Nico Miremont –
River Plate vs Boca Juniors – November 24, 17:00 ART/20:00 CET – Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti, Buenos Aires, Argentina
As I write this, I’m thinking about how tricky this would be if this was a podcast, because after the first leg of the CONMEBOL Libertadores River Plate vs Boca Juniors my throat is still sore, even when it has been two weeks since then. I don’t know about you, but my father and I spent a good portion of those ninety minutes screaming because it was that much of a deal.
It honestly is hard to predict how apocalyptic situations are going to develop, even though we have seen countless attempts from Hollywood on the matter throughout history. An event that Argentine football will remember forever represents at the same time a source of real concern for River and Boca. This Superclasico will inevitably shape both clubs’ modern history forever.
There is nothing after that, only a path that splits into two. One club shall earn the right to transit the victory path for the years to come, with its head held high after an unprecedented feat against the ultimate rival. The other will have no option but to deviate towards the silent defeat path, continually thinking about what could have been and waiting for a rematch that might never come under the same circumstances.
However, there is a football match before all of that mentioned above. Both Millonarios and Xeneizes gave us a final up to the expectation. Like a legendary boxing fight, the two gave everything they had from the first whistle as if there was no such thing as a return leg. This left us with a 2-2 draw, which invites us to hope for an even better rematch. Also, it provided the managers with valuable information about their teams’ strengths and weaknesses.
River Plate have finally given up on the hopes of having their leader and talisman, Marcelo Gallardo, on the sideline. The multi-winning legend broke CONMEBOL’s rules twice and thus is not allowed to even access the stadium for any of the two finals. Luckily for them, tactics also work from a distance and his side brought home a valuable draw, which Gallardo celebrated with the fans from a balcony at El Monumental, denoting an evident feeling of confidence upon the River Plate vs Boca Juniors return leg.
This time at home and, according to the rumours, with a reception like we have never seen before waiting for them when they take to the pitch, River will look to maintain their dominance with the ball in their feet.
Gallardo’s men were noticeably better collectively at La Bombonera, dominating their passages of play with the argument of possession. They took advantage of Boca’s defensive flaws, partly produced by River themselves because of the dimension of their attacks, which included their fullbacks. All of this turned into a nightmare for Boca’s regularly unbeatable Wilmar Barrios, who, on this occasion, had a tough time figuring out which of all the people invading his zone he had to go after. Now with Leonardo Ponzio back in the starting XI after recovering from his injury, they will look to increase this dominance. Ponzio is the right man to provide cover to those in charge of producing River’s attractive football.
If anything of the mentioned above fails and River are put under fire, Franco Armani, arguably the best goalkeeper on the continent, will likely save the day. The hosts, however, must be very careful with their defensive approach to this match. While it is true that River dominates while in possession and has its rear covered by a human wall under the three posts, defensively they were incapable of stopping Boca’s feared attacking force. Neither at ground level in Ramón Ábila’s goal nor in the air before Darío Benedetto’s header right before halftime two weeks ago. Something to bear in mind, attacking is not everything.
An unorthodox 5-3-2 did the job in the first leg, stopping Cristian Pavón and Sebastián Villa’s projections on the wings. This formation also helped create additional attacking chances because it allowed fullbacks Gonzalo Montiel and Milton Casco to almost reach the goal line with their runs. Eventually and with everything under control, they switched to their classic 4-4-2. One would think this last diagram would be the best option for a game in which Boca will not use its quick wingers, but so far it does not seem to be the case. With Rafael Santos Borré suspended and no fit replacement, Gallardo would for a 4-1-4-1 to feed a sharpened Lucas Pratto up top.
Speaking of attacking being everything, then there is Boca Juniors. The Barros Schelotto twins have managed to revamp their side after a year of inconsistency. This Boca side truly invites the supporter to dream. Boca might not be playing their best football, but they are undoubtedly playing their most effective one. Not as exciting as River’s, Guillermo and Gustavo’s tactics have earned Boca the fame of a scoring-out-of-nowhere machine. While still trying to find that form that earned them two local titles and nearly six hundred days topping the Superliga, Boca’s attack has not lost its touch and is as deadly as ever at the moment the team needs this the most.
Although they could have won it all had it not been for Armani, Boca did a great job at home. As soon as they enter the most hostile place on Earth to be a Boca fan tomorrow, though, things will be very different.
The attacking forces are still the best they have. Ramón ‘Wanchope’ Ábila, once criticised because of his weight and rusticity, is now a fan favourite and a fantastic choice to employ against River’s experienced defence. Behind him, the regulars will be there, including Pablo Pérez’ gifted foot, hopefully completely healed after some aching which affected his performance two weeks ago.
It is almost certain that Boca will not change their style of play at this point, which is great judgement in my opinion. It is not the time for experiments, and the Xeneize can exploit a feature every club in Argentina highlights as their distinctive mark. Furthermore, the return of Esteban Andrada is another reason to be excited.
Boca’s brand-new goalkeeper is now fully recovered from his jaw injury and, despite Agustín Rossi’s fantastic performance in the first leg, it is him who will defend Boca’s goal during the grand finale. Andrada’s return provides a higher level of performance in every possible aspect, worthy of a champion goalkeeper, compared to one that seems only good under the three posts but hesitates before every other situation. Additionally, Andrada’s foot skills are of utter importance to the team, since they add more options in both defence and attack.
