Welcome back to On The Break! To catch up on the series so far, click HERE. In today’s post, we kick off the 2022 season, taking a look at our pre-season dealings and matches, before diving into the Apertura stage, and our first taste of continental football!
Before any competitive action, we played a few pre-season games as we always do, but with no major tactical tweaks, it was all about getting some of the breakthrough youngsters and returning loanees integrated with the squad, plus blooding a few trialists that we were looking at bringing in.
We played fairly well on the whole. Running a fully match fit Banfield close is no disgrace, and from there we looked convincing in all three other games, youngsters Milán and Ocampo both impressing. Trialists Nicolás Guirin and Santiago Mele were both given some game time in these fixtures to earn a deal, with Mele coming out on top and signing a 2 year contract. Also joining the club this season are Brian Ferrarés, and Juan Pintado. Ferrarés is a young centre-back with good potential to offer a bit of depth and competition, and Pintado is a natural wing-back to offer a rotation option for Laquintana, something we didn’t really have last season.
The wage budget didn’t improve this season, we’re still stuck struggling with £11k p/w to spend, which I guess is to be expected with the losses we’re making, so these signings couldn’t be made without players leaving. As well as all the players that signed pre-contract deals with other clubs that we covered in the last post, goalkeeper Guillermo Reyes and wing-back Rodrigo Rojo were released, both were replaced with better performers towards the end of last season and on month to month contracts we could release them with no compensation.
We also got an actual transfer fee for the first time in the save, Diego Abreu moving to rivals Wanderers for £7.5k. Diego was unhappy after I forgot a promise I made to find him a loan move, so when he wouldn’t entertain a new contract, Wanderers swooped and offered to take him for free. To my surprise, when I offered to sell him now they took the bait, giving over the £7.5k to take him 6 months early and dump him in the reserves.
The only other bit of transfer news concerns flop Robinson Aponzá, who has agreed a deal to sign for Boca Juniors de Cali back in his native Colombia. He joins in July, and gets another £450 p/w off the wage budget. He was supposed to add some star quality when he joined, I broke the budget to sign him, and he returned that faith with one goal in 11 games. Not good enough.
In Uruguay we get our youth intakes in January, meaning any outstanding talents could potentially dive straight into their breakthrough season as soon as they come through. We don’t have any players who fit that mould this season, but for an intake that didn’t have a great preview, I’m really pleased with the talent we have.
The five above are the best rated prospects from the group and all very exciting players. Matías Fernández leads the way in terms of potential ability, the only 5* rated player in the group, but with the rate he’s currently developing I think Cristian Schneider could go on to be the best player of the lot. He’s already outstanding technically, he could already hold his own in the first team in that regard, I have no doubt. Mentally and physically he still has a lot of work to do, but the boy is only 16, and I’m very excited to see how he develops. I have a little soft spot for Nahuel Paiva I must admit. He’s an aggressive, hard working forward who is already proving in the U19s that he can score goals. He could develop into my own little Luis Suárez.
With ambitions of another top 3 finish in the Overall Table this year, a good start was crucial.
We got it. Almost a perfect start to league season, with an away victory at Nacional the jewel in the crown. We hadn’t beaten them before in 3 previous meetings, but this result gave me the confidence to think we could be in with a real shot this season. Laquintana was easily the star player in this early run of form, moving further forward to play in the front 3 and rewarding me with 3 goals in 5 games.
The rest of the stage wasn’t bad by any means, but certainly less consistent. Last season my biggest gripe was the amount of draws from winnable games, this year we seem to be losing some of them which is a concern. 3 defeats in 4 saw us drop right down the table at one point, but wins over Fenix and a tight away win at rivals Danubio saw us push back up. The Danubio win came at a cost though…
Alan was just starting to come back into the side and look a bit more threatening after some time on the bench, so to lose him for 5-6 months is a huge blow, especially as I’ve not been entirely convinced by the attack so far this year. We may need to look at getting a loanee in somewhere, either a winger/striker to compete or another wing-back so I can fully utilize Laquintana on the wing all season.
Third in the Apertura table is a strong start, and with Peñarol seemingly back on form, probably the best we can hope for right now. 7 points and 20 odd goals is a big old gap after 15 games, plenty of work to do! It puts us in a good position going into the Intermedio though, our next opportunity to open a gap between us and the sides below us.
Our first taste of continental football, we entered the Copa Libertadores in the second qualifying round, meaning we would have to overcome two sides to reach the groups. Our board expectation was to ‘be competitive’ meaning that they didn’t expect us to make the groups, but to give a good account of ourselves.
We were drawn against Paraguayan side Olimpia in the second qualifying round, a side with 12 players in their squad earning double the amount our highest earner does, so the size of the task at hand was undeniable.
Our reward for progressing would be a tie against Independiente del Valle of Ecuador, Antofagasta from Chile, or Bolivian side Club Bolívar.
The first leg was a brilliant result. Both sides were busy and had a lot of shots, but neither really created any amazing chances to convert. It took a moment of magic from Pablo López to score from a 0.06 xG chance to give us a first leg advantage to defend.
What a gutting way to go out. We went to Paraguay and matched a far bigger and better side stride for stride. A stunning free kick from Alejandro Silva put Olimpia ahead in what was a very even game, and although there were more shots on target for both sides than the first leg, again the chances were poor until we conceded a penalty just after the hour mark. Fortunately, Dufour saved the penalty to keep the tie alive. The minutes ticked by and neither side could find the all important goal, meaning the tie was to be decided with a penalty shootout. Unfortunately it wasn’t our day, as Boggio, López and Nápoli all missed their kicks to send us crashing out.
I’m gutted, obviously, but we performed so admirably and on another day could have easily progressed. I hope to reach the Libertadores again next year, so the aim has to be the group stages if we do indeed get there.
A huge shoutout to Lorenzo at FMCustomKits who designed an incredible set of kits for me to use in my save, he’s the nicest guy and went out of his way to make sure I was happy with everything he created and helped to get them into the game when the config was playing up!
So that’s it for this post, next time we will cover the rest of the 2022 season and see whether we can close the gap to Nacional and Peñarol.
Thanks for reading.