There are few countries in the world with a track record of producing great players that is better than that of Argentina. From Diego Maradona to Lionel Messi and with everyone in between the South American nation seem to have an infrastructure that develops technique to add to the attitude and mentality that seem ingrained with the national mind set.
Whilst the attacking players take all of the plaudits it is a position further back in the field that is viewed as the most important in Argentina, that of the number five or the controlling midfielder.
The list of famous number fives in Argentina is a long one. Stretching from Antonio Rattin, through Fernando Redondo, Diego Simeone and Javier Mascherano these players are expected to set the tempo of the match and control the movement and performance of their teammates. They are typically players that harness aggression with technique and provide a sense of leadership to the team unit.
This season seems to have cemented the position of the next great number five to emerge from Argentina as the 22-year-old Leandro Paredes has cemented his position at the base of the Roma midfield.
The young midfielder made the move from Boca Juniors in his homeland to the Italian capital in 2014 but it was the following season that saw him fully integrate in to Italian football and make an impact. This came during a loan spell with Empoli where under the now Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri he played at the base of a narrow midfield diamond and effectively ran the game for the Tuscan side.
His performances were enough to secure a chance with the first team this season with Roma and he continues to grow in to the role as he gains more experience at the top level. As a deep lying playmaker Paredes displays excellent tactical intelligence with his use of the ball in possession and his positioning in the defensive phase. He has also shown an eye for goal with accurate long range strikes becoming something of a signature.
Capacity to win 50/50 challenges
As much as Paredes is a superb technical player in possession he also has an aggressive nature that lends itself to his performances in the defensive phase of the game.
He plays in a similar manner to Javier Mascherano when he played at the base of the Liverpool midfield before eventually going on to convert to the centre of the defence following a move to Barcelona.
The young midfielder presses well in the Roma structure but he also positions himself intelligently looking to intercept the ball and break up the oppositions attacks.
Here you can see the aggression from Paredes as the man in possession for the opposition loses control of the ball and allows it to run ahead of him.
The speed that Paredes covers the intervening space in is excellent and he shows the intelligence to stay on his feet in the challenge and to spin away from the immediate opponent as soon as he wins the loose ball.
It is vitally important in the role that Paredes plays that he is intelligent in choosing his moments to challenge for the ball in this manner. If he rushes out from the controlling position at the wrong time or without adequate support then he can leave the defensive line exposed as the opposition attacks.
In this example Roma are in a deeper defensive block and Paredes is the first player to step out to meet the opposition in possession.
As Paredes does move out to press in the defensive third he shows his ability to read the game as the man in possession looks to beat Paredes on the inside and in to space centrally. The movement however is read by the Argentinian midfielder who dispossesses the attacker and then proceeds to drive out the outside.
As he drives forward and leads the team in transitioning from defence to attack he also shows his ability on the ball and the level of comfort that he has moving up in to the middle and attacking thirds.
Intelligent positioning in the defensive structure
As mentioned above it is important that Paredes does not constantly move against the opposition in possession as to do so would weaken the overall defensive structure of his side.
Instead we see the capacity that Paredes has to read the game as he chooses the right moment to move up and press the player either in possession of the ball or about to receive the pass. This timing and intelligent movement make it very difficult for the opposition to penetrate in behind the Roma defence.
Here we can see the opposition player on the ball out wide on the touchline. The fact that he is isolated against the line and facing his own goal triggers a pressing action from Roma and Nainggolan is pressing the man in possession.
As he does so he forces the man to make a decision and attempt to escape the pressing movement from Roma. Next we see Paredes in the central position.
He is able to read the intentions of the man in possession and again he displays his ability to close on the ball quickly over a short distance getting in front of the opposition player and intercepting the ball to launch his team in to a quick attacking transition.
Again in this image we have Paredes as the deepest Roma midfielder.
The opposition team create a neat piece of interplay to play through the initial pressing action and look to release a more advanced player.
Paredes however is positioned to negate the threat moving across to intercept the vertical pass and move away in possession of the ball.
Excellent vision on the ball
While Paredes is excellent out of possession in the defensive phase that alone is not enough to be considered a top midfielder in modern football. Luckily for the young Argentinian he is just as capable when in possession of the ball.
He possesses the ability to play the ball long and short with great accuracy either switching the ball in to space or playing through the defensive lines in vertical lanes to create advanced areas for Roma to build from.
The most impressive aspect of attacking play from Paredes however is in the fact that he rarely plays the ball sideways or backwards where a possibility for a forward pass is there. Instead he is always looking to play on the front foot and attack the opposition.
Here the ball is set back to Paredes in space and under little pressure. He immediately reads the situation in the advanced areas and identifies that the space lies in the area behind the fullback.
It is interesting to note that the second that Paredes receives the ball Nainggolan makes a vertical run in to the space. This is significant as it shows the trust that the rest of the Roma side have in the passing ability of Paredes.
The ball is immediately clipped forward accurately in to the space that Nainggolan is moving in to.
Here the opposition are arrayed in a compact shape just ahead of Paredes as the takes possession of the ball.
Instead of looking for a pass across the face of the opposition block or looking to move the ball back to reset the play he remains patient waiting for an advanced option to open up.
The advanced wide player identifies this and moves off the line inside allowing Paredes to play the ball through the defensive lines to the man moving across the pitch allowing him to drive centrally.
In this example Paredes is leading the attacking transition. Again he is not interested in safe passes that would increase his pass completion stats and looks to take the initiative whenever possible.
As the advanced player makes a vertical run in to a gap in the oppositions defensive line Paredes is able to play a through ball that is perfectly weighted for the advancing player to take possession of the ball and move in on goal.
Leandro Paredes is a midfielder with the world at his feet. He has regularly been linked to moves to the English leagues with Liverpool in particular known to be keen on adding the midfielder to their ranks. Should he ever become available however it is likely that any suitor will face considerable competition from Juventus.
Paredes is a rare blend of attacking instinct and defensive solidity combined with the mental strength and attitude to make him an implacable opponent.
With Paredes at the base of the midfield Roma could be set to enter a period of success in the Italian game.