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Marcos López became the youngest-ever player to represent Peru under Ricardo Gareca at 18 years and 10 months. He logged around 25 minutes against Germany and was quite lively.
Now the question is whether López can build on that debut to close out the Descentralizado with Sporting Cristal on a high and win future call-ups as well.
It won’t be easy for López, even though Gareca is quite high on the youngster. The Argentine tactician was supposedly impressed by López more than any other U-20 player who accompanied the national team to the World Cup. That was a contributing factor towards López’s call-up.
López has to compete for minutes with Jair Céspedes at left-back and Flavio Gómez, another promising young player, on the wing at Sporting Cristal. Plus there’s plenty of quality down the left on the national team.
The 18-year-old is primarily a full-back, although he’s logged more minutes as a winger (460) than he has in his supposedly preferred role (182). The Peruvian Waltz’s own Brian Bertie mentioned that he’d prefer López to stick as a full-back because of the lack of depth on the national team in that position.
That would be ideal for a variety of reasons. The dearth of options is chief among them. However, with Edison Flores building up match fitness and confidence, there is also a potential opportunity to impress as a winger.
Now the big question remains about where he should be deployed.
Some of López’s most notable qualities are his pace, dribbling and bravery in possession. Even though he’s relatively low on experience as a professional, López is very eager to unsettle defenders by running towards them at full speed.
Even against Germany, López wasn’t afraid to grab the ball and drive at the defence.
Of course, this is also the case in the Descentralizado.
López has averaged more than five dribbles per game (with an accuracy rate of 71 per cent) in 2018 with an average of 2.83 progressive runs per 90 minutes. That’s among the top 15 out of all U-23 players in the Primera División. Considering he’s only 18 and logged just 600 minutes, that’s mighty impressive.
Now, that doesn’t mean that López wouldn’t be able to roam forward as a left-back. The problem is, a player like him tends to cough up the ball more often. That’s not a negative, either. Attack-minded players who like to dribble and unlock space will lose possession. That hasn’t hampered Alexis Sánchez’s career.
However, it’s easy when your defensive traits are strong. Luis Advíncula, for instance, is a tremendous two-way full-back. When he gives up the ball, Advíncula is there to make the necessary intervention.
López still has some work to do with regards to his defending, though. It’s clear that he’s still adjusting to the pace of the Peruvian top flight, so his anticipation is lacking. That comes with time. However, his positioning needs improving as well.
Remember the second German goal from Sunday? It was López’s risky header back into the centre of the pitch that forced Anderson Santamaría to react. A more experienced defender might have cleared the ball to the touchline.
There have also been some nervous moments with Sporting Cristal. It’s imperative that Mario Salas helps López with his timing. Far too often he’s rushing into challenges, which can be exposed by quality opposition. Miguel Trauco is all too familiar with this since the World Cup.
For now, starting López as a winger might be ideal until he improves his defensive traits. At the end of the day, he’s still an exciting young player who has a bright future. He could even be a breakout candidate during the Sudamericano Sub-20 in early 2019.