Welcome back to On the Break! Last season was a rough one, the worst since the save started. If you aren’t up to date with the series, I’d recommend at the very least reading the previous post HERE, as it covers the end of the season and gives context to what we’re about to analyse. Our continental form, getting close to qualifying from our Libertadores group and then reaching the semis of the Sudamericana, was incredible, very unexpected and a huge plus in a very underwhelming year. However, I think it is partly to blame for our loss of form, the extra games and need for rotation are definitely a factor. I don’t think it’s this alone though, so I’ve extracted some stats for the league as a whole, and using Tableau I’m going to look at a few data points to see if I can find a few ways we can improve next year.
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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the defence is the area I’ve struggled the most with throughout this entire save. To quote myself from the end of 2024 season review:
The defence, particularly at centre-back, is the area of the side I’ve had the most issue strengthening since the start of the save. I’ve struggled to identify targets that add quality without wanting extortionate wages, missing out on players whilst also losing promising youngsters.
This season we made what I believe to be a big upgrade at centre-back, rather unceremoniously dumping Colombian Martín Payares and replacing him with Matías de los Santos, while also adding promising youngster Nahuel Kramer to the ranks midway through the season. However, we conceded 39 goals, the second highest of any season we’ve had so far. So were the new signings a flop, or is it the system causing the problems?
Looking first at the number of attempted headers over the whole season against the amount of headers won per 90 minutes, de los Santos comes out in a similar area to Mathías Laborda, Léo Coelho and Yuber Santos, three of the best central defenders in Uruguay. This in isolation makes for fairly promising reading, but add in the similar HW/90 figures of Martín Rea and Kramer, only lower in headers attempted because of reduced game time, it seems we have a good set of defenders to deal with balls into the box. This is without mentioning Carlos Burgos, a youth intake player we loaned to Torque during the Intermedio to get him so top level game time, who also has similar numbers to Rea and Kramer and will be in the squad next season. Things start to look less promising when we use the aerial attempts per 90 metric as a comparison to HW/90, however. Although all four of our central defenders are above average in both metrics, I feel this can be split into two further groups; the above average, and the top tier. Only Nahuel Kramer really falls into the latter, and interestingly our mainstay – Mathías de los Santos – is our worst performing central defender in this metrics and is made to look very normal; there are at least 20 defenders outperforming him in the air. Renzo Orihuela looks a player that could improve us in the air if we could prize him from Atenas, and despite his small sample size, Andrés Madruga of Peñarol looks interesting due to the sheers amount of headers he wins a game.
Of course, not every aspect of defending is aerial, so the last chart covers tackling ability and reading of the game, which also makes the full-backs a bit more relevant than purely looking at heading. Immediately the eye is drawn to Guido Verdún, by far the exceptional player in these metrics. Sign him and it’s game over, right? Well, he started one game and came off the bench in another, so no, not so much! I could maybe have excluded from the data set, but it shows the sort of numbers that can be achieved, which I think gives a bit of context. Mauro García is our, and one of the division’s best, in this area; he has a decent if not spectacular tackle win rate and is comfortably within the top 10 for Interceptions per 90. Behind this, we’re very ordinary, with none of the other players really putting up high numbers in either metric – apart from Emiliano Álvarez and his 100% tackle rate, but this again is down to sample size, he only started 7 games.
So what conclusions, if any, do I draw from this? The first thing is that I still feel the defence could be strengthened greatly, providing we can find the right targets. A new left-back is a must, as Dimas Morales leaves us next season, meaning we have no cover for Mauro García. I’m excited for Carlos Burgos to link up with the squad; I toyed with throwing him in as soon as he signed his professional deal, but his weak heading attribute (9) worried me. Having seen his stats compared to our current crop though, I feel he can certainly contribute. The biggest take away though is a tweak to our defensive setup. Currently we employ a mid-block, with a huge focus on forcing the opposition out wide and pressing them hard when they get there. Mathías de los Santos was in the top 5 for headers attempted in the division, which means the plan isn’t working, and if our ability to win headers is only average, the whole plan falls apart. Combine this with low interception numbers from the majority of our defenders, and I’m looking to impose a higher press with less focus on pushing the play out wide, especially as we generally carry the numbers through the middle to withstand that threat.
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Moving forward into the midfield, I’m keen to look at our ability on the ball relative to the rest of the division. We got some joy at the start of the Clausura by playing more direct football out to the wings, exploiting the sudden aerial threat we posed with Víctor Valenzuela. It worked for a while, but once opponents figured us out we looked desperate and toothless, leading to another awful run of form. We have some good technicians in the side, but are they as good as those around them? If we look at the amount of passes and the chances created per 90 minutes, we can see that our most effective players by some distance were Benjamín Rodríguez and Luciano Boggio, who both created just short of 1 chance every 2 games. They weren’t backed up in the slightest by the rest of the midfield though, as only Cristian Schneider and Yerson Solís joined them in being above the league average, and staggeringly we had 7 midfielders/wingers who created less than 0.1 chances per 90. I’d suggest that this doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story though, as our midfield double pivot was designed to be industrious instead of creative, the basis from which Boggio could go and create from behind the striker. A bit more of a contribution would be nice, but not at the expense of the balance of the side.
