Welcome back to On the Break! 2023 saw us progress from a distant third to a genuine title challenger for the first time (click HERE to see how that unfolded) so now we need to build on that momentum and really push the big boys!
Halfway through last season we moved away from our back three for the first time, switching to a 4-2-3-1 to get the best from Martín Rabuñal and Luciano Boggio, two of the best players at the club. At no point though did I actually show that tactic in a post, and since I’ve tweaked it again this pre-season now seems like the perfect time to correct that!
After I wrote this piece on the differences between defensive blocks, the first in my Tactical Aspects series, I came back to the save and realised I hadn’t really set up much of a defensive block at all. I’ve now tweaked this to set up with a more traditional mid-block, as I feel we’re good enough to go toe to toe with even the best sides in the division, eliminating the need to rely on a more passive low block. I’ve also changed the MCR to a MEZ (S) to gain a presence in the right half-space, to balance having a left half-space presence from the Inside Forward on that side.
We’re starting to reap what we’ve sown in regards to our youth intakes, with Nahuel Paiva and Christian Schneider starting to challenge for regular first-team action. The truth is though every intake so far has been good, and I can see some additions to the first-team squad from the youth sides every year for a few yet thanks to the talent we’re developing. To keep that going though, we needed another good intake this year. I was told to be optimistic about this group in the preview, and I wouldn’t say I’ve been let down, in fact my HOYD is now calling it a golden generation!
Poor old Christian Colman, last year’s intake golden boy is no longer classed as the ‘hot prospect’ at the club. Step forward the fantastically named Ramiro Centurión, who despite not being such a natural finisher is a more well rounded player, and apparently a better prospect. Either way, I’m chuffed to have them both!
Centurión’s attributes on the left and green bars, Colman’s on the right and blue bars.
The others all look like fine prospects too, although a few suffer with low determination again, something I may have to look at changing HOYD to fix. Carlos Burgos looks like a player I can be very excited by, with his only real negatives at this point his heading and his natural fitness, which are both quite poor. He has plenty of time on his side though.
The results in pre-season were decent, we took in a few trialists and tried to rotate to build fitness so I was pleased to win every game, although the Talleres win was less comfortable than I would have liked. The main focus this pre-season though was to look at getting in some players to improve the squad, and start spending some of the extra wage budget the board have allowed.
I didn’t expect to be bringing in an ex-Man United player at this point of the save, that’s for sure! Signing Guillermo Varela on a free is an excellent sign of the progress we’re making, and despite RB not being a particularly weak area, he is an immediate upgrade, meaning one of Gómez or Pintado will probably have to leave soon. Matheus Alzemand came in on trial and instantly impressed, scoring and assisting against Villa San Carlos. He’ll rotate with Rabuñal but can also play as the DLP or even as a 10. Bruno was more of a gamble, as I couldn’t take him on trial beforehand and didn’t have full scouting knowledge, but I’m not unhappy with his signing. He’s gone on loan to Juventud this season to get regular game time, as he’s basically the same player as Alzemand and there isn’t room for both in the squad this year. I’ve also agree end-of-contract deals for Martín Rea and Dimas Morales who will offer competition for places at the back when they join in July.
In terms of outgoing transfers, we’ve had a miracle! We’ve made £1million in sales without losing a single first-team player. With 6 months to go until the contracts of some of our youth players expired, I started getting emails that sides were offering contracts to them, meaning that we as a club were entitled to compensation for them!
As well as Lopetegui, Renzo Sánchez and Pablo Pagano have also left the club early, with compensation of £325k rising to £900k, meaning that combined we’ve earned £1m potentially rising to £2.7 for three players that were going to be leaving for free! It’s far from fixed the finances, we still make a loss every month, but it’s wiped out a good chunk of the debt.
Last year we got off to an incredible start, only to falter towards the end of the stage and end up settling for third. I was desperate to avoid a repeat of that this year, but we were thrown the curveball of facing Peñarol away in the opening game.
Was this going to be a false dawn? Or a sign of things to come?
We were incredible, and worthy Apertura stage winners, remaining undefeated in the process! Matías Ocampo has really stepped his game up a level this year so far, with 4 goals and 3 assists in 10 starts from the right wing, while Luciano Boggio has stepped back into his favoured no10 role and laid on 7 assists for his team-mates. No matter what happens for the rest of this season, we are in the Championship Playoff at the end of the year and I’m thrilled to have that secured, but I won’t rest on my laurels, we still need to go out for the rest of the year and prove that we’re serious about bringing this title home. The Uruguayan league has a history of being unpredictable, despite being dominated by Nacional and Peñarol, sides have often won a stage and then fallen away or been nowhere to then suddenly come and clinch the Clausura, I’m determined to make sure we stay consistent.
Better still, neither Nacional and Peñarol were at their best and have finished third and fourth, a whopping 14 and 11 points behind us respectively. Torque had a very strong Apertura and may well show that they can keep up their form and hang around near the top of the table, but right now I’m not too worried about them, we’re already 10 points clear of them and I’d expect them to fade away.
We’ve been really unlucky with our Copa Libertadores draws so far in the save, with Olimpia and Atlético Mineiro both far bigger clubs that we’ve given good games to before bowing out.
This year we were drawn against Guaraní of Paraguay, a side that we’re much more evenly matched to, even if we are still the underdogs. They have 12 players in their squad earning more than my top earner, after all.
We gave it our all, but went out on away goals, and I’m absolutely gutted. This was our chance to finally progress, we were 3-1 up in the first leg and gave away two sloppy goals. We did well to go to Paraguay and avoid defeat, but realistically by then the damage was already done, three away goals were always going to be very tough to deal with.
Being in the Champions Playoff domestically means that we’ll skip the qualifying rounds next year, so we’ll be in the groups come what may, which is excellent progression and will mean some real prize money. Whether we can make an impact or not remains to be seen, but Peñarol have qualified out of their group this season at the expense of Cruzeiro and América de Cali, so there’s always a chance for us.
So that’s it for today, a really strong start, and a genuine shot of being crowned champions at season’s end! Any thoughts are welcome in the comments to this post or over on Twitter.
Thanks for reading.