In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents in the world of football. Next up is Estudiantes la Plata’s 18-year-old defensive midfielder David Ayala.

Such is the inherent bias towards attack-minded players when assessing talents from South America, those in the less fashionable positions can sometimes be overlooked. Even at Estudiantes de La Plata, while the media has at times fawned over and persistently linked skillful winger Darío Sarmiento with premature moves to European giants, it has been another 18-year-old making more of a meaningful impact on the Pincha first team.

Defensive midfielder David Ayala has quietly gone about his business and as one of the Argentine top flight’s best performing ‘number fives’, the teenager already has the look of a future national team player.

One man synonymous with the position in Argentina certainly thinks so. Javier Mascherano finished his playing career as a teammate of Ayala in La Plata and when asked, in his role as LaLiga ambassador, which Argentine player would best be suited to Spain, El Jefecito was in no doubt.

Though in spite of that ringing endorsement, Mascherano and Ayala represent two different types of the Argentine ‘cinco’.

Both are ball winners, arguably the most fundamental characteristic of a defensive midfielder, and few have been more successful in winning possession for their sides than Ayala over the past year or so.

In the teenager’s 19 top-flight appearances, Ayala has averaged 7.58 interceptions per 90 minutes and 12.07 recoveries (44.7% in the opposition half) providing a shield to the Estudiantes back four but where possible aiming to win back the ball as quickly as possible high up the pitch.

Positionally astute and a good reader of the game, Ayala is often in the right place to step in and win possession without the need for crunching challenges and this enables the youngster to swiftly transition from defense to attack.

This side of Mascherano’s game was probably underrated as most care to remember the full-blooded challenges and warrior spirit. Yet, even the former Barcelona and Argentina man gave another point of reference when discussing Ayala – none other than Fernando Redondo.

Now any comparisons to one of the finest cincos to grace Argentine football are destined to fall short but there is a certain elegance shared by the two left-footed midfielders.

With the ball glued predominantly to his left boot, Ayala twists away from challenges, exhibiting excellent balance and a press-resistant ability to get out of tight spots.

Winning 65.5% of his defensive duels and almost half of his loose ball duels, those ball-winning capabilities, coupled with comfort on the ball that sees Ayala complete an average of 3.03 dribbles per 90 minutes, make him an ideal deep-lying midfielder to initiate attacks.

This ability to receive the ball under pressure and find a way not only to retain possession but in fact move the team forward is reminiscent of Redondo and is so effective in Estudiantes breaking at pace with opposition midfield’s already bypassed.

Always looking to get in possession, Ayala provides a passing option to the goalkeeper and defenders and is eager to play that first meaningful pass forward. With 83.6% pass accuracy, the midfielder is a proficient passer over a range of distances though understandably that success rate drops when hitting the ball long (60%).

However, maintaining almost 70% accuracy into the final third illustrates Ayala’s technique and eye for a pass.

Estudiantes often playing with pace in wide areas gives Ayala those targets and when receiving the ball in space even from deep the 18-year-old immediately lifts his head to assess the options.

With so many of these qualities well suited to the rigors of the modern game in Europe, it is little surprise to see Ayala linked with moves to big clubs. A seamless transition into Estudiantes’ first team suggests there is still plenty of room for growth and levels for Ayala to step up to.

The Pincha will be hoping that doesn’t come too soon and when it does the transfer fee eases the pain.

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