Tom Robinson briefs us about the 10 best young players to watch in the Argentine Superliga
Argentina may have endured a chaotic World Cup campaign and the national team is in desperate need of rejuvenation but nevertheless the domestic league still manages to churn out a steady flow of exciting youngsters.
Last year saw the rise of future stars Lautaro Martinez, Cristian Pavon and Ezequiel Barco, while breakout talents Santiago Caseres, Nicolas Gonzalez and Marcelo Saracchi have already moved on to Europe.
As the new season of the Argentinian Superliga kicks off, here are ten of the top prospects to watch.
Exequiel Palacios // 19 // River Plate
Given Argentina’s recent struggles in central midfield, the emergence of 19-year-old all-rounder Exequiel Palacios couldn’t come at a better time. Originally from Tucuman, the River academy product was initially marked out for his precise passing, elegance and good shooting off either foot. However, he has transformed into a more complete player, improving the defensive side to his game with added intensity and physicality, whilst also being more daring and ambitious in the final third.
The former U20 international’s dedication, professionalism and ability to adapt his game has resulted in a rapid improvement and he has impressed Gallardo in pre-season and Copa Argentina. Classy centre back Lucas Martinez Quarta and Uruguayan Nico de la Cruz may be more well-known prospects but Palacios should expect to get plenty more first team football, while Cristian Ferreira is also one who could make a splash.
Marcos Senesi // 21 // San Lorenzo
The 21-year-old centre back may have only played a handful of games for San Lorenzo but is already being linked to Brugge, Atalanta and Torino as well as a whole host of other clubs. However, an injury to Fabricio Coloccini means that, if he does remain in Bajo Flores, Senesi could find himself as a starter in the heart of the defence this season.
Senesi impressed in the 13 appearances he made for El Ciclon last term and has previous captained the Argentina U20s. Left footed with good positioning and reading of the game, he averages 2.3 interceptions per game and didn’t look out of place in a defence that only conceded 20 in 27 games. Along with Gabriel Rojas, Paulo Diaz and Nicolas Zalazar there is a youthful feel to the San Lorenzo back line, while Nahuel Barrios and Franco Moyano are also worth keeping an on.
Matias Zaracho // 20 // Racing
After the departure of Lautaro Martinez to Inter Milan, versatile midfielder Matias Zaracho can stake a claim as La Academia‘s brightest young talent. Usually played on the right but capable of playing on either flank or more centrally, Zaracho is full of selfless running, trickery and intelligent passing.
Linked to Sporting Lisbon, the 20-year-old has already amassed around 40 appearances for Racing, quietly winning over the fans with his work rate and dribbling. Zaracho has also shone in the Libertadores, particularly in their 4-0 victory over Vasco, and should play an increasingly important role this season for Chacho Coudet’s Racing side.
Agustin Almendra // 18 // Boca Juniors
With Pavon still at the club for the time being and the likes of Nandez, Reynoso and new signing Sebastian Villa, Boca is a side full of youthful vigour. Nevertheless, perhaps the most interesting of the emerging starlets on their books could be 18-year-old midfielder Agustin Almendra.
Current captain of the Argentina U20s, Almendra is a tall, lanky attacking midfielder with a devilish shot from range who can either play as an enganche or on the right of a midfield three. His languid gait, technique and vision have seen him compared to club legend Juan Roman Riquelme, while his leggy strides forward have evoked fanciful similarities to Paul Pogba. No pressure then.
With only three league appearances to his name and a star-studded, title-winning squad to compete with, it will be difficult for Almendra to get regular minutes but nevertheless we should be seeing plenty more of him for club and country over the next 12 months.
Julian Carranza // 18 // Banfield
Another 18-year-old making waves in the Superliga is Banfield striker Julian Carranza. The young forward scored an impressive five goals from 14 appearances and is likely to be handed a bigger role for El Taladro this season, while clubs from Europe already taking a keen interest.
