinze’s Vélez – Year One.

The XI – Youthful exuberance in the extreme

Having flirted with both a three-man, and a four-man backline early on, new Vélez boss Heinze has now seemingly settled in the last couple of games on a four, while bringing back 39-year-old veteran Fabián Poroto Cubero into the centre to provide some much needed experience.

Indeed the wisdom and know-how of Cubero, alongside journeyman keeper César Rigamonti and club legend, former Under-20 World Cup wining star Mauro Zárate, add a crucial element to an XI that contains a whopping EIGHT players of 23 years of age or younger.

Press to play’ or ‘Playing to press’?

One thing that has been consistent in the early stages of the Heinze era at Vélez is a pronounced aggressive full-pitch press. One that’s not dissimilar to that which the Argentinos fans in La Paternal had been accustomed to.

Some teams ‘Press to play’ (meaning: recover the ball to then combine and build the attack patiently), while others chose an idea of ‘Playing to Press’ (meaning: press to transition quickly from where the ball is won in the attacking third). To date it would be safe to say that at this point in the cycle, Vélez Sarsfield are very much the latter.

In the half-a-dozen Superliga games so far, El Gringo, regardless of formation and personnel has set his team out to suffocate the opposition into giving up the ball.

Typically in packs, and wanting to regain possession as close to where the ball had been lost/as high up the pitch as feasible, Heinze’s Vélez *want* the ball, and *need* it as much time as possible.

Vélez vs. River #1: Zárate & Bouzat both press the ball leading to River Plate’s keeper Franco Armani clearing the ball out of play – From where a quick throw-in/attacking combination leads to a chance being created.

The core-idea for Heinze is seemingly to have his team to defend as far away from their goal as possible, with the preference being to break structure before having to revert to a mid-block, and attempt to close the passing lanes.

Typically this will usually mean seeing somewhat of a ‘broken team’ when out of possession. With six players tasked to win the ball back in attack, and four with a more watchful, defence orientated brief of ‘fixing’ the position of the opponents furthest away attacking threats.

If and when possession is regained, the team has more often than not been very quick and vertical (direct) with their attacking transitions. Trying to isolate the opponents in either a numerical, or a positional disadvantage as early as possible.

Vélez vs. River #2: Three players swarm the opposition player in possession + one closes the passing lane. This leads to the ball being recovered, a quick transition and a chance created.

Inverted Wingers to isolate and finish the play

Another relatively stable feature (and that has accompanied the transitioning attack style) of the 2018 Vélez Sarsfield to date, has been the use of quasi ‘inverted wingers’ and the diagonal ball in their attacking play.

In this sense and notionally speaking, the formation has loosely bounced between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 in possession. Out wide academy graduate Lucas Robertone, and new recruit Agustín Bouzat, are seemingly Heinze’s first choices in terms of playing said role at present, with fellow recent arrival Guido Mainero also figuring prominently since joining the club in January.

All three (along with, on occasion Matías Vargas*) have, rather than attacking as conventional wingers who hug the touchline, instead played somewhat of an inverted format, looking to cut inside on nominally their stronger foot to look for the diagonal ball. Markedly so when in transition.

The early diagonal being by and large one of Vélez’s most potent attacking tools so far this campaign. With not only the far side winger making a diagonal run inside the oppositions full-back but also Mauro Zárate (and at times with another new signing, former Chacarita Juniors forward Rodrigo Salinas) finding a great deal of joy in isolating their opponents defenders in to one-on-one situations.

Vélez vs. River #3: Nicolás Domínguez diagonal ball inside to find inverted winger Lucas Robertone making the diagonal run into the box (creating a great headed chance).

However, more than simply finding numerical parity, Heinze’s Vélez have equally learnt to use the isolation created to find positional superiority as well. At times pulling away on the shoulder of the far-side defender.

This blindsided attack reaping its rewards for example with Mauro Zárate’s (temporary) equaliser against Eduardo Coudet’s high-flying Racing side.

Racing vs. Vélez #1: From out to in – the ball finding Robertone on the wing and the youngster cutting inside to find Mauro Zárate isolated against the defender’s blindside.

A secondary benefit of playing with wingers in this style has also come in the form of late arrivals to the back post, being equally adaptable to take the shot on first time. (Thus having a more ample frame of reference in terms of near or far post shot placement.)

Vélez vs. River #4: Lucas Robertone, Vélez’s archetypal inverted winger bar none this season, arriving late into the box to score his sides winner.

Monito Vargas – The Key to linking the wings

Within such a youthful side, it should come as no surprise that the spine of the engine room is comprised by a trio of precocious talents in the shape of: Santiago Cáseres (21 years of age), Matías Vargas (20) and Nicolás Domínguez (19).

The former two have already been linked with big-money moves to Europe, and it’s likely that Domínguez won’t be far behind.

A potent triumvirate: Cáseres, supremely adept at recycling possession (dropping between the centre backs to receive the ball), Domínguez (more of a quasi “No.8”) plays a more positional midfield role and Vargas has proven perhaps an even bigger asset in terms of linking the wings within the teams attacking play.

El Monito, as the diminutive playmaker has been affectionately dubbed, has been key in his sides resurgence. It is not coincidence that two of Vélez’s three defeats have come without Vargas in the side.

His dynamic movement off the ball, and an ability to pick up pockets of space others simply can’t find, have helped his team link from defence to attack on the wing.

So much so that whilst at times he has in theory been positioned to play a role on the left flank, he in fact is often invariably seen covering the full length of the pitch, creating said outlet for the wide stationed players to combine with, as well as a numerical superiority from which teammates are better placed to receive and face the goal. A ‘false enganche’ of sorts.’

Vélez vs. River #5: Originally pictured on the left hand side, Vargas popping up the teams right to help create the “triangle” from which the ball then reaches (him) in the box, and for the eventual cutback that leads to Robertone’s winning goal.

Admittedly it is only the early stages and in the ever volatile world that is Argentinian domestic football , the patience that’s required to continue to build upon Gabriel Heinze’s initial green sprouts of recovery will not be easy to come by.

However, what is clear is that the side known as El Fortín domestically, now have a starting point from which they can make the Estadio José Amalfitani a fortress again.

Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielFMPro
Football fanatic/writer:  &! Covering ,  & many more, both in  &  [Creator of]

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