Welcome back to On The Break! I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas, despite all the uncertainty and restrictions right now. It’s been a while since the last post, so to catch up on the series so far, click HERE. We met expectations in the Apertura this season and got off to a solid start, could we continue that form? Let’s find out…
The first piece of good news going into the Intermedio this season comes in the the form of Nacional and Peñarol being split into separate groups, meaning we only face one. Last year we faced both and took 4 points from them, but avoiding one of those fixtures altogether is always desirable.
The main threats to us in the group came in the form of Nacional, River Plate, and CA Cerro, who finished 1st, 5th, and 7th in the Apertura respectively.
We had some really strong results in the Intermedio this year, particularly the 5-1 drubbing of River Plate, but unfortunately a couple of defeats to Nacional and struggling Montevideo City Torque were our undoing.
The Nacional game was actually fairly even, we had more shots but they created the better chances and more importantly took them, showing we need to become a bit more clinical to really compete and the top end of the league.
Torque just seem to have the beating of us lately. They came to our place and beat us in the Apertura, and now in the final game of the Intermedio, they denied us the opportunity to top the group as we slumped to another defeat. We had an xG of 2.32, completed 91% of our passes and had 59% possession, but yet again we weren’t clinical enough to take our chances and it cost us.
So another strong showing, but not enough to top the group and progress to the Intermedio Final. That was earned by Nacional in our group, and by our rivals Danubio in Group B, who snuck top spot on goal difference from Plaza Colonia. Meanwhile, Peñarol hit a patch of inconsistency and only managed to finish 3rd.
The Intermedio Final was a cagey affair, with Nacional dominating but unable to break down a resolute Danubio side. After 120 goalless minutes, the tie was decided on penalties, with Nacional triumphing, which dramatically reduces the chances of a Championship Playoff at the end of the year.
Sat fairly comfortably in third place in the overall table, we were well on course to achieve our aims again this season, but we needed to finish strongly as well or risk the season being a bust.
We got off to a shaky start without being awful. We should have beaten Atenas, they’ve been a pretty poor side all season and to concede late and drop two points against them is a waste. A draw against Nacional is never a bad result, but winless in two games isn’t the ideal start. We started to get back on track against CA Cerro though, with a pretty dominant 2-1 away win.
We didn’t really improve too much in the next few fixtures either, with a couple more wins but also more dropped points. River Plate don’t seem to be the same side now that Matías Arezo so although we looked really good going forward I was disappointed to concede three goals to them.
One point from two games against Cerrito and CA Progreso is an awful return, there’s no sugar coating it. Both sides actually ended up doing okay in the Clausura, but overall were comfortably bottom half sides and so it was definitely a case of 5 needless points dropped.
A brace from young striker Maximiliano Juambeltz, recently promoted from the reserves secured us a vital win against Plaza Colonia which was not only well needed, but set us up for the second half of the stage.
This comfortably goes down as the best run of form we’ve had since the start of the save. We looked thoroughly convincing in each of these wins, all while struggling with injuries and trying to keep players match fit throughout the run. Juan Manuel Jorge was a particular highlight of this run, I probably left him in the reserves for too long to be honest, but once I promoted him he got some game time and looked really solid every time he played as our deep lying playmaker.
The only blip in the run is the 5-2 defeat to Peñarol, which was just a really poor day at the office. They looked like scoring every time they came on the attack, and to be honest we were lucky to get out of there without more damage done. The way we came back from that to beat CA Fénix and then see out the season with a vital 3-1 win over rivals Danubio was really impressive, we could have easily crumbled after such a poor defeat.
Another solid season, we achieved what we set out to do again, and I’d fairly comfortably say now that we’re the third best side in Uruguay. We won an extra 5 games and gained 7 more points compared to last season, although we finished further adrift of 1st place this year, 14 points off the pace as opposed to 12 last year, showing that Nacional aren’t resting on their laurels and will take some serious overhauling.
The average points table for the last two seasons, which is used to decide relegation, actually shows that we’ve been the second best side in the division since the start of the save, which is nice to see but realistically is down to Peñarol having a poor season last year. I expect them to overtake us in this table next year, as I think we’ll be closer but I’m still aiming for top 3 right now, rather than a full blown title challenge.
The end of season analyst reports show we did pretty well across the board, although the primary focus for next year is to improve on our conversion rate in front of goal. It’s more likely to be a small tweak to the tactics other than recruitment, as Pablo López had a really good season bagging 20 goals, and he’ll be ably supported by Maxi Juambeltz, Matías Kusmanis and Facundo Milán, all promising youngsters.
IN OTHER NEWS…
Looking forward to next year, there are a few players that have already agreed deals to leave the club, most notably Franco Zuculini, who has signed a pre-contract with Estudiantes (BA) back in his native Argentina. I offered Franco a deal to stay, even though we weren’t really in the financial situation to do so, but he was looking for a pay rise of nearly a grand a week to stay, and we simply couldn’t afford to do that deal. In hindsight I’d say that losing Franco isn’t the biggest blow, as we’ve used the time since the deal was announced to give Luciano Boggio more game time, as well as promoting Juan Manuel Jorge as mentioned earlier, and both have thrived, showing we’ve already got more than enough quality in the midfield post-Zuculini.
The other players to agree to leave are a couple more youngsters who both have really good potential but were looking to join the first team squad and they aren’t ready yet, so they’re off to take their chances at River Plate and Liverpool FC, good luck to them, I guess.
I’m also resigning myself more and more to losing Ignacio Laquintana when his contract expires. The promise to sell him for £825k expired, but as of yet I haven’t been able to enter contract negotiations with him as the promises he wants still aren’t enough for his agent to progress (not sure if this is a bug or not?). I’m willing to throw a grand a week at Ignacio to keep him, he’s that good and easily our most sellable asset if that time comes.
We finally have a bit of room for manoeuvre with the wage budget, the board giving us an extra 3k p/w to spend next year which for us will be huge. Only 7 players at the entire club earn more than £300 p/w and three of them are going to leave next year, so if we can bring in some quality players and pay them around £400-£500 each then we can really pad the squad out with some genuine strength in depth. The main areas of focus for recruitment will be centre-back and out wide, with wing-backs also needed if possible.
The last part of this post is a look forward to our next youth intake, due in January. The preview looks more promising than last year’s and I was really happy with the players we gained then, but we still fall short of that fabled Golden Generation. The key to this group seems to be the centre of midifeld, where we apparently have at least two top prospects, where as in other areas such as full-back we may have more quantity and less quality.
So that’s it for this post, another successful season in the books, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can achieve next year.
Thanks for reading.