After impressing in the early rounds of the Libertadores, River were seen as one of the favourites for the title. However, the sale of their deadly strike duo Sebastian Driussi and Lucas Alario during the summer threatened to derail their campaign.
An 8-0 thumping of Bolivian surprise package Wilstermann, with four goals from new signing Nacho Scocco, seemed to lay those fears to rest as River overturned a three goal deficit to progress for the semis. Ex-Sunderland striker Scocco was on target again as River took a narrow 1-0 first leg lead against Lanus in the all-Argentine semi-final but it was another new signing, Marcelo Saracchi, who also caught the eye.
The 19-year-old full back was instrumental in pinning Lanus’ wide men back and firing a constant stream of crosses in to Scocco. His injury in the final minutes of the game ruled him out of the return leg and his absence was sorely felt as River, despite going two goals up, capitulated and lost 4-3 on aggregate in one of the most dramatic Libertadores nights in recent memory.
The fact that Saracchi is already seen as such an important member of the River team after just a handful of games for the club speaks volumes. The Uruguayan notched up an assist against San Martin in his second start and also scored in River’s 4-1 Copa Argentina quarter-final win against Atlanta. In less than 10 games he’s already proven an able bodied replacement for compatriot Camilo Mayada – currently serving a drug suspension – and a more reliable option than Milton Casco.
Born in Paysandu, Saracchi began his career at the esteemed academy of Danubio and was a regular for La Franja by the age of 17, racking up 61 appearances before his transfer across the Rio de la Plata. A mainstay of the Uruguayan youth setup too, Saracchi captained the U17s at the 2015 Sudamericano and was one of the youngest players to be called up to the U20s for the World Cup the same year.
He featured for the U20s again this year as Uruguay reached the semi-finals in South Korea, playing six times after an injury Facundo Waller paved the way to a spot in the starting line-up. Named in the IBWM 100 at the start of the year and more recently one of Four Four Two’s best teenagers in world football, Saracchi’s star is most definitely on the rise. Here we analyse his game in more detail.
Saracchi spent the majority of his time at Danubio as a left winger but since moving to River has has mainly featured at left back. This versatility has also been shown at national team level where he has filled in at both roles. To be so comfortable in two distinct positions at such a young age is credit to his maturity and game intelligence.
With the returning vogue for wing backs in the modern game, it seems a position perfectly suited to Saracchi given his pace, stamina and off the ball movement.
For Saracchi’s goal against Atlanta, we see a great example of his willingness to bomb forward from full back and contribute in the attacking phase. As the play switches from right to left, Saracchi bursts forward from deep, stretching the play with his width.
In the centre, Scocco expertly spins his man and draws the other Atlanta defenders before laying the ball off to the onrushing Saracchi, who blasts in the opener at the near post from an acute angle.
In the next example we see Saracchi as a left winger for the Uruguay U20s. He collects the ball on the left and drives at the backpeddling defender, pushing him to the left to make room for Olivera’s bursting inside run into the vacant half space.
As Olivera, who has stolen a march on his marker, reaches the edge of the area, Saracchi dinks a perfect ball between the two Japanese defenders for the marauding left back to put the game to bed in the dying seconds. This understanding of both positions helps him to dovetail with whoever is sharing is flank and create a effective partnership.
While Saracchi may not quite have the explosive acceleration or trickery to be a top class attacking winger, it seems like an attack-minded full back or wing back will be where his long term future lies.
A vital skill for any wide player is possessing a good crossing ability and Saracchi has excellent delivery from his favoured left boot. This is partly what makes him such a good option to have as an attacking full back as he can swing in a cross from deep or use his aforementioned pace to get to the byline too.
Here against Argentinos Juniors, Saracchi is once again making himself available on the overlap. He drives down the line and, with Scocco creating space by taking his man to the near post, crosses the ball accurately and with good whip for the late-arriving Enzo Perez who has come in off the flank to the back post.
In this second example, we see Saracchi in a one-on-one situation, having to create space himself for the cross. Having previously nut-megged the full back, Saracchi advances towards the penalty box with the defender making a recovery run.
Saracchi sells the defender a dummy and cuts inside, leaving the sprawling defender to slide off the wet pitch. Seeing that he has bought himself some time and space, the composed Saracchi turns back onto his left before standing up an inviting cross to the man gesturing at the back post for his gesturing teammate to attack
Even though Saracchi is more of a winger converted to full back, he remains a solid, hardworking player who takes care of his defensive responsibilities too. He has good positioning, the typical Uruguayan bite in the tackle and his pace and stamina means he can get up and down the flank, tracking back when needs be.
Here we see a River corner quickly developing into a dangerous Banfield counter-attack. The Banfield forward beats the deepest lying River defender, freeing the left winger to motor into the open space. Saracchi, on the near side, busts a gut to impressively make up the ground and stop the Banfield player having a free-run on goal
Although Saracchi manages to catch up with the forward, he still has a lot to do. He doesn’t dive in and tries to jockey the player wide. Knowing that a Banfield player is making a run into the centre and has stolen a march on Javier Pinola, Saracchi positions himself to cut off the pass into the space behind him.
Giving the forward nowhere to go, Saracchi manages to force his man out to the left flank, allowing Pinola time to get goal-side of his man and three other River players to get back into position. Saracchi and a teammate swarm the man with the ball and the young Uruguayan makes a tackle to overt the danger once and for all.
This defensive nous, although not perfect, does at least shows that Saracchi possess a well-rounded game and isn’t merely a failed winger with an aversion to the defending.
Having made a bright start to his career at River, Saracchi’s primary aim will be to hold down a place and consolidate himself as a regular starter at one of the biggest clubs on the continent. He has already amassed an impressive amount of experience for a teenager but still has plenty of time on his side to keep developing, so the step up to the Argentinian league seems a sensible one.
However, the uncertainty over the future of Marcelo Gallardo may put a spanner in the works. Gallardo, who previously won a title with Nacional, has put faith in Saracchi and it would be a shame to lose a mentor who clearly trusts him. However, the quality of Saracchi and fellow Uruguayan U20 teammate Nicolas de la Cruz should be apparent to whoever eventually replaces Gallardo and you would think that both will play a big role in River’s future.
A move to Europe will inevitably come but perhaps not for a couple of years and in the meantime Saracchi is in a great place to develop. Having been a regular at youth level for his country, Saracchi will surely go on to become a future senior international and, though not necessarily the type who will get you off your seat, could turn into a Zanetti-esque reliable performer a the highest level.