Angel Correa's potential starting to emerge at Atletico Madrid
Angel Correa announced himself to a European audience by coming off the bench to lead Atletico Madrid to a 2-0 win away to Eibar on Saturday. He entered the pitch just past the hour mark, produced a lovely drop of the shoulder and crisp finish to open the scoring a minute later and then provided the assist for the second, scored by Fernando Torres.
Correa's path to La Liga has been far from straightforward. Born in Rosario, Argentina into a family of 10 siblings, he grew up in a poor, gang-ridden neighbourhood. His childhood was scarred by the deaths of his father (age 10) and eldest brother (age 12), and he leaned heavily on his mother for support. His footballing ability, evident from an early age, offered him an escape route, and at 12 he left for Buenos Aires to join the academy of San Lorenzo.
He struggled at first, but in time settled down and began to show his talent. Impressive displays as an enganche -- the Argentinian term for a tempo-setting attacking midfielder -- in the youth categories saw Benfica come in for Correa prior to him signing his first professional contract, but he turned them down to remain in Argentina. He made his first team debut a year later, at 18, and scored on his second start in a 3-0 win at home to Boca Juniors.
Another seven goals followed before the end of the year for the side who took home the Torneo Inicial title. He carried his impressive form into 2014 as part of the team that swept through to the last four of the Copa Libertadores, and in doing so caught the eye of Atletico, who moved quickly to agree a fee with his club and a five-year contract with Correa. But just as things seemed to be falling into place, his medical revealed a benign tumour on his heart.
Correa underwent successful surgery in June and then embarked on the slow recovery process, during which he received strong support from the club and its staff. With his recuperation complete, Atletico finalised his transfer in December. He returned to the pitch at the turn of the year as the standout player in the Argentina side that triumphed at the South American Under-20 Championship, providing four goals and three assists along the way.
The 20-year-old enjoyed a good preseason at Atletico this summer and was rewarded for his efforts with a call-up to the senior Argentina national team for their September friendlies against Bolivia and Mexico. He came off the bench to score within three minutes of his debut against the former. Having made a similar impact in his second appearance for Atletico, he will hope for more opportunities to impress over the course of the campaign.
Correa shares the small yet stocky build typical of Argentinian forwards, and comparisons to Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero have been frequent during his short career to date. With an explosive burst of pace and excellent balance and control, he is a regular winner of one-on-one duels, while his bright combination play and strong shot mean that defenders are unable to simply stand off him. He is a player who makes things happen in the final third.
-- an incisive dribbler
-- bright and intelligent
-- strikes the ball well
-- his link play with his back to goal
-- needs to bulk up a little
Tackling: Showed himself to be competitive and willing to engage himself in the winning back of possession during his half-hour cameo against Eibar. He was previously tasked with helping to press from the front during his time at San Lorenzo.
Marking: He is not really accustomed to tracking back with a specific opponent and it will be interesting to see how he adapts if employed in a wide midfield position at any point this season.
Heading: Has a decent spring on him, but at 5-foot-7 (174cm) it is unlikely that he will ever be a particularly potent threat in the air.
Close control: Possesses a solid first touch and the ability to manipulate the ball away from challenges in tight spaces. In addition to excellent balance, a tight turning circle and a strong turn of pace, this makes him a very tricky customer for defenders to deal with.
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Passing: Aware of the positioning of teammates and capable of slipping neat passes in behind, as he did for Torres' goal on Saturday. Bright and alert when linking with teammates in tight quarters, with he and Tomas Martínez producing some wonderfully slick exchanges for Argentina at under-20 level. He has admitted that he needs to improve his link play with his back to goal -- to look for quick layoffs instead of always seeking to turn and face goal.
Positioning: Enjoys having the freedom to roam across the pitch in behind a main striker, attacking space wherever it appears, but is also capable of holding station in a fixed position if necessary. Intelligent in his movement.
Crossing: Generally seeks to hit the byline and provide drilled low or medium-height deliveries into the area. Provided five assists from crosses for San Lorenzo during the first half of 2014.
Finishing: Strikes the ball very cleanly with minimal back-lift, but is also capable of providing accurately placed side-footed efforts from the edge of the area. Does, however, sometimes rely too heavily on the power he generates when shooting from close-range, when a cooler head and a more precise finish would be preferable.
What The Experts Say
Argentina coach Gerardo Martino: "His call-up was inevitable because he is Argentina's standout young player."
Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone: "He's a different player to what we have in the final few metres: he can turn well in the box and is very dangerous. He has vision in small spaces, he's capable of winning penalties and he has the audacity and rebelliousness that one needs to play football. He faces up to things without fear and we like that."
@philccarney Correa's a lovely little player. Archetypal pibe from the potrero. Seems to be adding goals to his game as well now- Tom Robinson (@tomrobbo89) September 5, 2015
Correa was confirmed at the age of 14 by noted San Lorenzo supporter, Pope Francis.
On Saturday, Correa provided a tantalising glimpse of his talent and showed that he is capable of making a contribution during his first season in Europe. He is quiet yet determined character whose tribulations have only served to make him stronger. He is one who will knuckle down, work hard and seek to offer his best to a club to whom he feels he has a debt to repay given the faith and support they showed him during his recovery from heart surgery.
It is difficult to find anyone with a bad word to say about Correa. There are few genuine flaws to his game, and his current attributes will provide an excellent base for Simeone to work with over the next couple of years, as he seeks to mould this explosively talented young player into a consistently decisive performer at the top level.
Nick Dorrington is a freelance football writer. Twitter: @chewingthecoca.