Ruben Vargas is a 22-year-old left/attacking midfielder who currently plays for Bundesliga side Augsburg. Having joined Augsburg last season at the age of 20 from Swiss Super League side Luzern, he has quickly settled into his new life in Germany and is rapidly becoming a fan favourite at the Augsburg Arena.
Born in Adligenswil, Switzerland to a Dominican father and a Swiss mother, Vargas spent the bulk of his youth development at Luzern, becoming a first-team regular during the tail-end of the 2017/18 season and registering eight goals and eight assists during the following campaign, before earning a move to Augsburg for a fee in the region of €2.5 million.
“In Ruben Vargas, we’ve succeeded in signing a big Swiss talent, whom other European clubs were also interested in signing,” said sporting director Stefan Reuter. “Ruben developed brilliantly in Luzern and is now ready to take the next step. We’re certain that he will greatly strengthen our squad.”
After signing a five-year contract, Vargas made his debut in a 1-5 loss to Borussia Dortmund in the league opener. In doing so, he became the first-ever player with Dominican heritage to play in a Bundesliga match. Playing mainly on the left flank whilst occasionally performing on the right, Vargas quickly solidified a starting spot under manager Martin Schmidt, registering 6 goals and 2 assists in 33 appearances.
Photo: imago images / Krieger
During the current 2020/21 campaign, Vargas has featured in 12 of Augsburg’s 13 league matches so far, in which he has started 7 of these. Having scored 3 goals so far this season, Vargas is ahead of his xG tally of 1.5 and also ahead of his xA tally of 0.8, having created 1 goal for his team in the 12 matches he has been involved in.
Although it could be argued that the statistics of Vargas could be higher based on his position and role within the side, his clever movements off the ball, shooting creativity and confident passing ability are key areas of his game that are rapidly getting him noticed across the footballing world.
Clever off-the-ball movement
Schmidt was sacked under March 9 following a 0-2 loss to Bayern Munich and was replaced by former Bayer Leverkusen manager Heiko Herrlich. Vargas has mainly played on the left flank of Herrlich’s 4-4-2 formation, having appeared in this position 9 times.
In addition, he has also been seen to take the ‘Attacking Midfield’ and ‘Forward’ roles when his team set up in a less favoured 4-2-2-2 shape. Whether Vargas plays out wide or through the central area, his clever movements off the ball to support the player in possession is key in enabling his side to progress the ball up the pitch and enter threatening positions in the final third.
This season in the Bundesliga, Vargas has made 204 touches in the midfield third and 144 in the attacking third, compared to only 79 in the defensive third. His clever movements to support the player on the ball allows Vargas to get on the ball in threatening areas as seen in the 2-2 draw vs. Schalke.
In this example mid-way through the first half against Schalke, Augsburg advanced the ball into the midfield third to Tobias Strobl who had dropped deep to receive. As the ball travelled, this was the trigger for Vargas to make a forward run off the ball to support the German as the receiving player and Vargas did just that.
The forward run from Vargas in between the Schalke central defender and right back caused confusion for both as they had to decide whether to go and press Strobl as the receiving player or track the oncoming run of Vargas. Strobl saw Vargas’s run and continued to advance the ball up the pitch with a guided forward header into the path of Vargas who took the ball into the final third.
As well as making forward off the ball runs into advanced positions, Vargas has also been seen to make regressive runs to provide his defensive players with forward passing options. This season, Vargas has been the target of 364 passes, of which, has received 67.3% of these targeted passes. In the example below vs. Schalke, Vargas drops in between the opposition’s defensive and midfield lines to provide support for his teammate to progress the ball.
As Felix Uduokhai had possession of the ball and looked for a forward passing option, Vargas made a regressive run in between the lines to provide a clear passing line for Uduokhai to advance the ball into the midfield third. Due to the space in which Vargas created with this run meant that upon receiving he was able to receive on the half-turn and created a 1v1 / 2v1 situation for his team in the central part of the pitch and attack the space in behind Schalke’s half.
Even when his team are trailing, Vargas still can be seen to make positive runs off the ball to support his teammate in possession as seen in the game away to TSG Hoffenheim below.
After conceding two early goals just after half-time, Augsburg needed some individual quality if they had any chance of easing the deficit and finding their way back in the game. As the second half progressed, it was Vargas who looked the most likely to drive Augsburg back into the game as he looked to try to make runs in behind the Hoffenheim defence to get in on goal.
