Stuttgart's Santiago Ascacibar Is Enjoying A Fine Start To Life In The Bundesliga
Having joined VfB Stuttgart in the summer from Estudiantes, Santiago Ascacibar's adaptation to life in the Bundesliga has been hugely impressive.
Full of intensity, energy, determination and quality, the 20-year-old's quickly cemented himself as an integral player within Hannes Wolf's squad. Indeed, the fact he's already featured in nine Bundesliga matches has been a testament to his ability to rapidly assimilate himself into his new surroundings.
Performing so consistently has offered further reason for positivity, as he's looked right at home in the Bundesliga, even though he admits he's had to adjust to the amazing technical level and speed of the league.
Facing off against one of Germany's premier outfits in Borussia Dortmund last weekend posed yet another massive challenge, but in typically dogged fashion Ascacibar wasn't to be overrawed by the occasion, putting in a superb showing from his central midfield station throughout the statement 2-1 win.
With Wolf instructing his side to man-mark Dortmund when they were in possession, the Argentina U20 captain was set the task of tracking the skillful Shinji Kagawa. And he undertook his duties with huge success, in a match where he hardly gave his opponent a sniff. Whether pressing him aggressively, applying forceful interventions or preventing him from being a passing outlet, his manager would've been delighted how well he carried out his demands.
Kagawa tried his best to outfox the diminutive central midfielder, moving laterally, vertically and diagonally in attempts to escape Ascacibar's clutches, but the Stuttgart warrior's unyielding concentration, awareness and clever use of head checks to gain a constantly updated mental imagery of Kagawa's positioning saw him handle these threats comfortably.
Possessing great strength and a low centre of gravity also enabled him to physically impose himself on the lighter Kagawa, while importantly remaining balanced to undertake his ball reclaiming actions. In addition, his enormous stamina and work rate only compounded Kagawa's problems, as the youngster just never stopped coming after him.
Interestingly, on the rare occasion Kagawa slipped his grasp, Ascacibar would intelligently communicate with a teammate to advise them to take over the marking duties.
Another encouraging aspect of his work came in scenarios where he showed tremendous confidence to leave his man and press another BVB player. Key to this, however, was that when he'd move out of his slot, he'd keep Kagawa in his cover shadow by moving diagonally to block the passing lane towards him.
Although he didn't get to display his attacking qualities as much as he would've liked in this fixture, he still showcased glimpses of his competency in this regard with some lovely passes, moments of mastery on the ball and some ingenuitive movement.
By the numbers, his whopping 12 defensive actions, that included five successful tackles and five interceptions, aptly depicted his wonderful contribution.
For the man who models his game on Bayern Munich's Chilean dynamo, Arturo Vidal, this was undoubtedly a performance he would've been extremely proud of. Moreover, with Ascacibar recently stating his desire to get selected for Argentina's 2018 World cup squad, this outing would've definitely impressed national team coach, Jorge Sampaoli.
The challenge now will be for the man who's been one of the most exciting signings this season will be keeping up his blistering form. And if he can do precisely that, earning a coveted place in La Albiceleste's World Cup side would be the perfect reward.
But in the meantime, his focus will solely be on maintaining his exemplary level and honing his craft under the tactically sophisticated Hannes Wolf at Stuttgart.