Tom Robinson profiles 10 of the best young players to watch in the Argentinian Primera for the 2020 season.
After over 7 months without domestic football, the Argentinian Primera finally returned at the end of October. The shortened tournament will run until the end of the year in place of the Copa de la Superliga and the winner will be awarded a place in next year’s Libertadores.
Last year the likes of Nicolas Dominguez, Exequiel Palacios, Alexis Mac Allister and Adolfo Gaich all impressed and earned big money moves to Europe, while more recently Matias Zaracho, Nahuel Bustos and Lucas Martinez Quarta have all left for new surroundings too.
As ever, there will be plenty more exciting young talents on display this season looking to follow in their footsteps. So who are the up-and-coming prospects to keep an eye on this year?
Below we look at ten of the best – some familiar to most, others slightly less well-known – still plying their trade in the division.
Velez // Thiago Almada // 19 // Midfielder
An obvious choice and arguably the most talented young Argentinian player still in the league but, given that his game-time was carefully managed by Gabriel Heinze, it still feels like we’ve yet to see Almada truly boss things week in week out. New boss Mauricio Pellegrino will hope that he can harness the undoubted game-changing ability of the 19-year-old wonderkid as Velez look to build on last year’s momentum.
Heavily linked to Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and both Manchester clubs, the diminutive playmaker from Fuerte Apache possesses fantastic dribbling ability, sensational skills and excellent vision and creativity. Could this be the year we see Almada truly light up the league before an inevitable transfer?
The early signs have been good with two goals in four games, as well as holding his nerve with a late penalty against Peñarol in the Copa Sudamericana. Also be sure to watch out for 17-year-old Maxi Perrone, who may begin to see some first team minutes after impressing in pre-season, as well as attacking midfield prospect Luca Orellano.
Lanus // Pedro de la Vega // 19 // Forward
Another player who feels like he’s been around for a while despite being only 19, the intelligent, versatile forward will be looking for a big season with Lanus. Despite impressing for the Argentina U20s, de la Vega was mainly restricted to appearances off the bench but still managed 4 goals in 17 games last year. Blessed with great movement, pace and technique, Pepo can operate across the attacking positions behind the striker and is blessed with a reading of the game beyond his years.
With his flowing blond hair and Californian surfer looks, the teen sensation is the jewel of a really interesting group of youngsters at El Granate. Lautaro Valenti may have left for Parma but flying fullback Alexandro Bernabei will look to build on last season’s breakthrough, while there could be some game time for Matias Esquivel, Franco Orozco, Lautaro Morales and U17 international Julian Aude too.
River Plate // Julian Alvarez // 20 // Forward
The young forward was thrown in at the deep end when he was brought on in the 2018 Libertadores final in Madrid for just his fourth senior appearance for River Plate, but then struggled to truly establish himself in Marcelo Gallardo’s side. However, a blistering five goals in five Libertadores games suggest that Alvarez is now ready to step up and come good on his evident potential.
A well-rounded forward who has been used both up front and on the right wing, Alvarez has a good burst of pace, quick feet and links well with his teammates, meaning he can act as a creator as well as a finisher. The U20 and U23 international recently signed a new deal with Los Millonarios with an increased €25million release clause and, with the departure of Ignacio Scocco and decline of Lucas Pratto, he should see plenty more game time this year along with fellow Cordoba-born prospect Cristian Ferreira and a reinvented Santiago Sosa.
Newell’s // Anibal Moreno // 21 // Midfielder
The box-to-box midfielder excelled for the Argentina U20s in 2019 and this year should have a bigger role in the Newell’s midfield. An energetic presence in the middle of the park, the 21-year-old has impressive passing, averaging an 85% pass completion rate, and a powerful shot from range but is also more than happy to get stuck on the defensive side of the game too.
Both Atletico Mineiro and Roma have been linked with Moreno but the Catamarca-born prospect should remain in Rosario and add to his 16 appearances for La Lepra before any move. Along with fellow up-and-coming midfielders Jeronimo Cacciabue, Nicolas Castro and Juan Sforza there is a youthful energy in Frank Kudelka’s side to compliment the iconic but ageing Maxi Rodriguez, Mauro Formica and returning Ignacio Scocco.
San Lorenzo // Matias Palacios // 18 // Midfielder
El Ciclon have done at well at youth level in recent years but haven’t managed to transfer it to success at the senior side. Marcos Senesi, Chimy Avila and Adolfo Gaich have all made decent profits but the San Lorenzo faithful haven’t had the chance to enjoy them for long. Fortunately, it looks like they have unearthed another diamond in the rough to give their fans fresh hope in the form of 18-year-old Matias Palacios.
