You've heard the comparisons between Atletico Madrid's new defensive midfielder and a certain Javier Mascherano. It has become a cliche at this point and while that does get frustrating to read constantly, it gives us a little context as to exactly what type of player Diego Simeone brought in from River Plate during an unusually busy winter transfer window.
The 22-year-old started his first game for Atleti in last Sunday night's 3-1 victory over Valencia. Here are the notes from his first start and our first glimpse at the Argentinian could offer going forward as he becomes a prominent player in Cholo's squad.
To begin with, Matias Kranevitter is not a direct replacement for Tiago Mendes, or indeed, Augusto Fernandez. He is not as willing, presumably under Diego Simeone's instructions, to take the ball of his defenders and goalkeeper and does not appear to have that same skill of finding space between pressing attacking opposition players in search of the ball. He is, what some people refer to as, more of a destroyer than either of the aforementioned players and twice in the opening half fouled Valencia players quite cynically in order to break up attacks.
Whether or not that was a tactical decision made by the midfielder or a part of the adjustment period in getting used to the speed at which La Liga is played considering the fact that he hasn't played a lot of matches since his €7 million transfer from Argentinian at the end of last year remains to be seen.
He played as the deep defensive midfielder with Gabi to his right, slightly more advanced, and Saul to his left, in an even more advanced role. Kranevitter's first instinct appeared to be to look for Gabi, who was then in a position to launch an attack, but the relatively new signing is not averse to starting his own attacks when he feels the pass is on. He had nine passes to Gabi, which is over 50% more than to any other player on the field.
In total, he completed 28 of 36 passes with none going long and 23 of those passing attempts going forward.
Tackling and positions
Kranevitter is uncompromising in the tackle, which can be both positive and negative. He is exactly the kind of player you want in a defensive midfield position with players unwilling to attempt to take him on, but there will also come a period of adjustment to La Liga officiating compared to what he is used to in Argentina.
As stated previously, he plays very deep but was entrusted with engaging opposing midfielders higher up the field when Koke, Saul or Gabi were not there to fill the gap in an effort to prevent them from getting possession, turning freely and picking a pass. He did get caught out of position for the goal and as we can see below, Paco Alcacer found space between the lines to drop and look for the pass, which he headed to Denis Cheryshev for the opening goal.
The former River Plate man had less of an effect on the second half as the game opened up and began to bypass him. He was removed on 63 minutes as Simeone tried to get a second goal to gain all three points in a game that could have gone either way with Valencia starting to push forward more.
In conclusion, Matias Kranevitter was solid in his first start for Atletico Madrid and it is quite obvious where the comparisons with Javier Mascherano come from. He does not wilt in physical situations, does not possess an endless array of passes in his repertoire but could turn into a good enough decision maker to compensate and spots possible danger and prevents it from affecting his team. The more he plays, the more these nuances will improve and at 22 should be an an excellent Atletico player for a long time to come.