Lucas Zelayaran is a 27-year-old player, born in Argentina, who has joined MLS side Columbus Crew from the Liga MX where he played for Tigres UANL. He won two championships and played alongside teammates like the French international Andre Pierre Gignac, formerly of Toulouse and Olympique de Marseille who he represented in both Ligue 1 and the UEFA Champions League and who participated in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and UEFA Euro 2016 in France. He also played alongside the Argentinian Guido Pizarro who currently plays for Sevilla in La Liga.
Zelayaran started his career as a professional with the Argentinian club Belgrano, playing in all the midfield positions, but his great tactical understanding made him find his best position in the Liga MX by playing around the centre forward.
The Columbus Crew coach Caleb Porter bets on Zelayaran’s skills of playmaking and he will be looking to partner up with Nigerian centre forward Fanendo Adi and Gyasi Zardes.
With his 1.74 m height, a league of physical strength like the MLS seems not to be the ideal companion of the centre forward, but his intelligence has been shown playing in the Liga MX where he scored 23 goals.
This tactical analysis piece, in the form of a scout report, will try to explain all the skills that could lead Zelayaran to become one of the leaders for his new team and the challenges he will encounter in this highly physically demanding league.
Zelayaran is always well-positioned to receive the ball, that’s a skill that allows him to show his great quality techniques. In just one movement, he’s able to get the ball and be ready to either dribble it or pass it through.
Zelayaran is right-footed and although he knows how to move around the final third, he likes to play to the left-wing taking advantage of the fact that when he dribbles towards the centre he will be able to shoot or pass the ball to an open spot, as we can see in the following heat map.
These two skills can be observed in the following image sequences. In the first image below, we can see Zelayaran who started playing around the centre forward. He receives the ball on the left-wing. Despite having the defender’s marking him very closely, he has the ability to observe what happens in the rest of the attacking third.
His low centre of gravity and quick feet allow him to be incredibly mobile with and without the ball and to make very fast turns or being in a position to pass or shoot, as we can see in the above image.
Once he has avoided the opponent’s mark, he makes a switch of play to the right side to his teammate.
Once he had avoided the mark of the rival defender, he executed the switch of play across the box where he had already located his teammate.
But as we mentioned earlier in this analysis, Zelayaran knows how to appear on the final third. His lack of physical strength makes him avoid contact, and he prefers to find the free spot to take advantage of his long passes.
In the image below, against New York, Zelayaran receiving the ball now in the centre midfield, with great intelligence, makes a switch of play to the opposite left-back to his teammate who reaches the back of the opposing defender.
With his new club Columbus, we will see him many times using the long-pass to find the havoc of the opposite backline. This skill will be used by his coach Caleb Porter, who likes to use a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Zelayaran playing behind the centre forward.
This position will allow Zelayaran to find the position away from pressure to control the ball and be able to pass the ball to his teammates or try the dribble and shot, as we will see later in this scout report.
When he is in the final third, he is an extremely dangerous player for the opposing defenders. With 80.4% passing effectiveness, Zelayaran finds the free spots to make the key-pass to his teammate.
In the image above we observe Zelayaran finding the space away from the pressure. As we have already mentioned in this analysis, his intelligence allows him to observe before receiving the ball what options he has to pass or what opponents he has around him.
Here, at the moment of controlling the ball, Zelayaran knows that he is in position to turn and pass to his teammate in the right which passes at speed. This quality is what allows him to be a very helpful player for his team.
Another important skill of Zelayaran is the dribbling ability he possesses. In the system employed by his coach this skill is of great value.
Zelayaran is capable of beating you to the right or left side, as shown in this section of the scout report.
Although he won’t be the top dribbler in the league, he will surely be among the players with the most dribbles won. As the following chart shows, with a total of 5.64 every 90 minutes and with 66.64% of these wins.
But being the player who accompanies the centre forward, Zelayaran will have the opportunity to face many times the rival defenders near or inside the rival box, and this situation is something from which he regularly gets an advantage.
The chart above allows us to clearly explain this quality. Placed in the fifth position of the league with more offensive duels, he becomes a dangerous player especially when he is near or inside the box as we see in the following images.
Controlling the ball and turning to face his opponent, Zelayaran has enough power both to attempt a shot and to drag the ball into the rival’s box.
Once inside the box, his ability to avoid defenders is shown in the image below.
Zelayaran knows the rival box perfectly and knows how to enter and penetrate it. Here’s another play in his league debut. Zelayaran watches the free spot behind the rival central defender.
He drives at the defender and beats him. While the defender is pressuring him with intensity, Zelayaran scores in these situations.
Here in the image below, we see him playing for the Tigres UANL in the Liga MX, as he finds a position almost identical to the first presented, but this time instead of entering the box or passing the ball he shoots to the second post, away from the goalkeeper.
Gaps in his game
While Zelayaran is a player who will contribute a lot to Columbus’ offence, he will have a lot of work to do on the defensive side.
His mind is more that of a South American ’10’ than that of a midfielder who has to help out in defence. This was perhaps one of the aspects that did not allow him to have more minutes in the Liga MX. He was sometimes a ‘cold’ player when it came to defensive duels.
Here in the graph above, we see how this defensive action falls short. Participating in any of the midfield positions. Only when he was placed in 4 matches as a defensive midfielder did he manage to get 50-50 in defensive duels, however in the rest of the positions his numbers show that in more than 70% he loses the duel.
Here are some images that show that lack of defensive commitment that we talked about.
Playing for his former club Tigres in the Liga MX, Zelayaran is chasing his mark, player number 22, who upon passing the ball and continuing to move forward, is no longer chased by Zelayaran.
In a league like MLS that demands a lot of physical effort in all aspects, Zelayaran will have to work hard on this, because even though his contribution in attack delivers good numbers, the competition will require him to raise his defensive performance.
Another example of this, in the image above, the pass is over the open space, intended for Zelayaran, however, the opponent defender is so close to him that both went to get the ball.
From the very first instant and to the moment both collide with a legal shoulder contact, the Seattle player won the battle.
With his skills and above all his great peripheral vision, Lucas Zelayaran has the elements to become an important player for Columbus. He is a great passer in long and short-range and although his natural foot is the right one he has the necessary resources to throw great passes or shoot with the left foot.
He is right in the best moment of his career, after his time in the Liga MX where besides getting two local championships he also managed to get three cup titles.
He is a player whose tactics fit perfectly into the Columbus tactical scheme. With the creativity and technical solvency necessary to be the owner of the team. Able to come behind the midfield and handling the ball for several meters or switch play.
Zelayaran is the one who can help Columbus get to the conference finals, but he will also have to understand that in a team like this, he needs to fight permanently and that his defensive efforts are that extra that he requires to succeed in this new adventure.