Palacios is a classic Argentinian number 10 with silky dribbling skills, incisive eye-of-the-needle passing and ability to conjure something special out of nothing. He inspired Argentina to the U17 Sudamericano title last year and has already been called up to the U20s by Pablo Aimar, while Francesco Totti is also an admirer.
Mariano Soso’s side have made a promising start, with centre back Federico Gattoni another young prospect impressing, but Palacios’ game time has been limited by a positive Covid test. Expect to see plenty more of him in the months to come.
Racing // Benjamin Garré // 20 // Winger
Racing made it through to the knockout stages of the Libertadores but will have to carry on without their young midfield star, Matias Zaracho, who moved to Atletico Mineiro. Nevertheless, there are a number of emerging tyros looking to step out of his shadow as the club’s next best prospect.
The likes of Elias Machuca and Carlos Alcaraz are both promising but at 17 it is too early to put too much expectation on their shoulders, while Tiago Banega looks like he will have a bigger role. However, probably the exciting emerging talent is fleet-footed winger Benjamin Garré.
The 20-year-old began his career at Velez but was controversially poached by Manchester City at the age of 16 but now returns to Argentina with a point to prove. Although still somewhat inconsistent, Garré has caught the eye in the Libertadores with his flashes of brilliance. His burst of acceleration, dribbling ability and willingness to take on defenders will be key for Racing and if he can get regular first team football then he could be a game-changing addition for Sebastian Beccacce’s side.
Argentinos Juniors // Fausto Vera // 20 // Midfielder
The defensive midfielder was a big part of Argentinos Juniors fantastic turnaround last season that saw them finish in 5th place under Diego Dabove. The 20-year-old played 14 times for El Bicho last year while also anchoring the midfield with aplomb for the Argentina U20s and U23s, drawing admiring glances from the likes of Torino and CSKA Moscow.
Vera breaks up opposition attacks well thanks to his excellent positioning and tough tackling but also uses the ball efficiently too, recycling possession and initiating play from deep. Given the lack of true defensive options in midfield for the national team, Vera’s progress will be keenly observed over the coming years but, given Argentinos brilliant track record in youth development, he is in perfect place to gain experience.
Banfield // Agustin Urzi // 20 // Winger
A super skilful, explosive winger with an eye for the spectacular, Urzi is one of the most enjoyable players to watch in the league. The extrovert 20-year-old has kept everyone entertained over the lockdown with a series of incredible trick shots in his backyard and when football gets underway again, his mazy dribbling, excellent crossing and dangerous shots from range will be important for Banfield.
Having represented Argentina at U20, U22 and U23 level, el Caniche and his colourful haircuts have attracted the attention of Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan. A cheeky, well-liked personality off the pitch who looks up to the likes of Ricky Centurion and Neymar, for all his joie de vivre on the pitch going forward, he also works hard and isn’t afraid to track back and get stuck in. Raw and unrefined but a €20mil release clause hints at just how highly rated Urzi is.
Gimnasia LP // Jose Paradela // 21 // Midfielder
Paradela rose to prominence under Diego Maradona as he looked to do the impossible and save Gimnasia from what seemed to be a nailed on relegation. While they did survive thanks to the Covid-enforced disruption, there was nevertheless a marked improvement in Gimnasia’s form and the 21-year-old classy midfielder was a central to it.
An elegant, skilful left-footed central midfielder who knits things together in the centre of the park, Paradela glides past players effortlessly and has great vision to pick out teammates. Unsurprisingly, there has been plenty of interest, notably from Maradona’s old club Napoli, although a move within Argentina seems more likely at this stage.
Estudiantes // Dario Sarmiento // 17 // Winger
Despite having made less than 10 senior appearances for Estudiantes, 17-year-old wonderkid Sarmiento makes the list as one of the most precocious and highly-anticipated talents in the league. Handed a debut by Gabriel Milito at the tender age of 16, the diminutive winger dazzled with his low centre of gravity, magnetic close control and change of pace. A left-footed wide man who tends to play on the right, Sarmiento averages 12.86 dribbles per 90 and looks to have all the raw attributes to be a star in the making.
Manchester City have been heavily linked and ex-national team boss Alejandro Sabella is a huge fan but given the small sample size it’s still early days to accurately judge whether Sarmiento can build on this meteoric rise to his nascent career.
Honourable mentions: Alan Velasco (Independiente), Santiago Hezze (Huracan), Nicolas Capaldo (Boca Juniors), David Martinez & Enzo Fernandez (Defensa y Justicia), Luciano Ferreyra (Rosario Central), Alex Vigo (Colon)
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