Tactical Report: Martín Varini Making History at Rentistas

By Matías Navarro García

14-May-2021 on Analysis

12 minute read

At the time of publishing, Martín Varini hasn’t yet entered his 30th year. Despite this he has already experienced life at the highest level of football coaching. His club, Uruguay’s Club Atlético Rentistas, are competing in the country’s Premier Division and in the 2021 edition of the Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the Champions League. 


Let's go back in time and discover one of the most fascinating stories in the recent history of South American football. Let’s follow Matías Navarro, a regular contributor to this blog and author of articles such as “Bielsa and the Importance of Video Analysis” and “5 South American Coaches to Keep an Eye On”. 


In this article, Mati tells us all about this young coach who plans to make history in South American football…


But before we get to talking about Varini, let’s get a bit of context about his time at Rentistas, a club which has been one of the most talked about in Uruguayan football in 2020. we’ll talk about their promotion to the Premier Division, a major win, a last-minute salvation from relegation and a Libertadores in which they are making waves. Strap yourself in...

From Euphoria to the Edge of the Abyss...


...this is a fair description of Rentista’s 2020 season in which El Rojo, returned to the top flight and kissed the sky when the raised the championship sceptre in the Apertura Tournament and, a few short months later, were close to returning to the Uruguayan second division.


On their return to the top flight under the guidance of Alejandro Cappuccio (the current head coach at Club Nacional), Rentistas won the first accolade in their history, the 2020 Apertura Tournament, after beating the aforementioned Club Nacional in the final. After this initial success, many of the squad, including key players, would move on to pastures new and they finished the next tournament in last place, only being saved from relegation on the penultimate day.

Due to the Uruguayan system of competition, they came close to winning another title, getting beat 0-4 on aggregate in the final of the competition but, despite this, it was evident that something was broken in the club and it needed an outside influence to fix it.


Cappuccio Leaves, Varini arrives


And so, Cappuccio left Rentistas and Martín Varini, only 29 years old, entered the scene. Varini had previously left the footballing world when he was 22 years old and, up until a few years ago, had been studying digital marketing.


Varini’s challenge was not easy. He had to navigate Rentistas through a Copa Libertadores group which contained Sao Paulo (Brazil), Racing CLub (Argentina) and Sporting Cristal (Peruvian champions), a series of formidable opponents.


Varini’s Formations

Varini has confirmed that he doesn’t prioritise specific tactical formations but rather adapts the system to what’s best for that moment, always looking to get the best out of his squad. During a typical game, Rentistas might mutate from a 4-4-2 to a 5-3-2 to 4-3-3, depending on their needs at that time.


Rentistas want to be the protagonists of the game but, at the same time, the young manager realises that he’s part of an international competition, playing dangerous teams that have the ability to dominate the Uruguayans.


So, for example, the initial 4-4-2 against Racing, circumstantially mutated into a 5-3-2 in the defensive phase with Acosta (left midfielder) joining the baseline. Similarly, against Sao Paulo, the initial defensive system was 5 defenders but maintaining high pressure in order to make a fast counterattack.




Rentistas Know Their Limits and Make Good Use of What They Have


Being aware that they perhaps don’t have the same depth of squad as their opponents, the starting strategy in the game was to try and shore up the defense against powerful offensive teams before thinking about attacking.


Rentistas vs Racing club


Low block positioning in their own area.



Rapid retreat after break down of Rentistas attack, ending with 7 players in their own area.


In the process of adapting the team, it’s evident that Varini carefully observes the rival in order to decide the pressure zone, prioritising shutouts. Against Racing, Rentistas recovered the ball 7 times in the first third of their opponent’s half, against Sao Paulo there were 3 recoveries and against Sporting Cristal, possibly the team that was most similar in terms of characteristics and hierarchy,  they went on to have 21 recoveries in that area of the field.


In Brazil, they sought to direct the opponent’s build up towards the central defenders with sparse pressure that was quickly applied and repositioning was key.



Meanwhile, against Racing, they applied pressure with the forward line of Rodríguez and Peraza pushing the central defenders to play the long ball which could be challenged by the two Uruagyan lines of 4.



When Racing’s wingbacks were added to the initial 3v2 (centre backs and goalkeeper) to generate a 4v2, Rentistas’ idea was to push the central defenders to force them to play to the wings were they would apply more pressure.



Rentistas invite Racing’s central defenders to drive and pair up in the middle.



The change to the front or the touch back was an invitation to the midfielder to press from the outside. In this case, Pérez.



Rentistas vs Sporting Cristal


The positioning with Sporting Cristal was different. Knowing the characteristics of the opponent, the idea here was to recover higher to generate danger faster by attacking the opponent during the first stages of their build up with 3 forwards and 3 midfielders. This was combined with the need to always have one more defender than the opponent’s attackers. 



In the build up phase, Rentistas showed some repeated characteristics. The first was the goal kick, a situation in which keeper Rossi had the support of the central defenders, Fratta and Sosa, with one of the wing backs positioning himself low and a midfielder dropping back in order to maintain a 5v2 or 5v3 advantage, depending on the pressure from the opponent.




If they couldn’t find a way to break through their opponent’s lines after 4 or 5 passes of the ball, they played long into areas where they had numerical superiority.



When it was possible to play in their own half with possession and little pressure from the opposition, one of the midfielders would drop back between the central defenders to have 3 at the beginning of the build up phase. The problem here was that, many times, due to the lack of pressure from the opponent, there was no justification for having so many men behind the ball and it simply made it more difficult to push forward.



Line of 3 passing the ball and inviting the first line of the opponent to press, without success.



If it was possible to skip the first line, the idea of playing wide was clear, relying on one of the forwards or midfielders to position themselves between the lines, enabling a push forward in which 3 or 4 attackers would reach the opponent’s area.



Whatever the case, Rentistas’ offensive game was based on quick transitions, either from medium-high pressure, as that applied to Sporting Cristal, or by recovering the ball in the first third.



Pressure in midfield vs Sporting Cristal.



Quick exit with 3 attackers after recovery.



Attack from the outside (with the wingers) and from the inside (forwards + midfielders prepared to cut out possible rival counterattack).



Counterattack with 3 forwards.


The outside lanes were important for the offensive page, looking for players to appear by surprise. The wings were not key in the development of attack but it instead were used as a preference to take advantage of the spaces generated by the inside development.

The outer lanes with key for the offensive phase, looking for players to always appear by surprise. The wings are not a key piece in the development of the attack, but it is a preference to take advantage of the spaces generated by the internal development of the offense.



Winger Rodales arrives to surprise from the right.



The right-wing midfielder Pérez reaches the zone.


The goal against Racing, their first in the Varini era, is emblematic. Starting with 3v2 superiority and orientation of the opponent’s pressure to the wing making it possible to play long into the opponent’s area where there were two free men waiting.



When the ball was played in, Rodríguez’s unchecking was an invitation for a filtered pass and eventual 1-0 on the scoreboard.



Although it may be premature to anticipate what will happen in his career, three games are not enough to get a full overview of Varini’s strategic insight, it’s clear that he’s constructing a team which is comfortable off the ball, taking full advantage of space with a solid medium-low block and adapting to the strengths and weaknesses of the current side they are facing.

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