Ahead of the 2018 World Cup finals, OptaPro profiles some of the players who have the potential to make a significant impact on the tournament. This second article focuses on Ajax and Argentina left back, Nicolás Tagliafico.
The series began with an analysis of Uruguay’s Lucas Torreira, which can be read here.
It is no secret that Argentina are best known for their strength in attack, however this profile focuses on 25-year-old Ajax left back, Nicolás Tagliafico.
Tagliafaco’s consistency over recent seasons, combined with Argentina’s lack of depth in their full back position, means the left back has a great chance of making a positive impact on his side’s World Cup campaign.
Having only been subbed once from a possible 114 games, he is able to maintain intensity levels for extended periods. Tagliafico consistently ranks amongst the top players for minutes played in the Argentinian Superliga across the last three seasons.
Tagliafico only made his Argentinian debut in June 2017, coming on as a substitute against Brazil. He has since made three more appearances under Sampaoli, with the latest (at the time of writing) being a start against Haiti in their World Cup warm-up friendly.
Versatile, Tagliafico has also been deployed at left centre back, so he could be placed into a back three if needed by club or country.
Style of play
Having moved from Independiente to Ajax in January this year, Tagliafico certainly benefitted from moving between two sides with similar styles, and as a result was able to slot straight in at the club from Amsterdam.
Both Independiente and Ajax, along with the national side, are teams that commonly tend to spend the majority of games dominating possession, tiring opponents with their fluid and short passing.
Defence first mentality
A defender who can be described as proactive and wanting to play the front foot, Tagliafico likes to get as tight as possible to opponents. His intelligence to read the game along with his anticipation has seen him average 2.6 interceptions per 90 minutes this season, which ranks him second in the Eredivisie from full backs and wing backs with a minimum of 900 minutes played. If he is not able to make the interception, he holds a tight position, stands the attacker up by jockeying, consistently executing 2.8 tackles per game over the course of his career.
Further reinforcing Tagliafico's proactive approach and being the type of player who likes to turn over the ball as opposed to hold his shape, the left back consistently ranks amongst the best in ball recoveries (4.7 per game), which then allows him to be the one to build the attack for his team in transition.
In the attacking phase, he has a tendency to get high up the pitch (a high majority of his touches are borderline middle third/attacking third). Below we can see his pass map from the attacking third for Ajax this season and we learn that he will take risks in these situations, often looking to play the ball into the penalty area.
Tagliafico pass map (final third), Ajax, 2018
Countdown to the World Cup
Sampaoli’s team selection in their first game vs. Iceland will be of interest to see whether Tagliafico’s recent starts see him receive the nod ahead of Marcos Rojo and Cristian Ansaldi. As for Argentina, with a squad that comprises many inexperienced players at international level such as ex-Independiente team mate Maximiliano Meza and youngsters Giovani Lo Celso and Cristian Pavon, it will be interesting to see how the side’s fresh faces link up with their incredible attacking power they possess.