Tom Robinson lists out the 10 young players to watch in the 2017-18 Superliga Argentina season
The Argentinian Primera, in its new rebranded guise of the Superliga Argentina, is just around the corner and as ever there will be a number of exciting youngsters to keep an eye on. The likes of Driussi, Bentancur, Ascacibar and Foyth may have packed their bags and headed across the Atlantic but there are a whole host of promising talents ready to follow in their footsteps. We take a look at ten of the top tyros who are set to have a big season.
Ezequiel Barco // Independiente // 18 // Attacking Midfielder
Strictly speaking his breakthrough came last season but nevertheless this promises to be a big year for the highly-rated Barco. The skilful, diminutive Barco announced himself last year with some very exciting performances, scoring four times and assisting three in his 30 appearances for Independiente. Fleet of foot and an excellent dribbler, Barco tends to feature on the left but has also proven deadly when played more centrally.
With the attack-minded Ariel Holan in charge, Barco now has the chance to establish himself as a guaranteed starter and consolidate himself as one of the top talents in the league. Given that he is still just 18, inconsistency is still an issue and he do could with adding more goals to his game but nevertheless all the signs are there that Independiente have unearthed another jewel. Along with Bustos, Franco and Figal, there is a youthful feel to a revitalised Rojo who will be looking to an end a 15-year spell without a league title.
Bautista Merlini // San Lorenzo // 22 // Winger
The explosive left winger had a good debut campaign for San Lorenzo last year, featuring in 20 matches and scoring twice, as well as making seven Libertadores appearances. Short and stocky, Merlini tormented opposition full backs with his jinking runs from the flanks and earned the nickname ‘El Mago’ for the wing wizardry befitting of his surname. Now with some first team experience under his belt, we should expect to see plenty more of him for Diego Aguirre’s side, while academy products Tomas Conechny and Cristian Barrios could also make an impact from the bench for El Ciclon.
Lautaro Martinez // Racing // 19 // Striker
Another of the more well-known names on the list, Lautaro Martinez will be looking to continue the excellent form he showed in the first half of the year. Prolific at youth level and linked in the past to Real Madrid and Arsenal, the teen hitman enjoyed an excellent Sudamericano for the Argentina U20s, scoring five crucial goals. An injury to Lisandro Lopez opened the door for him at club level and he duly helped himself to nine goals in 23 games to help propel Racing into next year’s Libertadores.
Mobile, muscular and clinical in front of goal, Martinez has drawn comparisons to Falcao and Luis Suarez and is arguably the youngster with the highest potential still playing in the Argentinian league. With a host of European clubs circling, this will probably be Martinez’s last season and he’ll be hoping to go out with a bang.
Gonzalo Maroni // Boca Juniors // 18 // Midfielder
Given some of the big name new arrivals at Boca during the transfer window, precocious prospect Maroni may not see much game time this coming season but is definitely one to watch out for nonetheless. Still only 18, the Instituto youth product showed brief flashes of his talent in his two appearances last year. On his debut start Maroni put on a virtuoso display against struggling Arsenal, capped with a beautifully controlled volley which earned rave reviews. Although admittedly a small sample size to draw from, the hype is already beginning to grow and Maroni will have to bide his time and take his chances from the bench.
Juan Cruz Komar // Talleres // 21 // Centre Back
Talleres returned to the Primera last season after a 12-year exile and achieved an impressive mid-table finish. Talented playmaker Emanuel Reynoso received most of the plaudits but credit must be given to a fairly inexperienced defence which comprised of three players under the age of 22. An ever present in the heart of that back four, Juan Cruz Komar put in some mature performances and impressed with his aerial ability, interceptions and passing (82.3%). His move to Boca at a young age didn’t work out but it now seems he is realising his potential and he will be key to Talleres consolidating themselves in the top flight this coming season.
Rafael Santos Borre // River Plate // 21 // Forward
In a busy summer of reinforcement for River, Santos Borre was one of the more intriguing purchases. A product of the excellent Deportivo Cali academy, Santos Borre made his debut at 17 and went onto score 26 goals in 62 games for the Verdiblanco. This record, combined with his exploits for the Colombia U20s, persuaded Atletico Madrid to splash out around €5m on him. However, after a loan to Villarreal that only yielded 4 goals in 30 games, he failed to make the grade in Spain and was snapped up by River.
At his best Santos Borre is an inventive, versatile forward and the departure of Sebastian Driussi to Zenit St Petersburg should open up a chance for him to get his career back on track. He will have to fight it out with Ignacio Scocco and Lucas Alario but it is potentially a great piece of business by River and should give Gallardo’s squad plenty of options in the final third.
Leonel Rivas // Rosario Central // 17 // Midfielder
Central have produced some great attacking midfield talent in recent years with Gio Lo Celso and Franco Cervi both wowing fans at the Arroyito before their respective moves to PSG and Benfica. And it appears that they may have unearthed another twinkle-toed playmaker in the form of 17-year-old Leonel Rivas. The youngster made eight appearances last season and – along with 18-year-old forward Maxi Lovera – we should expect to see more of him this year, even if he is only gradually eased into the first team. Comparisons with another Leo from Rosario will inevitably arise but hopefully Rivas, who has been called up to the U20s, will be allowed to develop without excessive hype.
Tomas Cardona // Godoy Cruz // 21 // Centre Back
The San Lorenzo owned defender impressed on loan at Defensa y Justicia last year but has been farmed out on loan again, this time to Godoy Cruz. The left-footed centre back is one of a number of promising Argentinian defenders finally emerging after what seems like an eternity with very few prospects at the back, and as such his progress will be keenly observed. He should be pushing for a starting spot and will at least expect to pick up more game time in what is an interesting squad that overachieved in this year’s Libertadores. The side from Mendoza could well surprise a few people this year and Cardona could be central to that.
Nicolas de la Cruz // River Plate // 20 // Attacking Midfielder
Following in the footsteps of his brother Carlos Sanchez, Uruguayan U20 captain Nicolas de la Cruz is another of the excellent acquisitions made by River Plate during the transfer window. A versatile attacking midfielder who can play wide or in the hole behind the strikers, Bolita starred for his country at the Sudamericano and then led the young Charruas to the semi-finals of the U20 World Cup. Although he missed the vital penalty in the shoot-out against Venezuela, de la Cruz demonstrated his excellent pace, dribbling and shooting from range and will bolster River’s title credentials, as well as help their push for another Libertadores title.
Matias Vargas // Velez Sarsfield // 20 // Midfielder
Traditionally a club with a good record in developing young players, Velez have fallen on harder times in recent years and the need to rely on their academy has been more important than ever. However, there haven’t been quite as many players that have kicked on as expected and as a result the club has struggled in the league. Maxi Romero and Nicolas Delgadillo are seen as two of the brightest prospects but perhaps Salta-born midfielder Matias Vargas might emerge as the best of the bunch. The 20-year-old made 16 appearances and scored four goals, the best of which a brilliant solo strike against Atletico Tucuman, and he will be hoping to build on an impressive debut campaign.