Primarily a penalty box poacher, Carranza is quick, clinical and dynamic; the type of player that never gives defenders a break. Whether running in behind or drifting into the space between the centre back and full back, he seems to be in perpetual motion and his off the ball movement and hold up play is mature beyond his years. Fortunately, he’s at a club that gives young players a chance and, with Carranza alongside Chelo Torres and Dario Cvitanich, Banfield will be hoping to address their lack of firepower.
Kevin Mac Allister // 20 // Argentinos Juniors
Much like his Home Alone namesake, Mac Allister is a left back and the 20-year-old made some noteworthy contributions for Argentinos Juniors in their first season back in the top flight. The son of former Argentina international Carlos, Kevin is the second of three brothers, all of whom are on the books of los Bichos Colorados. It’s early days but, given the lack of Albiceleste options at full back, Kevin could well one day emulate his famous father.
Pacey and strong in the challenge, he averaged 4.8 tackles and 3.8 interceptions per game last year and the fact he is right-footed means he can operate on the opposite flank too. He can be rash and occasionally lose concentration but at Argentinos, a club renowned for its youth development, he should be given time to develop.
Maxi Lovera // 19 // Rosario Central
Rosario is a hotbed of footballing talent and in recent years Central has produced the likes of Angel di Maria, Gio Lo Celso and Franco Cervi. Next in that illustrious line could well be exciting attacking midfielder Maxi Lovera. Diminutive, agile, with a low centre of gravity, Lovera is a fantastic dribbler and also has an eye for a killer pass.
Lovera is at his best as a playmaker in the hole but can also operate as a forward on use his pace and trickery cutting in off the wing. Though still lightweight and needing to improve his finishing, Lovera heads a cohort of interesting youngsters at Central that include Andres Lioi, Joaquin Pereyra, Leonel Rivas and Agustin Maziero and it will be fascinating to see if Edgardo Bauza can get the best out of them.
Carlos Benavidez // 20 // Independiente
A new signing from Defensor Sporting, U20 Uruguay international Carlos Benavidez looks to be a fantastic addition to Ariel Holan’s team. The big, strong defensive midfielder was one of the unsung heroes of Uruguay’s 2017 U20 Sudamericano victory, quietly going about his business by providing a robust shield in front of the back four.
Aerially dominant, quick across the ground and strong in the tackle, he’s not just a physical presence and has shown for Defensor Sporting that he can contribute going forward, even scoring three times in six Libertadores games earlier this year. Along with young centre back Alan Franco, Benavidez should quickly become one of the key players in the squad despite his young age.
Lucas Robertone // 21 // Velez
Velez are well known for the never-ending supply of young players and Heinze has put faith in the academy. After the departures of Caseres and Romero, Matias Vargas is undoubtedly the star asset and made it into last year’s list but towards the tail end of the season attacking midfielder Lucas Robertone emerged as yet another prospect to monitor.
The 21-year-old hit five goals and one assist in 16 appearances and his pace, hard work and intensity perfectly fitted Heinze’s style of play. Primarily used as a number 10 due to his ability to pick a pass or chip in with a goal, his acceleration and crossing mean he could be pushed wider, making him a versatile man to have anywhere in the final third. Not afraid to track back and do his defensive duties, Robertone helped set the tone for this young and hungry Velez side. With the likes of Nico Dominguez, Francisco Ortega and Luis Abram, plus Thiago Almada, Ariel Munoz and Nazareno Bazan breaking through, it’ll be well worth keeping an eye on the youthful revolution going on in Liniers.
Gaston Lodico // 20 // Lanus
It was only six months ago that Lanus were in the Copa Libertadores final but that already feels like a lifetime ago. Stripped of their manager and most of their best players, El Granate have suffered an inevitable hangover and their squad looks almost unrecognisable to the team edged out by Gremio. Nevertheless, it has forced the club to promote a lot of youngsters and the pick of the bunch is central midfielder Gaston Lodico.
A busy, technical midfielder who travels well with the ball, Lodico averaged an impressive 85.8% pass completion in his debut Superliga campaign and has a great delivery from set pieces. There will be a lot of responsibility on his young shoulders but he should get plenty of opportunity to demonstrate his talent this season.