In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents in the world of football. Next up is Banfield’s multi-purpose midfield duo composed of Giuliano Galoppo and Martín Payero.

It was of little surprise to see Boca Juniors lift the Copa Diego Maradona title in January, but their opponents in the final came as something of a shock. Few would have backed Banfield when football got back underway in the second half of 2020 to come within a penalty shootout of adding to their solitary top-flight honor.

Despite coming up just short in this instance, Banfield have been the untold success story in Argentina over the past six months. A minimal budget during a period when Argentinian clubs have had to tighten purse strings even further, El Taladro have been forced to lean on their academy with spectacular results.

Very few sides across South America can compare to Banfield when it comes to giving first team minutes to players from their own academy. From the 28 players in the current senior squad, only seven didn’t feature for the club at some level of youth football.

Manager Javier Sanguinetti, himself a club product prior to his debut in 1991, deserves enormous credit, stepping up from his role as assistant after the legendary Julio César Falcioni left. But while Sanguinetti and a number of players impressed in their run to the cup final, it was the midfield engine room that really caught the eye.

With Jorge Rodríguez (now at Estudiantes) holding in front of the back four during the Copa Diego Maradona and now Alejandro Cabrera, academy duo Martín Payero and Giuliano Galoppo have been covering almost every blade of grass. Two roles vital to transition from defense to attack, to find the wide players early and ultimately to fashion chances for the center-forward in Sanguinetti’s 4-1-4-1 system.

Yet for all of that industry, no other players have contributed more for Banfield in front of goal. Payero, leading the league for assists (7) and direct goal contributions during the Copa Diego Maradona; Galoppo with five goals in 12 games during the same run and three goals in five in the current campaign. Eight goals in fifteen appearances from central midfield and who has assisted five of them? Payero.

Much of the above stems from Payero’s outstanding set-piece delivery and Galoppo’s ability to time late runs or find space in the box to make the most of his aerial quality but equally the two maraud forward in support of the attack looking to make an impact around the penalty box.

Banfield’s disciplined formation has made them solid defensively with all eleven players committing to Sanguinetti’s idea. The back four plus the holding midfielder remain compact and it is this that allows Payero and Galoppo to more aggressively press in their attempts to win the ball high up the pitch.

This protection also gives both the level of freedom that can see them join the attack rapidly when the ball is turned over.

The midfield formation (4-1-4-1) can be seen clearly when not in possession.

The average positions below illustrate how the midfield functions. The importance of Alejandro Cabrera (25) at the base allowing both players to get forward but Payero (21) actually taking a more advanced position than Galoppo (8) despite the latter being the one that arrives in the penalty box to score more often than not.

Average positions in 3 recent games – v Colón, Arsenal & Racing (from left to right).

The explanation can be seen in their involvement in the build-up phase. While statistically there are many ways in which the two box-to-box midfielders appear somewhat similar, there are two significant differences: dribbles and progressive runs.

No player in Argentina’s top flight has completed as many dribbles (11.09 per 90) or made as many progressive runs (4.86 per 90) as Payero and this athleticism, rather than trickery and skill, is what drives Banfield forward. It’s presumably this energy that has seen River Plate linked with the 22-year-old when looking for someone to fill the gap left by Exequiel Palacios.

Galoppo matches that energy, but while Payero tends to check his runs to around the edge of the box or wide areas and then deliver the passes, Galoppo continues into the 18-yard box to support the striker.

This is reflected not only in the pair’s shot location but also in shot accuracy. The majority of Galoppo’s coming in the box with over 50% on target producing an expected goals return of 5.98, while Payero striking from distance yielding predictably far lower percentages.

Yet it’s not only shots and goal contributions that the duo brings to this new-look Banfield. Galoppo and Payero play an important role in pressing and winning back possession. Both midfielders average around six recoveries per 90 minutes with over half of Payero’s coming in the opponent’s half.

The pair’s good passing and the always willing runners like Mauricio Cuero, Juan Álvarez and Fabián Bordagaray, in the wide areas can see Banfield win possession and then quickly turn their opponents.

Galoppo ordinarily wins possession deeper and so his passing is less incisive and hits over a longer range, but the 21-year-old is no less effective.

The thrust that both bring to the midfield has been a key element to Banfield’s recent success and makes interest in Galoppo and Payero unsurprising.

With Payero coming back from a loan away at Talleres last year when his future looked unclear, combined with Galoppo overcoming a serious knee injury in 2019 to take such important roles in the team, shows a mental fortitude to succeed and there is a versatility to their positions. Both excelling as number eights but showing qualities to play deeper, and in Galoppo’s case a goal-scoring knack that he has carried up from youth football.

Under contract until 2022, Payero has attracted the interest of Buenos Aires giants River and Boca while Galoppo’s deal until 2023 and release clause of $15 million should at least see Banfield profit from their latest academy talents.

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