Luis Suarez, Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, Radamel Falcao and…Jackson Martinez?
When Atletico Madrid show interest in a South American striker, you know they’re normally going to be a success, so when the Spanish champions were linked with Matias Arezo earlier this year, heads started to turn.
Nicknamed ‘El Bufalo’, for reasons that’ll become apparent later, Matias Arezo made a name for himself at the 2019 U17 Sudamericano, where his five goals in seven games, including a hatrick against Ecuador, placed him second in the golden boot race for the tournament. That tournament was the start of Arezo’s rise, making his debut for River Plate de Montevideo later that year in July against Progreso and finishing his first campaign in senior football with 6 goals in 22 games in all competitions.
Since then, Arezo has featured prominently for Las Draseneros, with this season being his most prolific to date. Thirteen goals and four assists in twenty-one games so far is, in my opinion, pretty good. If the U17 Sudamericano was the flame to propel his career forward, then this season is the *googles synonyms for fire* inferno!
(Jackson if you’re reading this, you were very good at Porto and I just needed a joke for the intro. I’m sorry it was at your expense).
In his three professional seasons (2019, 2020 and 2021 so far), Arezo played 1059, 2869 and 2017 minutes respectively. His heatmaps vary slightly in density due to this (heatmaps work on overall touches per season rather than an average), but his style of play is a constant.
Arezo is a pressing bundle of annoyance for defenders. Whether it’s chasing after through balls, shrugging his marker off with his core strength or firing a shot from, albeit, hopeful areas, Arezo’s play style suits to frustrate and tire out the opposition from start to finish.
Many South American attackers are often synonymous with quick feet and excellent technical ability, and whilst Arezo does boast both of these skills, his game largely centres around his strength and physical prowess. His stocky, compact build and low centre of gravity makes protecting the ball and finding space after evasion a common theme of Arezo’s game.
|Clinical from close range||Poor shooting choices, especially from distance|
|Wins a large number of fouls||Subpar link-up play|
|Strong in duels, both on the ground and aerially|
|Exceptional work rate|
The young Uruguayan’s physicality, coupled with intelligence way beyond his years, makes dealing with him a much more difficult task than first presumed.
Arezo stalks the attacking third, often situating himself between the full back and centre half in hope of latching onto a through ball. With a quick touch away from his marker and a turn of pace, he’ll often create separation to run freely at the opponent’s net.
Playing this type of way requires quick bursts of acceleration, which Arezo has in abundance. Much of the opportunities he fashions for himself are a result of his sharp movements away from defenders and into space. An emphasis on pace over shorter distances is an aspect of his game reminiscent of South American CFs before him (think Aguero + Suarez), and a trait that intrinsically causes danger, especially in and around the penalty area.
Now, I hear you asking all the way in the back “but how does Arezo deal with situations where he can’t just turn and run?” Firstly, great question! Secondly, how did you get into my house??
Arezo’s strength is almost unparalleled for players of his height.
Picking up the ball with his back to goal? Not to worry, Arezo shields the ball with his life until the defender(s) are forced to hack him down, a skill that a lot of smaller frame forwards tend to struggle with. Arezo’s press resistance results in River Plate winning a lot of free kicks, often relieving pressure and allowing them to push higher up the pitch regularly.
Facing a particularly fast defender as he’s charging through on goal? Fear not, Arezo’s stocky shape causes opponents to bounce off him like a reflective shield has been activated.
Okay, all of this is great. But Arezo is a striker, so how is he at…well…striking?
With 13 goals from an xG of 10.1 in 2021, Arezo is scoring at an impressive rate. Now, is this sustainable? Probably not, but considering how many hopeful shots Arezo takes from far out and how accurate he is within the box; I’d still place him as an excellent finisher.
Despite using his physical attributes in his all-round play, Arezo typically opts for a gentler touch when in front of goal, often placing his shots rather than blasting them.
That’s not to say he won’t shoot with venom if the opportunity arises, especially from outside the box, because he most definitely will.
Arezo favours his right, but his choice of foot is decided more so on the angle and position he finds himself in, rather than favourability. If forced down the left channel by his marker, Arezo feels no objection to driving it low and hard across the keeper, aiming for the far corner.
If within 10 yards of the goal, Arezo shifts his body to face the opposing corner, favouring placed shots that fall out of the keepers reach. Further out than that, he’ll take a quick look up before striking the ball with as much power as he can muster, again, often across the keeper.
At only 5”10, Arezo is by no means the tallest on the pitch, but his aerial threat is impressive nonetheless. Winning 5.6 aerial duels per 90 (Higher than Ivan Toney, 5.25, and Ashley Barnes, 4.76, this season), the 18 year old poses a real threat in the air despite his disadvantage in height.
In fact, no type of shot is off the cards for El Bufalo, no angle is too tight and no distance is too far. He will quite literally shoot from anywhere (which is often to his detriment – more on that soon).
Arezo is by no means an elite presser, but his willingness to close down any opponent near him often causes a knock on effect or turnover further down the pitch. If his aim is to win the ball, he more often than not fails. But the domino effect of defenders pushing the ball forward faster than intended increases the chance of Arezo’s team winning the ball back in the midfield or defensive line, sparking counter attacks and longer periods of controlled possession.
Areas of Improvement
Remember when I said Arezo will happily shoot from anywhere? Of course you do, it’s two lines up from here. Well, that’s a slight problem.
Whilst he does already boast a collection of goals from impressive positions, Arezo can be very rash in his decision to shoot the ball. Considering how intelligent he’s proven to be with his decision making inside the box, with late minute runs to the back post and close quarter control to escape defenders, his judgement from 20, 30 even 50 yards is questionable to say the least. Hopefully this quirk can be ironed out, because at a higher level of football those all-too-common pop shots will become more of an issue.
Arezo’s link-up play is also something that can be worked on, as in situations where Arezo is marked out of the game or closed down too quickly, moves often die with him rather than being passed onto a teammate. When Arezo does manage to contribute to buildup in the final third, passes can often be over or under hit, resulting in moves slowing down. Learning to more consistently fashion opportunities for himself, either from clever movement or smart positioning in advanced areas, is another key next phase of his development.
Projecting Arezo’s future
As said in the intro, Matias Arezo attracted interest from Atletico Madrid this summer, but in the end the teenager stayed in Uruguay.
The consistent output that he’s added to his game has justified that decision, with more suitors likely to be interested in January and beyond.
Arezo is still young, and it’s important to remember that many clubs will be keeping an eye on him from leagues with a higher standard of play, and so output and performance may take some time to catch up.
Because of this, Portugal appears as a suitable choice for Arezo’s progression. A league in Europe that closes the gap between Europe’s top five and Uruguay’s top division, as well as already hosting fellow Uruguayan prospect, Darwin Nunez.