Lanús proved to be too much for San Lorenzo in the 2016 Argentine Primera Final in May, winning by a convincing 4-0 score line and earning the club’s second league title. Interestingly, both of Atlanta United’s current Designated Players, Miguel Almirón and Hector “Tito” Villalba featured in the game, with the former scoring Lanús’ second goal and putting in a man of the match-type of performance. Villalba played 12 minutes after being substituted into the game at 78’.
In this piece we’ll focus on Miguel Almirón, as he played a full 90 minutes and was arguably the best player on the field.
Both teams set up in a relatively flat 4-3-3. According to reports, San Lorenzo often played with a 4-2-3-1, and that shape would’ve helped them stop Almirón and Martinez from running into the pockets of space between the midfield and defensive lines. This move – counter-attacking runs from deep – caused problem all night for San Lorenzo and was clearly a pattern of play that Almirón thrives on. On the ball, Almirón would run directly at his left forward Lautaro Acosta and, based on Acosta’s movement, either play him through on the left wing or play a 1-2 and continue his run into the box.
Here is a clip that illustrates Almirón’s desire to push the play forward quickly and find combinations with his teammates.
There’s been plenty of conversation among Atlanta United fans about what Almirón’s natural position is and where he will fit in Tata Martino’s side. He’s billed as a creative attacking midfielder, but he’s labeled as a CM in match reports (and on FIFA). Don’t get it twisted – Almirón’s primary purpose is to create chances. He simply prefers to do this starting from a deep position. He’ll track back into defensive areas when the other team is in possession, but he’s not a particularly strong defender. He will throw himself around and be a nuisance, but his defensive instincts are not his strong suit. In a midfield three, whether it’s flat or angled, you’ll want Almirón to have the fewest defensive responsibilities.
But Almirón’s deep position allows him to run at defenders at speed, making him difficult to deal with. His movement with and without the ball is direct and purposeful, which seems to be a trademark of many Argentine players.
Living in the Half Space
If there’s one thing that was abundantly clear from analyzing this match, it was Almirón’s love for positioning himself in the left half space (defined as “not quite the wing, but not in the middle either”). When Almirón makes his runs, he often releases the ball to a teammate when he arrives in this area so that he can stop and maneuver himself to find space in the gaps. Had San Lorenzo played a 4-2-3-1, they might have had more success in restricting the space, but Almirón was often able to zoom behind his opposing midfielder who would get caught up the pitch.
In this clip, Almirón never touches the ball, but you can see the area in which he wants to receive it. His occupation of this half space opens up lanes for his teammates.
Another example of chance creation by overloading the left side:
It’s worth noting that Almirón scored Lanús’ second goal of the game. Ironically, it was Almirón’s alertness that allowed him to pounce on a mistake by San Lorenzo that allowed him in on goal.
When Tata Martino was hired, I wrote a piece explaining some of the tactics he used during his season managing Newell’s Old Boys. Almirón fits the attacking central midfield role to a T. Of course, Atlanta's expansion draft will tell us more about Martino’s plans, but I’d bet money that we will see Almirón playing from CM (not on the wing and not as a No. 10). Regardless of his position on the pitch, he will undoubtedly be a key component in Atlanta’s ability to create chances.