Scouting Time: Thiago Almada
In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents in the football world. Next up is Vélez Sarsfield’s attacking midfielder Thiago Almada.
Virtually every article on Argentinian football’s ‘next big thing’ Thiago Almada has focused on his upbringing in the dangerous Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Fuerte Apache and comparisons with the barrio’s most famous son, Carlos Tevez. However, with the likes of Barcelona and both Manchester clubs linked to the 19-year-old maestro, it brings Almada’s future very much to the fore.
Since making his senior debut at his boyhood club in August 2018, Almada has excited with his dribbling and creativity. Manager Gabriel Heinze has been careful not to demand too much from the teenager, but Almada’s appetite, unflappable mentality and obvious ability have made him impossible to ignore.
Almada’s has great positional versatility. Often described as a number ten, possessing the characteristics to thrive in the space behind a centre forward, Almada has more often than not been utilised in wider roles where his pace and ability to beat defenders in one-on-one situations has proved useful. From the left, Almada looks to cut inside onto his favoured right foot, and from the right, to deliver threatening balls across the face of goal with Heinze even utilising the youngster as something of a false nine on occasion.
At 171 cm (5 feet 6 inches), Almada possesses that low centre of gravity, burst of acceleration and close control associated with the archetypal Argentinian number ten. His four goals last season helped Vélez to third – an improvement on their previous sixth-placed finish.
Eager to get on the ball, Almada roams off the left looking to get the ball into his feet. His average of 34.5 passes received and 45.5 passes completed per 90 minutes rank favourably in the Superliga.
When in space and facing defenders, his average of 3.13 progressive runs highlights Almada’s ability to commit opponents. As illustrated against Lanús, his positioning, balance and excellent finishing produced a valuable goal.
Nine career goals in 2760 minutes played in senior football is perhaps not the most prolific strike rate and is something that Almada will look to increase, but for a player of his age and position often operating outside the penalty area, it’s a decent return.
A wide variety of shooting positions display Almada’s confidence and while perhaps this over-exuberance may lead to the wrong choice at times, it does show a player capable of scoring different types of goals.
When given the opportunity to get closer to goal, Almada has shown the glimpses of a player capable of far more. When Heinze handed the teenager his first start in November 2018 as the furthest forward attacker, it may have ended in a 3-2 defeat away to Defensa y Justicia, but produced a brace for Almada.
The youngster’s high work rate allowed him to carry out Heinze’s press from the front and ultimately forced the error that led to his opening goal.
Creatively too there is plenty more to come. While Almada’s vision and passing ability may only have led to one Superliga assist, his average of 6.19 progressive passes per 90 minutes (15th in the Superliga) and 1.81 shot assists (10th), suggests that figure should be higher.
The desire to drop deeper and get the ball into feet allows the runners to go beyond with Almada able to pick the passes into dangerous areas of the pitch.
This passing range lends itself to the belief that Almada will eventually play centrally in the ten role, but for now, the youngster is equally able to be utilised in the wider positions. On this occasion Almada gets down the channels to deliver the ball into the penalty area from wide areas.
It seems only a matter of time before Vélez are forced to sell their latest academy asset and with the financial situation in Argentina potentially preventing the club from holding out for the release clause of €22 million (€25 million at the end of August), Almada may prove terrific value for one of Europe’s elite.
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