If Boca aspire to become champions, however, they must urgently address their set-piece defending. Deficiencies had been evident for months, almost turning into a character trait of Schelotto’s side, but against River, it was demonstrated how counter-producing this could be. River scored approaching the middle of the second half, a goal which practically closed the match to new emotions. This goal came from a mistake while defending a set-piece. Had it not been for Rossi and bad finishing, River could have scored three or four goals only coming from set-pieces. Considering River will undoubtedly be all over them from the beginning, something must be done to correct this.
Boca’s objective must be recreating their performance against Cruzeiro and Palmeiras. This does not mean they have to stick to defending exclusively, but rather aim for a balance between riskless protecting and acute administration of their counterattacks. This is why the twins will most likely go with a 4-4-1-1 formation for River Plate vs Boca Juniors which would feature strong presence in midfield combined with players like Carlos Tévez, Mauro Zárate and Sebastián Villa, capable of capitalising on any opportunity they get.
The Xeneizes have gone through some of the most ambiguous years in the history of the club. While domestic dominance has been overwhelming under the past two managerial tenures, the international stage has time and time again evaded Boca Juniors recently. This opportunity presents as a gift from heaven for Boca Juniors, allowing them to redeem themselves, win the seventh Libertadores (thus equalling Independiente’s record) against the eternal rival and use that as a catapult to return to the front pages of the global stage. The manager’s destiny is said to be away from Boca no matter what happens, which makes this final even more critical. Winning this final would the perfect closing not only to a managerial stint but also to Daniel Angelici’s presidency. Both tenures once divided the Boca people, but today have all of them trusting this project can still make history despite its many flaws because it is a final and results are all that matters.
River, on the other hand, have strengthened and are enjoying the most successful years of their history, especially after beating Boca on three decisive occasions. These episodes have inevitably shaped the clubs’ momentum in recent years. Marcelo Gallardo’s appointment revolutionised the club, and even today, five years after his appointment, his team is still among the best in the world, because of how good, and most importantly, because of its resiliency through the years. A new title today would officially transform this into River Plate’s most glorious years, although a defeat would make that entire structure built with so much effort crumble due to the name of the rival in front of them.
If you are a neutral spectator, then my advice is that you enjoy this unique event today. If you are a Boca Juniors or River Plate supporter, I suggest that you get ready because, no matter what happens, Sunday will be the first day of the rest of your life.
River Plate vs Boca Juniors – Players to look out for:
Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martínez #10 – River Plate
Martínez has been on fire lately. He once arrived at River Plate as one of the biggest promises in Argentina, but never fulfilled his presaged potential. Already a Copa winner with River, he has now bounced back from the poorest run of form of his career and is said to be Atlanta United’s next South American star. Today, he is undisputedly a fan favourite. His quick feet combined with a great momentum presented Boca’s backline with a proper headache, giving two assists and becoming a crucial factor behind the first draw. At home and with the encouragement of a crowd that loves him more and more every day, Martínez will look to be the best on the pitch and turn things in River’s favour when both clubs try to make history.
Darío Benedetto #9 – Boca Juniors
There is not much to say about Darío Benedetto at this point. In case you are not sure what we mean, watch his three goals in two matches against Palmeiras, learn about his story here, and then draw your conclusions. Benedetto’s appetite for goals was crucial in the first leg. His presence on the pitch not only means a constant threat but also creates numerous opportunities for his teammates, turning him into a double threat for any opponent. This second leg provides him with the perfect opportunity to check whether the idol suit fits him or not. Two weeks ago, he scored a fantastic header, but then left the pitch with a bittersweet feeling as Franco Armani denied him victory in the ninetieth minute. We expect no less but the most extreme of efforts from Benedetto in the most important match of his career.
River Plate vs Boca Juniors – Match Stats
- Boca Juniors are the club that has played more Copa Libertadores finals – 10. From those, they played six away from home (including 1963’s neutral venue tie-breaker) and lifted the cup in three opportunities. The remaining titles were obtained in front of their fans at La Bombonera.
- Guillermo Barros Schelotto could become the first person to win the Copa Libertadores as a Boca player and as manager.
- A in River Plate vs Boca Juniors would mean Marcelo Gallardo and River Plate’s ninth title in four years.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: River Plate vs Boca Juniors – unpredictable
River Plate vs Boca Juniors – Possible lineups
Armani – G. Montiel; J. Maidana; J. Pinola; M. Casco – L. Ponzio – G. Martínez; E. Palacios; E. Pérez; I. Fernández – L. Pratto
Manager: Marcelo Gallardo (Matías Biscay will replace him on the bench due to his three-match suspension).
Andrada – J. Buffarini; C. Izquierdoz; L. Magallán; L. Olaza – N. Nández; W. Barrios; P. Pérez; S. Villa – M. Zárate/C. Tévez – R. Ábila
Manager: Guillermo and Gustavo Barros Schelotto
Nicolás Miremont is a student living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a football melancholic, Nico has a very fond memory of the simpler times in the game, resulting in a troubled relationship with the globalisation and capitalisation of the sport. Also a confessed football hipster, his heart is divided between Boca Juniors, the Seattle Sounders, Zenit Saint Petersburg and a few others. While he struggles to decide between pursuing civil engineering or social studies, he intends to publish original content on the more abstract side of Argentine and South American football that of feelings and social impact combining his three passions: football, politics and writing. Follow him on Twitter @Kerzhakovista.