Dynamic. Evasive. Crafty. Three words that perfectly summarize perhaps Major League Soccer’s best ever Designated Player, Miguel Almiron. Since joining Atlanta United in 2017, the 24 year old Paraguayan international has seen his stock skyrocket due to an uncanny ability to play the ball forward quickly. Whether it is on or off the ball, he has certainly earned links to both Arsenal and Tottenham, among other major clubs. But aside from the stats, what is he really like and just how could he fit into a team in one of Europe’s top leagues? Does he have the temperament to do so, and will his fitness hold up in the long run?
Fans of the Premier League will often ask if a player, especially one from Latin America, will be able to cope with the highly physical nature of English football. In terms of Miguel Almiron, it is a resounding yes. While there are some drawbacks that to discuss, Almiron already plays in a league that is very demanding physically. While MLS still has a gap to close in terms of overall quality, the style of football is very hard on its players. A lot of contact is allowed in the league, and when coupled with ridiculous amounts of travel, it can take a toll on a player’s body. But Almiron seems to cope well overall with both the strains of travel and physical style of play in the league.
In fact, he’s excellent at taking bumps in the midfield. Standing at 5’9’’ and weighing just 140 lbs makes him look like he will be a pushover. But the opposite is true; he shows an exceptional talent to stay on his feet and remain in balance. He even seems to love playing through contact, never once shying away from defensive duties or pressing, either. On top of being able to take a bump, he is extremely quick both on and off the ball. This pace allows him to take up a deeper position to help the team, unselfishly in defense, before transitioning into attack. This will make him a prime candidate to play in a number of systems and formations.
The only issue that might worry some is that he has picked up an injury in October two years in a row in MLS. This could make some fear that he could go down in April or May in England. However, you have to consider that travel will be lighter, so if managed properly, it may not necessarily be a problem considering he’s been very healthy otherwise in his MLS career.
Almiron, known as “Miggy” by many of his adoring fans in Atlanta, is one of the best players that MLS has ever seen on the ball. In nearly two seasons, he has scored and assisted 21 times apiece, with 12 goals and 13 assists being piled up this season alone. While Josef Martinez, Atlanta’s mercurial forward star, has drawn in most of the plaudits, it has been Almiron that has pulled the strings both with and without the ball. In fact, had it not been for just how good Almiron has been, perhaps Martinez would never have been able to score so many goals in the first place.
Almiron would bring something to clubs like Spurs or Arsenal, both of which are chasing him already, or any other team for that matter. An ability to always look forward, while remaining firmly in control of the ball is what these clubs should be paying attention to. Almiron, who is extremely left-foot dominant, is able to wriggle free of markers effortlessly at times. In that way, he is a little bit like Messi. He is not a player that thrives as much with the ball as he does off the ball, though, because it’s on the counter where he has the freedom to use his pace to run down the pitch at breakneck speed.
While he is a very good passer (just look at his assists for proof), he can at times get cute with the ball and try to find a specific player. A knock on him, and again there aren’t many, is that he does lack a little with his finishing. Because of his preference to shoot only on his left-foot, as well as being rushed at times, sometimes due to a little bit of clumsiness (a la Thomas Muller’s gangling look), he can miss good chances. But he has scored some absolute crackers to be fair, so he’s well above average.
When looking at Almiron’s numbers, you assume that he is a straight-up fit for an attacking midfield role. However, that could actually be a waste of his talents. Almiron can slot in that role and be very effective, but he is also more than capable of playing in a deeper role. In a traditional 4-3-3 that has no noticeable holding midfielder, he could be very good because he is very adept at cutting off passing lanes and tracking back to win tackles.
In a 4-2-3-1, Almiron could be excellent as one of the two in the middle, due to his speed to get into the attack and then back on counters, and his defensive-minded play. And of course, he could always play in the hole as well. One place that does not suit him is on the wing. When pigeonholed out on the wing, he has looked lost and isolated. He is a player that needs to find the game, and his best impact is in the center of the pitch.
If forced to draw comparisons, Almiron is most like Mesut Ozil. Only Almiron is a harder worker than Ozil and is not nearly as much a liability in the defensive third of the pitch. He is also fleeter of foot. His passing is very comparable to Ozil and they each have the ability to score goals but often frustrate in front of net. Another thing that has to be considered is that Almiron is not a bench player.
This is a footballer that thrives on consistent minutes. He’s never looked his best after breaks in action for Atlanta United, and that indicates that he needs to be involved. A team that is looking for a cheap bench option would be wise to look elsewhere, because they would be missing out on a player that could be a legitimate game changer if afforded the chance. Should Spurs or Arsenal continue to pursue – and they absolutely should – Almiron would surely be an asset.