Matías Vargas arrived at Espanyol in the summer of 2019 from his native club Vélez Sarsfield from Argentina. Although the 22-year-old attacker has played relatively few minutes for the side based in Barcelona, Vargas is considered to be one of the exciting budding young attackers that currently play in La Liga. Despite several managerial changes and a dip in the team’s performance, Vargas has shown promise, especially under current manager Abelardo Fernández.
Positioning and overall statistics
Matías Vargas is a very versatile player. Throughout his career at Espanyol, he has played as an attacking midfielder, a striker and a winger. Despite being used in various positions, Vargas predominantly occupies and prefers to advance through the left side of the pitch. However, Vargas loves to drop deep and roam around the pitch, which gives us an interesting heatmap.
Being a part of the declining Espanyol side has certainly affected Vargas’ performance and statistics, but his presence on the pitch can be immediately felt. Often used as an option to exploit tired opposition legs, Vargas likes to create chances and trouble opposition defences with his dribbling skills. Despite averaging 1.73 passes to the penalty area per 90, Vargas manages to keep his xA per 90 and assists per 90 fairly high which shows his effectiveness in possession. Vargas can be particularly effective when collecting the ball from deep while playing as an attacking midfielder as well as beating players with his dribbles as a winger, which will be discussed as the analysis progresses.
Matías Vargas is a player who’s often seen linking up and moving the ball forward. While he’s good at dribbling and making runs forwards, his style of play is inclined more towards making progressive passes and advancing the play. In this regard, the young Argentinian averages 4.73 passes per 90 with an accuracy of 80.3%. He becomes particularly handy in quick transitions and catching opposition defences out of their defensive structure.
Similarly, his style of play varies on the situation his team is in. When Espanyol are building up and trying to advance, Vargas likes to be more of a passer and playmaker. Similarly, when Espanyol are advancing in the final third and are likely to attack, Vargas likes to make short dribbles, to get past players as well as draw out defenders for the poachers to capitalize on. He attempts 6.34 dribbles per 90 with 67.7% success rate.
Vargas’ inclination towards progressive passes rather than progressive runs seems reasonable, as he loses 57.1% of the events after a progressive run. To develop into a better attacker, he certainly needs to work on his ability to be decisive after runs and hold on to the ball at least.
Ability to get involved in link-ups and passing
Matías Vargas’ heat map shows a lot of ground covered because of his tendency to roam around the pitch and drop deep to engage in link-up play. He frequently receives the ball from the defence, creates passing channels by positioning himself in spaces between lines, and likes to execute one-twos. Similarly, Vargas gets into spaces after executing a pass so the receiving teammate has an extra option to release the ball to instantly. His off-the-ball movements become crucial during these moves.
In the instance above, Vargas drops down to release the pressure off the ball-carrying defender, who’s being pressed by two opposition forwards. When he drops back, his marker decides to maintain the midfield shape and retain his position, which leaves Vargas with the room he wants.
After receiving the ball, Vargas has enough time to decide and play the ball before an opponent comes to press him. In this case, Vargas decides to turn and make a brief run before releasing it to a teammate on the wider side, see above. Not only does this move stretch the opposition structure, but it also makes room for Vargas to make a run towards the centre to receive and execute a shot or an advanced pass.
In regards to passes when Espanyol are further up the pitch, Matías Vargas is quite a key figure wherever he’s deployed on the pitch. The nature of Vargas’ final third deliveries depends on his position: he only prefers to cross the ball when he spots one or two vacant players on the other side. Otherwise, Vargas prefers not to opt the aerial route; instead, his passes are mostly through balls towards the centre.
As we can see, Vargas’ tendency to supply rather than carry the ball is justified with his final third supply map. With a heavy number of key passes, he definitely can be a key attacker for this struggling Espanyol side.
Nature of final third passes and assists
Vargas’ ability to spot space and work with players with closer proximity makes him an assist-maker with higher xA in recent times. Vargas averages 0.32 assists per 90, outnumbering his tally of 0.24 xA per 90.
Vargas is able to detect the players in space, which makes him a player able to draw the opposition out and pass to the mobile player inside the opposition box. In such cases, Vargas bursts into dribbles and passes late to allow the receiving player to have more space around him.
In the instance shown, Vargas is drawing the opposition towards him, aiming to execute a dribble into the box, see above. Similarly, the receiving player spots the run and delays his movement to make him free on the blindside. The move ends with Vargas releasing the ball in space for the receiving player to have enough room to shoot, see below. This kind of trend can be frequently observed in Vargas’ assists.
Similarly, Vargas can eliminate opposition with passes into the final third. He executes this by drawing players towards him and losing them by making a turn or a quick one-two with the closest player. In the instance below, Vargas receives the ball and executes a similar skill to ultimately get rid of the defensive block.
Vargas receives the ball with two opposition players approaching him. Scanning over his shoulders, he makes himself well aware of the situation and turns to get rid of the players once they’re further away from the closest teammate. Ultimately, by making a run behind the opposition’s back, he finds him and his teammate in space beyond the opposition defensive line.
Counter-pressing and awareness
Matías Vargas is relatively weaker in the aerial aspects of the game. Hence, he prefers to get involved in ground duels to win the ball back. One of the most used methods to win the ball back, by Vargas, is counter-pressing the opposing player.
Espanyol tends to press in numbers and Vargas is mostly involved in the middle of the pitch when counter-pressing. As soon as the ball is lost, Vargas moves to support his teammate to press the opponent and close down space for the opponent to pass. This also induces a numerical superiority that helps to put more pressure on the opponent and win the ball back for Espanyol.
The ability to accelerate makes him a valuable player who gets involved in the press, and who Espanyol use in the middle and the final third for recoveries, like the instance shown here.
As this tactical analysis points out, Vargas is yet to develop his ability to release the ball after progressive runs or understand the tactics that his coach wants him to work with. However, the Argentinian certainly possesses the skillset to transform himself into a lethal attacker. It will be interesting to see whether Espanyol will be able to hold onto Vargas if they get relegated this season.