It is no news to the regular South American football follower that the Argentinian national team have had troubles recently picking their central defenders. There were a lot of central defenders, but hardly any of them stood out from the rest. However, the new breed of Argentinian defenders seems to be more promising than the last generations, and we already know players like Cristian Romero, Juan Foyth, Marcos Senesi, among others. Competition in Argentinian football begins from the deepest divisions, and in the local league there are already several players who don’t see going to Europe as something distant, but quite the opposite.
One of those players is Gastón Ávila. After playing in Boca Juniors youth academy and a few minutes in the first team, the centre-back went on loan to Rosario Central at the beginning of 2021 having a great season and being a key piece in the team’s defensive line. Now, the 20-year-old returns to ‘El Xeneize’ where they will probably give him a chance in the starting line-up and he will have to show what he is capable of, since in terms of talent, the young man has a lot to show for.
Ávila is left-footed and plays as a left centre-back in a defensive line of 4, being responsible for providing football from the back and passing the ball to the decisive players higher up the pitch skipping midfield, contrasting with his partner in defence Facundo Almada. The Argentine has technical skills with the ball and knows how to control the ball very well. He also is very good at starting plays with long diagonal balls, which is his speciality, however, Rosario Central’s attack is mainly focused on the middle and on the left with the arrival of fullback Lautaro Blanco, so Ávila often has to play vertical, where he is better at playing low passes. Even so, he doesn’t deny himself of showing off his technique by playing diagonal passes, which normally ends up being a great offensive contribution.
His passes are not his only technical quality. Ávila likes to shoot from distance, taking 1.5 shots per game. His powerful shots usually generate rebounds that his teammates take advantage of, where many times ends in a goal or a corner. He is also the second free-kick taker of the team.
Ávila stands at 1.82 m, and although he is not the tallest he is one of the most dangerous players of Rosario Central in the air thanks to his headers, which are usually quite powerful, scoring all his goals (3) in this way last season. However, in defensive aerial balls, he doesn’t position himself well and he usually gets beat by physically stronger players than him. Although his build doesn’t display it, he is a strong player who makes good use of it not only in his defensive duels but also in passing by opponents when he advances with the ball.
He is not the typical robust and rustic centre-back who only knows how to defend, the Argentine, in addition to his technical ability, is a fairly fast player and combines qualities of the old school and those of a modern centre-back. He takes advantage of his great speed to impose on his opponents, especially when he has to cover gaps on the wing, situations in which it is difficult to overcome him since when he reaches enough distance, he tackles to get the ball, a very usual play of him which is successful but dangerous against tricky wingers. His tackling tends to be very effective and he anticipates on his opponent at the right time, although there are times when he rushes and is easily dribbled past. He has admirable positive aggression since he takes advantage of it very well and is a determined player in every action. In 1v1 duels, he knows how to overcome physically strong players and looks directly at the ball to get it back, however, as he is very aggressive, he ends up committing fouls at times.
When Ávila goes after the attacker, he runs towards him as if it were war, he does not care if he has to make a foul, receive a card, or be humiliated by the attacker. He is a born stopper and never allows the opponent to step on the area in any way. The vast majority of recoveries are made thanks to those aggressive tackles. Next is a compilation of his game against River Plate where he made life impossible to Julián Álvarez and Jorge Carrascal. Ávila literally showed all his defensive abilities in this match.
His positioning is also something to highlight, since Ávila’s good anticipation is based mainly on how well he stands on the pitch to press and take the ball, and the same happens in the second balls, he is always there when they fall in his area. He is good at closing gaps and is used to doing it in the Rosario Central system since Lautaro Blanco goes to attacking as soon as he can, having Ávila positioned more open before a potential counterattack. In contexts in which he has the instruction of marking a forward individually, few centre-backs in Argentinian football do it better than him, as you saw previously. As a good stopper, he is always alert on his mark bothering the forward to make him uncomfortable when receiving the ball and anxiously waiting to make his typical tackling. The vast majority of his tackles were against players who were constantly marked by Ávila, completing 33 out of 43 in 17 games, which is not a bad number but it could be even better if it was not for his characterizing momentum combined with the aggression that leads him to tackle too soon or too late, and that not only disguises his good anticipation but also puts the team in danger, leaving them in numerical inferiority unnecessarily as you can see here:
Although he is very good at marking and anticipates well when he controls his impulses, Ávila still has to learn to have a better understanding of the game, especially in defensive transitions where his concentration is not the same and there are times that it is difficult for him to positioning well to intercept the ball, and that causes the opponent receiving the ball freely. This happens when the centre-back has to face high-paced game style teams where Ávila doesn’t have a good time at all.
Ávila quickly returns to defend the counterattack, however, as seen below, he doesn’t read well the play and does not stick enough to his opponent who arrives on the right, leaving him free to score the goal.
Despite any mistakes he may have, Ávila is a very strong player mentally, he has great confidence when playing which is noticeable in every action he does and that is very rare in players of his age. However, overconfidence is a double-edged sword and is often the reason why he tackles unnecessarily. As he is very good at it, he believes that he will always take the ball that way, and that denies him from thinking a little more and waiting for the opponent when the play calls for it. The same happens with his passes when sometimes it’s better to make a low one but he passes a long ball or vice versa. It is something that he can train and surely with time he will improve it, in the end, it is understandable.
In a Boca Juniors team that needs to be renewed with new faces, Gastón Ávila offers him as a different variant in defence with mostly veteran players such as Carlos Izquierdoz, Lisandro Lopez or Zambrano, centre-backs who already past their prime and that haven’t contributed much to find a team identity, something that Boca has been looking for a long time to not remain in the shadow of his eternal rival and to go back to what it was in international football. In the end, it is a win-win for both, for Boca since its a start to restructuring the player roster and reintegrating a young talented player in a position they needed; and for Ávila to develop his potential in an important club and train his weakness with great mentors to be a top player in the future.