Ezequiel Barco – Player Report

Player Profile:

  • Nationality: Argentine
  • Age: 21
  • Date of birth: 29/03/1999
  • Current Club: Atlanta United
  • Career: Independiente, Atlanta United
  • Position: Left Wing
  • Secondary Position: 10 (AM)
  • Preferred foot: Right

Overview

Atlanta United forward Ezequiel Barco is a very exciting prospect with a lot of potential to improve as his career develops.

Having started his professional career with Independiente in his native Argentina, Barco moved to Atlanta United in January 2018 for a fee reportedly in the region of $15 million. He has already racked up 64 appearances (several from the bench) for the club, recording 11 goals and 11 assists so far in all competitions, as Atlanta won the MLS Cup in 2018 and lost in the Eastern Conference final in 2019. His progress may have been hampered at times due to injury, international duty or the change of managerial regimes within the club. Prior to this season being postponed, Barco had gotten off to a flying start, scoring twice and getting one assist in the opening two games of the campaign.

He is an exciting player in possession and although still quite raw in areas, he has the makings to play at a very high standard in the near future. Able to play as a winger, attacking midfielder or just off the striker and having represented his country at the U20 World cup in the summer of 2019, Barco has been linked with a move to several European clubs in recent months.

Standing at just 5’5, Barco is not a physical presence but instead has an impressive low centre of gravity that allows him to be very agile and have the ability to change direction very quickly. The Argentine is also capable of great acceleration, allowing him to make runs in behind away from defenders. He does lack strength which could hinder him in certain types of games, but he uses his body very well to get in between man and ball and win fouls for his team. He works hard for his team and shows a good level of stamina when tracking back late on in games if necessary.

With the ball at his feet, Barco can be very dangerous as the Argentine has the ability to beat his man very quickly with the drop of a shoulder or clever turn. His low centre of gravity allows him to change direction quickly and also makes him hard to muscle off the ball despite his size, as he completed 2 successful dribbles per 90 since his move to the USA. He drives at defenders with the ball, whilst constantly scanning for a pass that could penetrate the opposition defensive line.

The Atlanta United forward is capable of demonstrating great skill and often uses clever flicks to draw his opponent in, whilst releasing a teammate. He also has an impressive level of vision allowing him to pick out and execute difficult passes that can create many chances for his team. Since joining Atlanta, Barco has made an average of 2.9 key passes per 90, showing the ability to thread passes in behind the defence. Furthermore, with an average passing accuracy of 85% since joining the MLS, Barco is productive and effective with possession.

Fig 1: Barco using his vision to find a clever disguised pass in behind whilst also showing confidence to look the other way.

The Argentine can have a tendency to overplay at some stages – trying to make passes or cut backs rather than shooting, or shooting when there are teammates in better positions. He could improve his decision making in the final third, but this will come with time and experience. He has the capability to be very dangerous from both narrow and wide areas, swinging in some dangerous crosses into good zones either from set pieces or open play.

He is primarily right footed, using his strong foot when possible, but is also capable of using his weaker left when necessary. In front of goal, Barco could improve upon his finishing, often testing the goalkeeper yet failing to find the back of then net as regularly as he could given the opportunities the Atlanta team creates. However he finds himself in the right areas and again with time he will gain a more clinical edge, whilst he also creates a lot of chances for his teammates.

Barco is clever with his off the ball movement, often allowing the play to develop whilst he positions himself in dangerous areas. When playing as a winger, he regularly drifts inside to find half spaces where he can receive the ball on the turn and drive at the defence. This positioning can cause problems for the opposition as it can either draw the full back with him leaving space out wide, it can drag a central defender out of the back line or it can cause the central midfielders to drop very deep as well, therefore freeing up space for teammates.

Fig 2: Barco drifts inside to find a pocket of space, the full back (circled) decides to pass him on, but Barco is already the wrong side of the midfield and the rest of the defence is occupied with other Atlanta players.

When playing in a more central role, Barco is given a licence to roam by Atlanta and uses it to full effect, popping up in many different areas of the pitch. He is capable of making runs beyond the striker or dropping into midfield to assist in build up play. By dropping in, he is able to see more of the ball and find clever passes, however, this can leave the striker isolated at times should he drop too far.

Fig 3: Barco’s heat map from 2019 shows his movement, drifting into central areas from the left wing regularly and having his biggest impact in the transitions from middle to final third.

In possession, Barco shows good awareness of opposition players, making sure his body is in front of the defender to either receive the ball and turn or to win a foul. Due to him being very lightweight the Argentine is able to win many fouls in the middle third, which can relieve pressure on his team’s defence. Perhaps it could be that he goes down too easily on occasion and this can lead to the opposition launching a counter attack. His awareness also allows him to play clever one-twos by drawing the defender in before making a pass and using his pace to spin and get in behind.

Defensively, his awareness can vary, sometimes failing to track his man or making poor efforts to tackle. However, he also shows evidence of recognising when there is a threat by tracking back to make important interventions. He cuts passing lanes well and is rarely caught too far out of position which allows him to press high up the pitch and win the ball in dangerous areas. He anticipates mistakes from the opposition to catch them out and can use his pace to nip in front of the defender to win the ball.

Fig 4: Barco (circled) anticipates the loose pass from the midfielder and nips in front of the defender to win the ball and play a one-two, allowing him to have a shot on goal.

In Fig 4, Barco shows a good level of anticipation to read the play and create an opportunity out of nothing, having gone through on goal he really should have done better, taking the shot with his weaker left foot that went wide. This alertness means that defenders have little time on the ball or margin for error, especially when pressed liked Atlanta did in the example above.

Barco seems to enjoy his football, showing great confidence in possession to make flicks and beat opponents with ease and this is part of why he is effective in the team, by showing a fearlessness on the ball. However, he does occasionally show an indecisiveness in the final third and could fine tune his decision making when it comes to his final ball, whether it be a pass or shot. When dropping deep, he is composed and not afraid to go backwards or sideways when required but he is also capable of progressing his team up the pitch from midfield areas.

When defending, his work rate is impressive, reacting well when he loses possession to instantly press the opposition to try and win back the ball or force a mistake. Late on in games he also shows a willingness to track back when his team are under pressure. He is relentless in the challenge, showing some good levels of aggression and a hunger to win the ball back.

Conclusion

Barco has the potential to become an excellent winger or attacking midfield player as his development continues. The Argentine has already been linked with a move to Europe with several clubs, especially in Italy, rumoured to be interested in him and it would not be a huge surprise to see him make the leap if the right opportunity were to present itself. Barco would be well suited to the Italian and Spanish leagues and could play in either a high pressing or counter attacking team based upon his performances thus far for Atlanta United.

The 21 year old is fairly lightweight but has the quality to unlock defences and be a constant threat to the opposition as well as showing desire to work for his team. His movement, pace and vision can be dangerous and if he can become more ruthless in the final third and start to increase his goals and assists, then it would not be long before he is one of the stand out players in the MLS should he decide to stay put.

Overall, Barco is the type of player that many fans pay to see, getting them on the edge of their seats but also tactically playing an important role for his side. I am intrigued to see how he develops in the future and where his career leads him.

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