In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents in the world of football. Next up is Belgrano’s 19-year-old playmaker Bruno Zapelli.

The culmination of the Argentinian second division, the Nacional B, reached a thrilling final day climax with four sides vying for the top spot in Group A and a shot at promotion.

I was fortunate enough to attend one of the decisive games as third-place Quilmes took on Belgrano in Cordoba. Despite a 1-0 away win, results elsewhere meant el Cervercero finished as runners-up and had to settle for a place in the play-offs.

However, the real reason for the trip to El Gigante de Alberdi was the opportunity to witness Belgrano’s latest young star, 19-year-old playmaker Bruno Zapelli, in person.

Originally hailing from Carlos Paz, Zapelli moved to Spain at the age of 11 and spent two years in Villarreal’s youth set up before a new FIFA legislation meant he had to return to Argentina.

The elegant midfielder made his debut last December but this season has forced his way into the Belgrano starting eleven, playing 26 times, scoring 2 goals and making 4 assists, as Los Piratas narrowly missed out on a playoff spot.

Zapelli collects the ball in the middle of the park and drives forward, shrugging off a challenge with ease.
Zapelli makes his way into the box and appears to have come to a dead end. However, in one quick movement, he swivels on the ball so he is facing goal before flicking the ball out to his teammate with the outside of his right boot.
With the defenders distracted, Zapelli continues his run to receive the return pass and sweep it into the roof of the net.

Seeing Zapelli in the flesh also served as a chance to marry the duel elements of scouting. Video scouting through Wyscout is a great way of identifying and monitoring a player from afar; its importance heightened tenfold while the pandemic has disrupted travel.

While stats and video analysis are crucial, they should always go hand-in-hand with watching the player live in the stadium in order to get the full picture. So, did Zapelli pass the eye test?

Zapelli surges in from the left before playing a no-look reverse pass in behind the full-back for the striker to run in behind.

One of Zapelli’s best qualities is his fantastic vision and ability to pull off incisive through balls. The teen enganche has averaged 1.87 through balls per 90 this year, while typically making 3.57 passes into the penalty box per 90, such as the examples above and below.

Like great Argentine playmakers of the past, Zapelli has the awareness and skill to execute a great pausa, choosing the right moment to slow things down before sliding in the killer ball. Oozing class from every pore, it’s no surprise he has been compared to former Belgrano product Franco ‘Mudo’ Vazquez.

Against Quilmes, Zapelli appears to be drifting away from goal before stabbing a perfect through ball with the outside of his right boot to create one of Belgrano’s best openings in the game.

While Zapelli is at his most dangerous when taking up positions in-between the lines in the final third - as demonstrated by his improved performance when moved into the center in the second half versus Quilmes - he also boasts an excellent range of passing.

Capable of operating in a deeper midfield role, Zapelli’s range, technique and control allow him to dictate play and progress the ball. His average of 6.18 passes to the final third with 74.3% accuracy is testament to this, while his 1.36 deep completions per 90 place him among the best 20 midfielders in the division.

Zapelli elects to spray a beautifully weighing cross field ball to the onrushing full-back instead of going for one of the nearer easier options.

Another of Zapelli’s qualities that immediately stands out is his elegant dribbling style. While his 6.29 dribbles per 90 this season may not leap off the page, watching the way he glides past opponents is a joy to behold.

Though not blessed with searing pace, his velvet touch and excellent close control make him difficult to dispossess, while his balance and upper body strength allow him to ride challenges. As such his 14.68 offensive duels per 90 with a 42.5% success rate is one of the highest in the division in his position and also makes him good at winning fouls.

Zapelli displays his excellent dribbling, taking the defender one way before cutting the other way and bursting through the middle, drawing two defenders before slipping the ball to the space to his right for a chance.

Though Zapelli didn’t have his best game against Quilmes, with just a 27% success rate on his 11 offensive duels, there were still flashes where you could see what he was capable of with the ball at his feet.

In another of his best moments versus Quilmes, Zapelli comes short and then rolls his defender to give himself a free run at goal.
Zapelli evades the sliding challenge of the covering defender before jinking past another opponent to put himself in a position to cross the ball across the face of goal.

Zapelli’s comfort on the ball and his dribbling give him an ability to draw opponents as well as very good resistance to the press.

Zapelli collects the ball deep from the center-back, under pressure from a couple of opponents. Zapelli evades the first with a Cruyff turn before using his strength and dribbling to get away from the second player and get the ball moving forward.

There are still rough edges to Zapelli’s game. His defensive intensity could be improved, especially if he is to develop into a number 8 rather than a 10 but having said that he does make a good amount of recoveries in the final third.

For a midfielder who takes a fair amount of shots (1.76 per 90), Zapelli could improve his end product and would become an even more dangerous threat if he committed himself and made more runs into the box. His aerial ability is another weakness that needs work too.

While Zapelli was outshone by another young Belgrano prospect against Quilmes, 17-year-old flying winger Ignacio Tapia, there were nevertheless enough flickers of real class to back up the stats and the body of prior video analysis.

Contracted until December 2024 and already attracting attention from the biggest clubs in Argentina, it’s only a matter of time before Zapelli makes the leap to the next level.

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