In the above scenario, Florian Niederlechner, who had dropped deep to receive, created some space between him and TSG Hoffenheim’s two central defenders. As this movement from Niederlechner was made, Vargas started to make a forward run off the right-hand shoulder of Kevin Vogt, TSG Hoffenheim’s right-sided central defender. This run provided Niederlechner with an opportunity to play a through ball into the path of the advancing Vargas.
Although Augsburg weren’t able to score from this scenario or find their way back into the game, it was Vargas who was looking the most likely to create goal-scoring chances due to his runs off the ball to support to try and advance into dangerous areas of the TSG Hoffenheim’s half.
During the 3-1 win against Mainz 05, Vargas was the highlight of the match which saw him score Augsburg’s first goal of the game in spectacular fashion. However, before the goal was scored, Augsburg were in possession looking to advance through the thirds and the clever movement of Vargas enabled them to successfully proceed into the midfield third.
As Uduokhai moves the ball forward in search of an opening to push the ball forward into midfield, Vargas checks his run inside into the half-space, creating space for left back Daniel Caligiuri to advance into. Uduokhai saw this run and was able to make a pass into the path of Caligiuri who then was in lots of space to advance into the attacking third.
The clever movement off the ball to create space for his teammate is one of Vargas’s key strengths to his game. Although the first goal didn’t directly come after this passage of play, it enabled Augsburg to maintain possession to find a way into the opponent’s box to create a chance to score.
When in possession of the ball, Vargas has the talent to strike the ball in different ways to try and score goals for his team. This season, he has completed 14 shots and of which, 4 have been on target and 3 of these have been successful goals. Last season, Vargas made 60 shots and of which, 43.3% were shots on target, making 0.92 SoT/90, scoring 6. If he continues this form this season, he will surpass the shooting figures from last season.
Against Mainz 05, Vargas opened the scoring for his side and the first of the game with a glorious overhead kick from close range. His creativity to produce this type of finish as well as execute it to perfection to place it in the space away from the defender/goalkeeper was something that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
As the cross from the left-hand side came in, Vargas positioned himself in the central area of the goal anticipating the ball being played in. As the ball hung in the air he adjusted his body and timed his overhead kick to perfection before the defender could come and intercept the ball. The timing of the execution as well as the placement of the ball in the goal was the reason why this type of shot was able to be successful.
Moussa Niakhaté of Mainz 05 can also be seen covering the goalkeeper in the middle of the goal and for Vargas to be aware of his position and to be able to place the ball away from Niakhaté into the space to score shows how brave and creative he is to perform and carry out this type of shot.
Although in this example Vargas could have executed the shot with a header but instead opted for the more creative way, he did show us on matchday 1 that he is capable of using his head to score when he scored the opening goal in their 3-1 away win against Union Berlin.
As the game drew closer to half time, Augsburg were creating more chances and becoming more dangerous as a result. Raphael Framberger broke down the right-hand side to the by-line and crossed the ball into the box to the oncoming Vargas who headed home to give the away side the lead going into halftime. Vargas has won 35.3% of his aerial duels this current season and this example shows how brave he was to perform the headed action against Marvin Friedrich.
As Framberger advanced down the right-hand side with the ball, Vargas’s clever run off the ball through the central area wasn’t tracked by the Union Berlin players which meant he was able to advance into the box and timed his run to perfection to head the ball into the goal. The technique of the header was performed admirably which enabled him to score.
Vargas has made 25 touches in the attacking penalty area this season and during the game against Freiburg, he collected the ball just outside of the Freiburg box and advanced the ball into the box to execute his shot. This was his only shot on target during the game but managed to score with a little slice of luck off of the Freiburg defender.
Trying to find their way back into the game, Augsburg managed to get the ball out to the left-hand side to Vargas who cut inside onto his right foot and aimed to bend the ball to the far post away from the goalkeeper. However, with a little deflection from the Freiburg defender, it took the ball towards the left-hand side near the goalkeeper but still managed to find its way into the net.
Vargas was brave in taking his shot from this position and was creative in performing a finesse shot to try to bend the ball into the far corner of the goal. If the ball wasn’t deflected then this shot would have also been at least on target. He has the creativity to perform many different types of shots and has shown us that during the 12 games he has been involved in this current season.
