Miguel Almiron has scored two and assisted on four of Atlanta United’s 17 goals this season. Whether it’s through statistics or just an eye test, the offensive impact of the team’s highest paid player feels obvious. However, in the center of Tata Martino’s midfield, Almiron may be having just as big an impact defensively. The 23-year-old is the Paraguayan God of ball recoveries.
For clarification, sports data and MLS stats provider Opta has labeled recoveries as “Where a player wins back the ball when it has gone loose.” Any ball in possession purgatory, not controlled by either team, must be recovered by someone on the pitch. Usually, it’s Almiron.
After crunching the numbers, (which, as a communications major from a small liberal arts school, was brutal) Almiron far outweighed his attacking counterparts on the team in terms of recoveries, and, to a lesser extent, tackles.
According to Opta, Almiron is averaging 8.84 recoveries and 1.96 tackles per 90 minutes. By comparison, the next closest attacking player is Yamil Asad. Asad claims 5.12 recoveries and 1.41 tackles per 90, as well as 1.23 interceptions. Tito Villalba picks up a recovery 3.52 times per 90 and makes 1.44 tackles.
Almiron said through a translator Wednesday that his success defensively this season is a combination of Tata’s influence and him just plain doing his job as a modern footballer.
“Everyone on the team knows when we lose the ball coach wants us to press as soon as possible,” Almiron said. “In today’s football you have to be able to defend and attack and you have to run a lot because, if not, the other team can really make a difference.”
Almiron added that his primary responsibility defensively is to mark the opposing team’s center midfielder. Naturally, most of his recoveries come in the center of the pitch. When looking at a chart of Almiron’s recoveries (yellow) and tackles (green), you can get a better idea of how he owns any loose ball in the middle of the field, and how the positions he recovers the ball in set the Five Stripes up to attack.
Almiron’s work rate and positioning seem to fit Martino’s system almost perfectly. In a possession based system, it’s the skinny, 140-pound midfielder doing a lot of the dirty work. Almiron says that role is nothing new.
“It’s really not that different from other clubs that I’ve played on. Here we press a lot and coach asks a lot of me defensively, but that’s something that other coaches have asked of me as well. It’s not too different,” Almiron said. “A player just kind of has to adapt to the style of the game. Like I said before, a player has to be able to attack and defend and I try to do that every game.”