Juan Pablo Vojvoda and his Defensa y Justica side: The SuperLiga young guns spreading their wings to fly free in Argentina

by Daniel Fraiz-Martinez

While ‘the auspicious wind of change’ as César Luis Menotti termed it, brushes over the Superliga in the form of a mini-coaching revolution. There’s one club in particular who can stake a more than credible claim in terms of being a pioneer, in the sense of promoting a progressive coaching recruitment culture.

Defensa y Justicia, with barely more than four years in the Argentine top flight, can boast a coaching pedigree that includes the likes of some the domestic scenes most reputable managers:

Diego Cocca – the Club Tijuana and Primera División’s 2014 Transición winning manager. Jorge Almirón – of domestic success with Lanús and now of Atlético Nacional in Colombia, Ariel Holan – the reigning Copa Sudamericana champion with Independiente, and until most recently Sebastián Beccacece – the current assistant manager to national team boss Jorge Sampaoli, and unofficial boss of the U23’s.

One thing’s for certain is that along with their impressive domestic record, the Varelense’s have demonstrated a keen eye for picking managerial talent. So when their lastest recruit Juan Pablo Vojvoda, a relative unkown plucked from within the Newells Old Boys coaching ranks was appointed it invariably raised a few eyebrows. Albeit there was likley a great many chairman out there standing to attention to take note as well.

A Flexible Friend of the Superliga

Flexibility in football is an often overused term. The clamour to change anything and everything in relation to the moment is typically excessive, and it’s most prominent when a side looses. However, one things for sure is Juan Pablo Vojvoda’s side have been arguably the most tactically flexible domestically. Highlighted to some extent by the statistic that they have been one of the very few Superliga sides to alternate between a back-three and a back-four this year.

Vojvoda choosing to often seamlessly switching the team between their preferred shapes of 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 with a truly impressive dexterity.

Primarily (but not exclusively) as a way of allowing their players to build-up in relation to a way that best suits their personnel.

A key factor in this has been the availability/role of the returning Alexander Barboza versus that of Racing Club loanee Mariano Bareiro. So much so that it comes as no surprise that in the games that the team has employed three at the back since the turn of the year: Argentinos Juniors, Chacarita, Tigre and Atlético Tucumán, the former River Plate defender has played at the heart of the back line, whilst Bareiro did not feature at all.

DYJ 3-4-3 (vs Tucuman)

DYJ’s shape against Atlético Tucumán (0-1) – including Gabriel Barboza acting at the centre of the back-three.

DYJ 4-3-3

Versus a 4-3-3 in their historic XI that defeated Boca Juniors (1-2) – with Mariano Bareiro at the midfield base. – Leonel Miranda replacing Franco Cristaldo would be close to Vojvoda’s first choice eleven in 2018.

Whereas notionally the idea behind a back three versus a back four is seen to be at its core one for defensive reasons, Juan Pablo Vojvoda has done an excellent job of showcasing how this can equally be used as an attacking weapon as well.

In Defensa y Justicia’s case the shape has been designed to get the most out of both Lisandro Martínez one of the Superliga’s outstanding defensive prospects.

A Pronounced Newells DNA running through the veins

Signed from Newells Old Boys, much like his manager (albeit on loan), Lisandro Martínez only 20 years of age, with a compact stature that belies a rock-solid, traditional rugged Argentine defender is unquestionably one of the pillars in Juan Pablo Vojvoda’s side regardless of formation.

However, especially within a back-three his significance in terms of attracting the oppositions forward + ball side midfielder (IE: Winger or interior on the right side), so as to then quickly and more often than not in a direct manner find the gap to the far side ‘free-man’ with his now trademark imperious diagonal switches of play, has been essential to his sides forward momentum.

(Or if this is unsuccessful, at least the team’s central midfielders: Lolo Miranda and Thomas Pochettino, have the advantage of receiving the second ball facing forward.)

And while within this Defensa y Justicia understandably retain certain broad attacking principles in both formations. The tendency with three at the back has been to play less between the lines and through their midfield, focusing more on attracting the opposition’s forward players, to then penetrate the weak side earlier with a more aggressive game, earlier in their possessions.

Hence the diminutive Martínez’s talents have been key in said aspect, and indeed have already caught the eye on the domestic scene in doing so.

Respected Superliga pundit Juan Pablo Varsky’s excellent scouting compilation goes some way to showcasing Lisandro Martínez at his brilliant attacking best.

When opting for a more “Academic” approach

Having usurped Barboza in the XI in recent weeks, the Tita Mattiusi academy graduate Mariano Bareiro has also allowed his team to change their shape without missing a beat.

Playing both in defence and in midfield throughout his budding career to date, Bareiro has offered Vojvoda the option of stationing him at the base of the midfield yet still protecting both his centre-halves due to the former Argentina U20 international’s ability to annex both defence and midfield positions with consummate ease.

