Boca Juniors returned to La Bombonera last Saturday after having beaten Colón and drawing against league leaders Racing on the two previous matchdays. There are few things in the world of football stranger than a giant playing on a Saturday. However, this time, the imminent CONMEBOL Libertadores compromise against Palmeiras on Wednesday merited Boca Juniors playing on a Saturday evening against Rosario Central on matchday nine of the Superliga. In this match analysis, we will list the positives and negatives from Boca’s encounter along with the most relevant statistics from the match.
Boca Juniors 0 – 0 Rosario Central
It has been a while since some reporter wrote the last good words about Boca Juniors. That moment probably happened almost two years ago, approaching the Christmas Day of 2016. Those were the days a superlative version of the Xeneize, led by Carlos Tévez – in his best role as a creator, with Fernando Gago, Darío Benedetto and Ricardo Centurión in their optimal form would dominate the Primera División weekend after weekend with fantastic displays of football. Three victories in quick succession against Racing, San Lorenzo and River Plate catapulted our boys to the top of the table, a spot they would defend for six hundred and seventeen days, a record that will probably be difficult to break.
Between that sweet week of December and today, countless things have happened: Tévez went to China and returned, Gago and Benedetto, broke their ACLs, Centurión left as a cult hero and the Barros Schelotto twins won two local titles. All of this, without ever playing as wonderfully as they did during the mentioned stint. In fact, it has only been downhill since then, and the worst thing is that we are no longer leaders. It does not look like we will be in the near future unless some things change sooner rather than later.
Despite never winning again after getting nine points in the first three matchdays, Edgardo Bauza’s Rosario Central promised to be a tricky rival from the go. Never distinguishable for any spectacular vehemence in attack, it was clear that the former Argentine National Team manager’s tactics would mean a headache for Boca’s creative limitations. Rough from the beginning, their intentions were to let Boca have the ball – something completely riskless these days – and mark the Xeneize’s key men tightly with the hopes of launching a quick counter-attack as soon as they got some seconds of possession.
Meanwhile, at the home end, minds are set on Wednesday’s semi-final. This forced the squad to rotate again, something which is promoted by the manager and has become rather toxic lately. A different starting eleven every single match can never be a positive thing. Predictably, Guillermo Barros Schelotto opted for a formation that lacked the likes of Cristian Pavón and Wilmar Barrios. Instead, he assembled a mix between regulars looking for better form – such as Gago and Benedetto, former regulars getting second chances – the case of Agustín Rossi and Gino Peruzzi, and academy products Agustín Almendra and Leonardo Balerdi, both closely followed by Valencia. Stay tuned for our scouting report!
Both halves were practically carbon copied. The first half kicked off just like any other match at the boiling Bombonera with everyone on the edge of their seats full of expectations. The initial twenty minutes were acceptable considering Central’s closed lines and excessive number of fouls not properly punished by the referee. At decent rhythm, both Edwin Cardona and Gino Peruzzi caused trouble on their wings, especially the latter who continues to prove that he can be the starting right-back without any question. Behind them, both youngsters Almendra and Balerdi did well enough to get recognition in the form of applauses coming down from the stands after certain interventions. Balerdi had a consecratory evening in the central saga and was Saturday’s MOTM for many having shown dominance in the air and anticipation even when out of position. Contrasting their valuable contributions, Fernando Gago, Darío Benedetto and Mauro Zárate’s performance seemed pace-lacking and severely limited by Central’s harsh marking. This became the source of all problems as Boca’s creative core got completely neutralised and little was made to revert that. Our boys still had possession of the ball throughout the entire half, but since we never capitalised on it, it was Central who often looked far more dangerous even with their rudimentary proposition. Slowly, the first half became flatter until the whistle was blown.
For the second half, everyone was expecting some changes, but Guillermo had other plans and sent the exact same monotonous team out to the pitch again. At first, it seemed like it had worked since the second half started the same way as the first. Boca had the ball and it appeared something good could be produced with it. However, the emotion lasted only twenty minutes and before Boca could produce anything useful within their creative deficiencies, the affair was put to bed again by Central’s bus-parking, leg-butchering tactics. When GBS finally decided to make some substitutions, as it is normal in him to be so ceremonious, the team’s last line started to gain meters, rushed by the clock. This allowed Central to have (and miss) the best chances approaching the end of the game in the form of counter-attacks. Those three consecutive chances wasted prove that Boca’s momentum often not only depends on its talent up front but also on the rival’s lack of talent up front. As an anecdote: Central got a man sent off with two minutes remaining. The number of early showers should have probably been three in our opinion, considering Central committed twenty-two fouls compared to Boca’s nine according to the Superliga official statistics. Nevertheless, this does not change the fact that Boca looked clueless again.
Separate paragraph for the fortune factor: the last chance of the game featured Pablo Pérez, who entered the game and immediately made a difference, hitting the ball with his face after a middle-height cross. The ball bounced off his cheek centimetres away from the goal line and went over the bar. Although it would have been unfair to win a game in which, apart from possession, it was very close between the two, winning is winning. Let’s hope for that luck to show up on Wednesday against Palmeiras, that way we will not have to suffer until the last second like against Cruzeiro.
To sum up, a dull encounter where practically nothing happened. Central got tired of fouling, a method that allowed them to cut off Boca’s supply towards their box. The Xeneize had a stunning 63 per cent possession record (the highest ever in the new Superliga format) and also tripled the number of passes. Hefty statistic indeed, however useless considering Central had the better chances and could have won the whole thing approaching the end.
Even though it is not the end of the world, the truth is that Boca are capable of doing much better in the Superliga. With that said, we would never deny that compared to the Copa Libertadores the Superliga becomes considerably less important. However, not securing a Libertadores spot this season could backfire should we not win the seventh Copa this year. Now that our task is fulfilled having warned about the risks of leaving the domestic championship unattended, we will proceed to switch to Copa Libertadores mode, at least until next weekend!