Welcome back to On the Break! If you’re here for the first time or are behind on the series, firstly – thanks for taking the time, and secondly – you can catch up HERE! This year brings about a whole new challenge, the Copa Libertadores Group Stages! Can we balance the demands of the extra games while also maintaining our progress domestically? Let’s find out!
The preview for this year’s youth intake was another promising one, with an excellent group predicted. There are some exciting players in there for sure, but I’m not as excited as I’ve been in past years.
Jhon Da Luz is the most complete player of the group at their young age, and therefore I agree with the HOYD’s opinion that he is the pick of this group, even if the coaches rate Darío López just as highly. They both join the seemingly endless conveyer belt of Defensor Academy strikers though, hopefully contesting for first-team football with Paiva, Colman and Centurión one day. If not, hopefully they’ll develop into sellable assets.
I think the thing that limits my excitement for this group of players the most is their relative lack of mental strength compared to intakes gone by. Da Luz is the only player in this group already with a decent level of mental attributes and to me he stands well clear of the rest. Central defender Mathías Darias also intrigues me, he has a good bit of work to do of course, but he has solid attributes across the board for his age group, plus he’s 6’4″, brave as a button and an absolute warrior. It’s very early for a comparison, but I’d love him to develop into my very own Nemanja Vidic 😍
Our Pre-Season started with something new this year, as we played in the Uruguayan Super Cup for the first time. Our opponents? Nacional, of course!
Our favourite opponents strike again!
Nacional came out of the blocks flying, scoring two goals in the opening 10 minutes and essentially winning the game before it had properly started. The match stats tell the story of a relatively even game, but the truth we played poorly, with only Boggio and Jorge impressing, and never looked capable of mounting a comeback. Nacional so easily claiming the first silverware of the season is a worry for the rest of the season, that’s for sure.
The rest of pre-season was a breeze, securing convincing victories in each game with returning loanees Bruno and Colman looking sharp, and Canela clearly determined to show he had a role to play. It was nice to see Centurión grab a couple of goals too, although as he hadn’t turned 17 and therefore signed a professional deal before the start of the season I couldn’t plan the squad with him in mind, which is a shame.
Speaking of squad planning, we did a lot of that in the last post, and decided there was a lot of work to do. The TL;DR looks like this.
In the end, we really struggled to execute the plan. No offers worth considering were coming in for the players we wanted to shift, and finding the right central defenders to bring into the side was proving tough. In the end, the four players specified as dead wood all stayed, although Canela is the only one to feature this season so far, and Lautaro Mesa has finally agreed a deal to leave in the next transfer window. The reality of our transfer window looked like this:
We did a good job of securing loans for most of the youngsters I wanted to see kick on, although Ramiro Centurión and Matías Fernández both stayed at the club and have been playing Reserve football. My plan at right-back changed when Guillermo Varela had his head turned and I eventually had to settle for a bid of £1m for him, it massively helps the financial situation of course, but I’d have liked more for him. This granted Juan Pintado a reprieve and another chance to prove his worth. In terms of incoming players, we only added one to the squad at season’s start, central defender Matías de los Santos, who signed a deal worth more than 3x the amount of any other player at the club – a sign perhaps that I was getting desperate, although I do believe he adds genuine quality. He will be joined in the next transfer window by fellow central defender Nahuel Kramer from Tigre, and wildcard signing Víctor Valenzuela, who I thought was too good to pass up on a free. He will probably link up with the squad upon arrival, but my first though was that he could be a very valuable asset that we could turn a quick, and potentially large profit on.
Last season we won the Apertura, remaining unbeaten in the process, which gave us our first genuine chance at being crowned Champions of Uruguay. We know how important a strong start can be for the season as a whole, and after a good pre-season I was determined to kick on, even if we hadn’t done the transfer business I would have liked.
A good start indeed. We weren’t particularly free-flowing going forward, or exceptional defensively, but we were unbeaten and in good shape, second behind a rampant Nacional. In Matías de los Santos we had a truly talented penalty taker for the first time in the save, and he proved that by scoring three of them in the first eight games, to add to the header he scored in just his second game for the club. Christian Colman also made an impact, scoring 4 in 4 after coming in for the underwhelming Pablo López.
Ah this takes me back! Specifically to 2023, where we started brilliantly and then capitulated. That’s exactly what we’ve done again, but this time there is at least an explanation. For the first time in the save we’re having to play an extra six matches in and around our league fixtures due to the Copa Libertadores Group Stage, and the extra fatigue and some niggling injuries are definitely taking their toll on the squad. This isn’t the only reason though, as I tweaked the Team Instructions at the start of the season, and was sold on the fact we scored a lot of goals in pre-season, but the truth is our system last year worked. We were two missed penalties away from a league title, and my messing has clearly had a negative impact on our performances, so I went back to last season’s system against Juventud and looked more convincing despite conceding a late goal, so the Intermedio will be used as a Litmus test of sorts, to see if the old system can make up for our awful start.
Group Stages baby! Finishing second last year allowed us to skip qualifying, which is significant not only because of the progress it signifies and the chance to test ourselves against higher quality opposition, but also for our finances; we were given £2.3million for participating in the groups, compared to £388k last year for our qualifying efforts. I had no expectation of progressing and the board wanted us to ‘Be Competitive’, which I assume just means don’t embarrass the club. The draw came around, and oh boy!
Santos and São Paulo are clear favourites to progress, with ourselves and O’Higgins looking to avoid the wooden spoon. I’d put us down as the weakest side in our group, but I was hopeful we could at least give a good showing and maybe grab some results against the Chileans.
Well, colour me surprised and delighted! Even in defeat we showed that we had the bottle to give Santos and São Paulo a game, and to take at least a point from both of them is a great achievement. For 17 year-old Christian Colman to bag a hat-trick away at Santos is a huge moment for the club, proof that our academy players can make an impact at the highest levels. We were emphatic in the first game, at home to O’Higgins, and after that game I set the target of doing the double over them, as I assumed they would be the only points we would collect. 8 points from 6 games far exceeding mine and the board’s expectations, but was it enough to squeak through?
Sadly no, but we gave it a good go! We showed too much respect to O’Higgins in the final group game, so concerned with avoiding defeat that we didn’t create enough chances to win the game. This coupled with Santos’ win over São Paulo left us agonisingly close, but ultimately we can be really proud of our showing. There was one more bonus to come from our performance too:
I should probably have had an idea that third would secure us Sudamericana football, it’s the same process as in Europe’s Champions League, after all. I didn’t have a clue though, so I was delighted when the Mail came through that our Continental campaign wasn’t over. We’re yet again expected by the board to ‘Be Competitive’ which I’m glad of as 10 of the sides left in the competition are from Brazil and Argentina, including our second-round opponents, Lanús. Our performances give me faith that we could have a really good go at progressing, but we are certainly the underdogs – our entire playing staff earns 45% of their top earner’s wage. His name is Gonzalo Higuaín, you may have heard of him?
That’s it for today’s post, a lot to cover, and a disappointing start on the whole. Hopefully we can pick it up in the second half of this season, make sure you check back in next time to find out!
Let me know how you think we’ll do for the rest of the year either in the comments below or over on Twitter!
Thanks for reading.