Confident passing ability
The last part of this analysis will analyse Vargas’s passing ability and his confidence to keep possession / create chances for his team. Since the start of this Bundesliga season, Vargas has attempted 248 passes and 74.5% of these have been successfully completed. He has attempted 100 medium passes, of which, 82% have been successful, compared to only 96 attempted short passes and 32 long.
This season Vargas has achieved 2 assists and the first assist came in Matchday 5 away to Leverkusen with a great pass across the box to the awaiting Daniel Caligiuri.
In the game against Leverkusen, Vargas achieved a 77.8% pass completion percentage and showed he meant business just after half-time where he created Augsburg’s first goal of the game. Vargas received the ball on the left-hand side corner of the box and shifted the ball onto his right foot in the thought that he would perform a shot, similar to the shot he produced against Freiburg.
However, after shifting onto his right, he was aware of Caligiuri’s position on the opposite side of the box in space and Vargas played a perfectly timed pass under pressure to Caligiuri who cut onto his left and scored.
Of his 248 attempted passes, 242 have been live-ball passes and 13 of these have been passes that have then led to a direct shot attempt at goal. His GCA/90 stands at 0.12 with him just ahead of his current xA tally of 0.8.
Moments later in the same game against Leverkusen, Vargas again made a progressive pass but this time was a short pass into Florian Niederlechner which created a 2v1 opportunity in the half-space. Vargas holds a 79.2% short pass completion percentage and this short pass into Niederlechner was very effective in them being able to break through the Leverkusen lines.
Vargas had possession on the far left-hand side under pressure from the recovering Leverkusen defenders. He was aware of his teammate’s position off the ball and played a short progressive pass into Niederlechner that created a 2v1 situation in favour of Augsburg in the half-space.
24 out of the 185 completed passes Vargas has made have been progressive passes. Although it could be argued that this number could be higher in order for him to make more of an impact at Augsburg, the progressive passes he has made have been effective in creating threatening chances for his side.
Against Mainz 05, he again held his position on the left-hand side and as the ball was played to him he controlled and used the outside of his right foot to bend the ball into space behind Jeremiah St. Juste for Carlos Gruezo to run onto. Under pressure, Vargas had the ability to perform another different type of progressive pass which enabled his side to penetrate the space behind the opposition defensive lines.
Aside from progressive passes, Vargas also has the confidence to perform backward passes to set up chances for his teammates to strike at the goal. 52 times this season Vargas has performed a pass under pressure and the below example against TSG Hoffenheim is an example of this in action.
Vargas did well to beat the TSG Hoffenheim fullback Stefan Posch to enter the box and instead of advancing to the goal himself he produced a backward cut-back pass to the awaiting Caligiuri in acres of space on the edge of the box.
Augsburg didn’t score from this scenario but Vargas has the vision to make passes to teammates in better positions to shoot at goal. 16 times this season Vargas has produced a shot-creating action and this pass gave his side the opportunity to threaten the TSG Hoffenheim goal to try and force their way back into the game.
It is important to analyse that as well as confidently producing passes to teammates in the middle and final third, he is also confident in producing successful passes in his defensive third which takes his team out of dangerous areas.
In this situation, Vargas was under pressure deep in his own half and used his strength to protect the ball to hold off the defender and was able to make a forward pass into Strobl who was able to turn and attack forwards.
Vargas did have Uduokhai as a passing option, who could have then progressed the ball to more advanced players, but he instead showed his confidence in being able to pass under pressure to make a forwards pass from this position. The pass took his team out of danger and into the midfield third to prevent TSG Hoffenheim from attacking their goal once more.
Vargas’s clever movements off the ball to either support the player with the ball or create space for teammates to receive is one of the main key traits of his game. When on the ball, his confident passing means that his team is able to keep possession to try and create shooting opportunities. When in the attacking third, Vargas has the ability to strike the ball accurately and creatively to give him the best possible chance of gaining success.
Ruben Vargas is a bright, young, and creative attacking player who holds many strong traits when in and out of possession of the ball. This analysis has depicted the strengths of his game during the current 2020/21 season and highlighted the key traits that he brings to the Augsburg side.
By: Sam Hough
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / TF-Images / Getty Images