Newell’s Nicolas Castro is one of the biggest surprises of this season in the Argentinian league. The 20-year-old is playing his first proper senior season with the team and is already turning heads with stellar performances. So far this season, in all competitions he has played just slightly more than 1400 minutes and has 5 goals and assists to his name, which gives him at goals plus assists per 90 of 0.64, a very high mark usually indicating that someone is a very good offensive weapon for his side. He possesses interesting physical tools, good speed, if not great a first step, and a high around 185, a rarity for an Argentinan offensive midfielder.
Newell’s like to play Nico Castro in two ways. First, they play him as a classic enganche attacking midfielder in a 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1, with him occupying the space between the opposition holding midfielders and center backs. But even when he plays that role, he is ready and willing to roam around, help both wingers with overloads or join the striker in the box, which happens less often.
Newell’s also used him as a sort of free 8, on the left side of a midfield trident. He works well in both roles, but I think this sort of Pogba role is best suited for him, especially when we factor in his shooting from distance, his ability to carry the ball, playmaking instincts, and willingness to pass the ball around with overlapping wing-backs.
Castro is a very technically gifted player. One of his biggest assets are his deliveries from set-pieces. The balls he delivers have a very impressive combination of speed, precision, and bend. There are few outswinging corner takers who can deliver such balls into around the 6-yard box.
He is also very able to deliver balls to the far post, without them losing on precision, velocity, or bend. His crosses at times appear as homing missiles, directed at the foreheads of his teammates.
Newell’s aren’t a team that usually sits deep and lets stuff happen. They are active without the ball, and Castro fits that mindset to a T. His anticipation and work rate are both very good for a player of his age. At times he steps in and forms a sort of the first line of defense with the striker, chasing the technically worse of the 2 central defenders or fullbacks. He wins the ball close to once per game while pressing.
He is an aggressive player with close to 4 duels per game, but he still needs to refine his defensive skills, because he losses more duals than he wins, with a 42% success rate. But he does manage an interception and a tackle per game, but with the cost of 2 fouls per game.
This is the part of his game that makes me really excited. His shooting from distance is a clear example of how his combination of anticipation and technical ability makes him a rare player. He is able to be at the right time at the right place, usually in transition or semi-transition. The shots he takes, always aimed at the corners are, like his crosses, hit with enough dip and curve so that the keeper can’t get a touch on them.
The fact that he takes close to 2 shots per game, and more than 50% land the target, shows not only that he is capable of creating good shot volume, but also that precise with the volume of shots that he does take. The shooting from inside the box can still get better, but you can’t really expect a 20-year-old playing his first proper season to be so polished both in and outside the box.
Newells puts a lot of emphasis on quick progression down the pitch. Castro contributes greatly with both his ball carrying and passing. He attempts a lot of dribbles per 90 with close to 5, but he does complete almost 3, a very high 66% success rate. He has a great first touch with both feet. While he is right leg dominant, he is able to get by guys by using his left leg as well.
Castro has the ability to pass the ball around and keep possession if need be, but the team usually likes to use him as a transition initiator when they can, relying on his passing and ball control to bail them out. As we see here. He takes the ball on the edge of his area, has the compose and ability to create enough separation between himself and his defender, to pass a long ball to the striker with his weaker left foot, which in turn creates a good counterattack opportunity for Newells.
As we can see, when he plays the free 8 role, he can occupy the half-spaces between the fullbacks and central defenders, make quick passes while the defense tries to decide what their best course of action should be when faced with this threat. The winger and the full-back do a great job stretching the defense, Castro catches his man not paying attention, the center back rotates quickly, but not fast enough and Nico plays a great progressive pass that turns into an assist thanks to a great shot. What I like is that he doesn’t just wait for his teammate to make something happen. Castro wisely attacks the space left open by the center back that closed out on him.
Poor Positional Defender
The most worrying part of his game is his positional awareness when Newell’s are pushed deeper. At times he seems either confused or lost. He looks around a lot but gets caught ball watching, letting his man slip in dangerous areas. This comes up less often when he plays the 10, but when he has to play the left midfielder slot in the 3, the team can get exposed.
Another thing that baffles me quite frankly is his inability to win headers. His positioning is bad. He doesn’t know how to position his lower body to generate a lot of power and jump high. His size and athleticism should be a great asset for Newells when they are defending corner or any other set-piece, but he was directly responsible for them letting in two goals this season from set-pieces, losing his man and not being able to recover enough. This makes me wonder if he had a sudden growth spurt in his late teen years. He is seriously gifted but never played for any national team youth selection ever. This makes me think that he just isn’t used to being one of the taller players on the pitch who is asked to win headers.
How good can he end up being? Well, that is the multi-million euro question. Usually, when a young player bursts on the scene of a league as good as the Argentina one it means good things for his future. I’m still not sure he can be a player for the best clubs in the best leagues in Europe. Currently, due to his defensive lapses, and questions about how his athleticism translates, I see him more as a player for teams that are between 6 and 8 in the top 5 European leagues. So he could be a player for Rennes or Wolfsburg, maybe even Everton.
In terms of player comparison, he strikes me as a bigger Lovro Majer. For those uninitiated. Lovro Majer is a Croatian offensive midfielder who is still young and developing, but played a crucial role for Dinamo Zagreb last season and was sold to Rennes for around 12 million euros last month. Both of them are great technical talents, long shot specialists, who excel delivering corners and attacking half spaces but aren’t world-class athletes.