This notwithstanding what Bareiro does offer the team from an attacking context, is the ability to penetrate lines *with* the ball on the ground. Either by dropping deep to receive the ball and dribbling through them, as seen with his barnstorming run and pass for Defensa y Justicia’s opener against River Plate.

DYJ vs River 1

Bareiro dropping deep to penetrate Marcelo Gallardo’s man-oriented press.

DYJ Goal vs River 2

Driving through the lines of team play to create superiority before threading an exquisite through pass.

Dyj vs River Final

Nico Fernández receiving and then setting up Cuqui Márquez for the goal.

Or instead by also switching to a 4-3-3 this in turn allows Vovjvoda to field two interior midfielders, who can be stationed higher up the pitch with and without the ball. This way also affording the benefit of one ( if not both at times) the capacity to overload the oppositions ‘Advanced Attacking Areas’, also obscuring their opponents capacity to block off the wings.

As demonstrated in Nahuel Molina’s goal against Patronato, via an expert Miranda through ball.

DYJ OverL1

Miranda in possession of the ball, checks the position of both fellow interior Thomas Pochettino and right-back Nahuel Molina.


Both players off the ball overload the attacking right side with Pochettino and Márquez occupying the oppositions defence allows Molina to get on the end of Miranda’s pin-point pass and score a fantastic goal.

Bielsa and Martino inspired

In a recent interview with Lectura Recomendada, speaking in respect to his coaching philosophies Juan Pablo Vojvoda noted his admiration for both Marcelo Bielsa, whose historic Newells Old Boys side he grew up watching while a youth team player at the club. As well as former Barcelona and Argentina boss Gerardo Tata Martino, whom he worked under when making his way through the youth divisions at the club, and Martino’s side where impressing both domestically and on the continent.

This in mind it should come as no surprise to see certain tactical tenets associated with great La Lepra sides, instilled within his own Defensa y Justicia team.

One of the more pronounced of these would be the individual man-marking across certain areas of the field.

A key area in this sense would be on the wings, where Vojvoda’s side concentrate a great deal of their strength as a team on both sides of the ball.

In particular the role of the wide players Nico Uvita Fernández (or at times alternatively surprise package Horacio Tijanovich) along with the tireless, hard running of Ciro Rius, can be seen following the oppositions full-backs whenever they get forward, and all the way into the defensive third.

Wide Pairings

Rius and Fernández man marking the Boca Juniors fullbacks when their side is out of possession.

Wide 2nd

Nico Fernández taking up his now trademark ‘half & half’ position so as to: cover the inside midfield position, but still Boca’s Julio Buffarini in front of him/be able to follow the fullback all the way to negate any wide 2 v 1 situations in defence.

In fact the man-to-man concept has been somewhat of counterpunching tactical weapon Defensa in 2018. Vojvoda showing a willingness to at times change the form of his team (rather than the shape as such*) to a 4-2-1-3 introducing Juan Kaprof, to in part track their opponents defensive midfield pivot.

Firstly, as a ploy to attempt to block the link between defence and attack. Albeit whilst simultaneously engendering greater opportunities of winning the ball back higher up the pitch, and earlier within their oppositions possession(s).

Change of Shape DYJ 4-2-1-3

*DYJ switching from their 4-3-3 triangle in midfield (below), to a double pivot 4-2-1-3.


Juan Kaprof going man-to-man on Boca’s Wilmar Barrios, contributing to a turnover in possession that created their second & match winning goal at La Bombonera.

Vojvoda employed the same strategy against Racing Club to combat the introduction of Nery Domínguez – Kaprof also coming on as substitute, and this time scoring the winner.

Bespoke solutions to a tailored idea

In the topsy-turvy environment that is domestic football in Argentina, Defensa y Justicia act as a rare beacon of a coherent, sustained sporting project.

Despite containing an eclectic mix of players ranging from young loan signings from the Superliga’s more storied sides, to others who’ve been catapulted in from the lower B Nacional and even Torneo Federal divisions. The side from the Florencio Varela district in Buenos Aires have recruited around an idea, rather than what’s available and putting a premium experience/reputation.

The arrival of Fernando Cuqui Márquez from Belgrano for example, may not have neccesarily set the pulses racing when looking at the forwards previous goalscoring record.

However, the veteran forward has proved a perfect foil for not just supporting Fernández’s diagonal run inside the full back. But also in terms of facilitating contexts for the other players around him such as both first choice fullbacks Christian Almeida and Nahuel Molina, acting as a reference point to then bring the inside players into the game.

El Halcón – the falcon, as the side in green and gold are known in Argentina, are under Juan Pablo Vojvoda fittingly best characterised by their dominant displays on the flanks (in defence and attack).

So it seems appropriate then that a young, inventively assembled side on the back of victories over powerhouse sides such as Boca Juniors or Racing Club are showing signs of spreading their wings.

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

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