Of course creating chances is a big part of a midfielder’s game, but if those chances aren’t being converted then their output is going to look poor by extension. So by taking a look at the amount of key passes players are making per game and comparing to the amount of assists they recorded, we can see how frequently they’re converting good moments into goal contributions. Boggio and Rodríguez score well here again, but my word if I could bag Santiago Rodríguez or Agustín González we’d be laughing! Juan Manuel Jorge deserves a mention here, despite playing a below average number of key passes he still bagged 10 assists, the joint highest in the league. If we could get more key passes from him next year, it stands to reason that he should bag even more assists. Whether that means playing him as the slightly more forward thinking of the double pivot, or changing the roles of the midfield altogether, who knows?
Surprisingly, the two standout players for assists and key passes also dominate the crossing charts, but neither are wingers! We really underperformed in this metric, as all of our wingers were below average for either quantity or completion of crosses, or in the case of Canela, both. This surprised me a touch as Valenzuela scored a bucket load from crosses from the left hand side, but I guess for each one I was seeing, there were a load that I wasn’t. Our winger’s game plan isn’t all about whipping in crosses, the AML has almost exclusively been an Inside Forward for the whole save, but even so they are always going to need to contribute from crosses to a degree, so it’s disappointing to see us perform so poorly.
I think to get the best from the talent we have in the midfield we need to try and up their creativity. We’re stronger than most sides in the division, so an industrious and defensive pivot isn’t always necessary, especially at home. If we get them on the ball, passing between themselves, waiting for openings in the opposition’s defence I think we can do some damage, which will also allow us to rely less on the wayward crossing from our wingers.
Come on… you know what to do by now!
As well as our defence performing below the standards we’ve been setting over the last couple of years, we also scored 6 less goals this year than in any other campaign so far. I take some of the responsibility for that, as I chose to push our top scorer for the past 3 years Pablo López aside to blood promising youngsters Colman and Centurión, but they needed that first team football to develop and they’ve certainly proved capable, if not the finished articles yet. If we consider the number of shots on target per 90 and shots on target as a percentage, Centurión actually proves to be our most impressive performer. If we can increase his finishing (12) I’d expect to see his percentage of shots on target increase, while he actually had the second most shots per 90, finishing only behind Josema – a bit of an outlier considering his lowly 1(6) appearances. When we add goals into this equation and plot them again shots on target per 90, Centurión starts to look less impressive, as there are many players who scored more than him with less shots per game, meaning they’re either receiving better chances, or are just more clinical finishers. One can be worked on by the side as a whole, the other is down to him. Right winger Valenzuela was our top scorer with 14 goals in just half the season, so feasibly he could have challenged towards the top of that chart, and he was certainly the most potent goal-scoring threat from the wing in the division. The league is starting to see an influx of young strikers making their breakthrough, including Bartolozzi and Techera of Atenas, and most impressively Diego Barone of Peñarol, who was the division’s top scorer in his breakthrough year and is surely destined for big things.
The last (and newest) metric to consider is xG. Just how clinical are the league’s best attackers? Well, the three best are pretty damn clinical. All of them exceeded their xG by at least 3 goals, but Barone took the biscuit and exceeded his by over 12! From the rest, Techera proved his worth to an otherwise average Atenas side again, giving the kind of performance we need Centurión and Colman to strive for next year. Our strikers generally did okay on their xG, with Centurión performing just below, but López matched his xG and Colman exceeded his by 4, he just blew hot and cold too often to be first choice all season. Valenzuela again showed his worth by exceeding his xG from out on the wing, the sheer number of low probability headers he looped back over keepers will have helped no end. He’s the one true star in our side, so hopefully we can get at least one more season from him. I think a shift to a more possession based system next year should see us create a better quality of chance, which will help the strikers to become more deadly as they develop.
So what have I learned about the previous season, and what am I going to change to improve next year?
First off, a decision needs to be made in defence. We either need to find some truly aerially dominant centre-backs, or change the system to stop as many crosses coming in. A change back to a three man defence could prove handy here, as we could force opposition inside, with another man in there to help crowd the area.
Secondly, we need to encourage the midfield to be more patient, keep the ball well and wait for their openings. We have technically gifted players in the midfield, so we don’t need to rely on such direct transitions to catch the opponent off guard. This also gives us a better chance of breaking down deep defences, something I expect to continue facing as we are seen as a good side within the division.
Up top, I don’t think a whole lot needs to change. With a full year of top level football under their belts, Colman and Centurión will come back stronger and continue to grow. I also think the other changes throughout the system should give them better chances to score without too much changing on their end.
That’s it for this post, it’s a bit wordier than I generally post, so if you made it all the way then thanks very much for sticking with it. I think it’s important after a poor season not to rush into the next, and to stop and evaluate properly what exactly went wrong. Let me know what you think of my conclusions in the comments, or over on Twitter.
Thanks for reading.