Youssef Amin provides a tactical analysis of the latest edition of the Superclasico as the final score read River Plate 1-2 Boca Juniors
Both teams started off with fluid 4-3-3 formations. Montiel was the more advanced of the two River full backs while Casco’s attacking contribution was limited due to the fact that he was a right footed player playing on the left. Ponzio was deployed as a deep lying playmaker playing as the deepest of the 3 River midfielders and controlling the tempo. Enzo Perez and Rojas were the two shuttlers who were tasked with providing support to the attack when River had the ball and getting back quickly into shape when they did not. The two inside forwards Fernandez and Martinez were playing very narrow almost as number 10’s in behind Scocco.
While Boca once again went with their favoured 4-3-3, Jara was largely stationary due to the presence of an out and out winger (Pavon) ahead of him while Fabra always tried to overlap when Cardona had the ball providing width. Barrios was a single pivot at the base of midfield dropping deep when Boca had the ball and shielding them from counter attacks. Nandez was very dynamic and fluid, sometimes drifting wide and sometimes making late runs into the box to create numerical superiority in River areas of the pitch when Boca had the ball. Perez was a playmaker who dropped deep to get the ball from the defence and initiate attacks. Cardona was used as an inside forward on the left always drifting inside and cutting inside when he had the ball while Pavon was a more traditional winger out on the right. Benedetto was up top on his own.
River were the team who tried to attack and be progressive first in the first half. Boca were quite happy to let them have the ball while dropping into a very structured, compact 4-5-1 shape which limited the half spaces and restricted River to sterile possession. River struggled to break down the compact Boca defence and were forced to pass it around sideways and backwards to try and create opportunities. While Boca tried to take advantage of the pace in their team by hitting quickly on the break and quickly transitioning from the defensive phase to the attacking phase
To try and create space the River fullbacks and especially Montiel pushed high up the pitch and the two wingers came very narrow. This was mostly effective due to the lazy nature of the two Boca wingers who struggled to track the dynamic fullbacks runs. As you can see in the picture above Montiel is very high and wide up the pitch occupying a half space which a winger would normally be in while Martinez cuts inside.
To aid with their progressive playstyle in the first half River attempted a very high zonally based press with the 3 forwards allocated a space which they would zonally press. The right winger occupied the half space between the left centre back and the left back while the right winger did the same on the opposite wing, the striker was tasked with pressing the goalkeeper and putting him under pressure.
Here you can see an example of the Boca centre backs splitting to receive the ball therefore the River players immediately move towards their specified zones trying to win the ball back in a high area of the pitch. They eventually do win it back, but it comes to nothing.
This is an example of the second phase of the press where Boca have bypassed the forward press and the ball gets to the midfield. Perez is immediately pressing the ball carrier and he dispossess him before the Boca team can get back into shape which creates a dangerous attacking overload.
The second half started off with River lining up in a 4-2-2-1 formation after the sending off which provided little in terms of width and meant that Boca had the extra man in midfield. Despite this River still went with an attacking style and they persisted with the high press, they dominated possession using the juego de posicion philosophy to ensure they always had the extra man when they were on the ball even though they had 10 men. They looked dangerous and they threatened Boca many times before Cardona was sent off.
When Cardona was sent off they brought on Auzqui for a centre back and switched to a very weird 3-2-2-2 formation to try and salvage something from the game. This left a lot of space down the wings which Boca eventually exploited for their second goal but it offered more attacking threat, it would have helped if Auzqui actually knew how to play football though.
Despite the fact that River where lined up in a very strange formation which left a lot of vulnerable half spaces Boca still persisted with their deep defensive block and their counter attacking mentality. This eventually paid the rewards when they scored the second goal from quick counter attack and then they held on till the game ended using their defensive impetus.
Boca vs River was a very feisty interesting game with 3 very good goals but it was also an intriguing tactical battle that pitted two contrasting mentalities against each other and exhibited many formations due to the sending offs. It showed the risks and rewards of fluid possession based systems and structured counter attacking systems respectively and showed perfectly how a team could exploit the opponent’s weaknesses and benefit from them. The two teams played with very different mentalities and levels of freedom and eventually the more structured, organised side defeated the side that was trying and succeeding to a certain level to play free flowing attacking football. Maybe there still is hope for pragmatists in football after all.
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