As Velez recorded a mid-table finish in the Argentine top-flight last season, two prominent young midfield talents emerged - Santiago Caseres and Matias Vargas. While Vargas remains a Velez prodigy for now though, Villarreal elected to sign him ahead of William Carvalho in the summer and that’s testament to the phenomenal progress he’s made since debuting in 2017. In comparison, Vargas’ first senior outing was two years earlier.
Indeed, Caseres managed to leapfrog his team-mate and land a move to European football through the combination of two key attributes - big passes and big tackles. That being said, and despite being compared by some to Javier Mascherano, Caseres’ challenges aren’t quite as full-blooded as they often seem - he only measures in at 5 foot 9 after all - they’re just incredibly well timed, to the extent that his opponent is always nearly knocked off balance as the youngster jinks away with the ball, often to launch counter-attacks.
His passing, meanwhile, is a mixture of meticulous short-range consistency, cross-field balls and the occasional quarter-back pass over the top of the defence, although the creative side to his game has been a little less apparent in La Liga than it was during his Velez days.
2018 has been…
A big leap forward. This time last year, Caseres had only just firmed up his status as a Velez regular, but he’s now enjoying the same status for a club that will be involved in the knockout rounds of the Europa League after an incredibly strong start to his career in Spain. In fact, no player in La Liga has a higher return for tackles per game this season than the 21-year-old, a whopping 4.3, while he’s also completed 91% of his passes. That’s made all the more impressive by the fact Villarreal are having a horrendous season collectively, currently just a place above the relegation zone.
There’s been one key aspect missing though, which has affected Caseres’ final grade for the year - international recognition. Despite his undoubted talent and exciting energy, Caseres is yet to be called up by Argentina at any age group. Perhaps a place in the World Cup squad was a little beyond him at the time, but Albiceleste have taken part in six friendlies since their implosive campaign out in Russia, and it’s surprising that Caseres hasn’t been involved in any of those. It’s even more surprising that he’s never represented the youth sides either.
While Caseres can’t necessarily be blamed for that, it’s nonetheless a gap on his CV when compared to the rest of the young players causing waves throughout the game right now.
A solid end to his first season in Spain, but if the first half is anything to go by that shouldn’t be too much of a problem, while avoiding relegation. He’s unquestionably a top young player in the making and it would be disastrous for him to spend a season in the second tier of Spanish football, especially as his defensive duties will be far less significant there.
Should that be the case though, top clubs will surely be looking at Caseres. Atletico were keen on him during the summer before eventually signing the man he replaced at Villarreal, Rodri, and his early form this season won’t have gone unnoticed.
The big challenge though, is getting into the Argentina squad for the Copa America next summer. That could be the tournament that really awakens the world too the midfielder’s sharp progress.
C+ - A great year, but a few boxes are still unticked