Boca Juniors versus River Plate. The only five words that paralyse Argentina except for the current economic situation the country is in. Boca has faced River in a final on two separate occasions. The final of 1976 won by Boca, and the 2017 Supercup won by River which was played earlier this year.
In anticipation of the 2017 Supercup, it was hailed as the most important Superclasico in the last 40 years. What nobody would have imagined is that just a few months later, the most important Superclasico in history would be played. In a few weeks’ time, on November 10 & 24, a two-leg tie will decide the 2018 Copa Libertadores champion between Boca Juniors and River Plate. This is my preview on what you can expect from Boca Juniors in the first leg.
Possible Starting Xl
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a very popular saying. Without a doubt, it applies to Boca as Guillermo Barros Schelotto prepares his squad for the most important two matches of the year. The likely XI that will face River at La Bombonera is Rossi; Jara, Izquierdoz, Magallan, Olaza; Nandez, Barrios, P. Perez; Villa, Abila, Pavon. The same XI that played in both return legs against Palmeiras, and Cruzeiro respectively.
The only player who doesn’t have his spot guaranteed is Villa, who is battling with Zarate, and Tevez. Presumably, by the way, all three have been playing, it would be a shock if Villa doesn’t win himself a spot in the starting XI.
Possible Yellow Card Suspensions
Suspensions due to yellow cards? Yes, you read that right. Conmebol does not wipe yellow cards clean. Because of this, four players run the risk of missing the second leg at River. Those being Olaza, Nandez, P. Perez, and Pavon. Most would agree that Nandez and P. Perez are the most likely to be booked, due to their styles of play. Both are physical so you can expect them to receive a booking.
I would also highlight that River will look to attack with their wings. So, you can expect them to exploit Boca’s LB position covered by Olaza who is on the verge of missing the second leg. They’ll look to enforce their play in that area of the field in hopes of achieving a yellow card for Olaza.
Keys For Boca
In order for Boca to win this match, they’ll have to win the midfield battle. In comparison to what went wrong last time both sides met. Boca lined up with Rossi; Jara, Izquierdoz, Magallan, Mas; Nandez, Barrios, Almendra; Pavon Benedetto, Tevez. Boca were poor that match. Among many other problems that day, River managed to stretch Boca out causing many spaces to take advantage of.
I’m not referring to ball possession when I mention midfield battle. In the last Superclasico hosted at La Bombonera, River triumphed 0-2 with two brilliantly assembled counterattacks. Perez, Ponzio, and Palacios suffocated Boca’s midfield of Nandez, Barrios, Almendra causing Boca to lose possession far too easily. Once river stole possession, “Pity” Martinez found tons of space to hurt Boca in almost every attack.
To avoid this, a possible tactic that Guillermo Barros Schelotto could implement is long balls to Abila. As seen in the return leg against Cruzeiro, Abila has the ability to play with his back towards the goal and open the play out wide. In this case, it was to Pavon for the equalizer. This would avoid any suffocation from River in midfield.
With Pavon, and Villa likely to be on the wings, Abila will have options to open up play. Although one thing to correct is when Pavon sends the ball into the box, very few players arrive to finish the play. This is something Guillermo Barros Schelotto will have to fix. Having Abila alone in the box against 5 river players will not help. The likes of Nandez and P. Perez must join those specific plays.
According to Opta, Cristian Pavon will be key for Boca. he has had a hand in more goals (scored 3 and assisted 5) and more shots (attempted 32 and created 18 chances) than any other Boca Juniors or River Plate player in the 2018 Copa Libertadores.
Furthermore, last time both sides met, River’s full-backs were crucial in attack for them. This time around with Pavon, and Villa on the wings, it will force River to act on the side of caution when attacking.
Another method Boca will look to take advantage of is set pieces. River have struggled defending them and Boca will look to maximize each opportunity like Gremio did in the first leg against River.
Shockingly, ball possession has not been crucial. In the last 5 Superclasico’s, the team that lost possession won the game. Taking advantage of goal scoring opportunities will be crucial for the winning team. Fortunately for Boca, Ramon Abila, and Dario Benedetto are in better form now compared to last time both sides met. Carlos Tevez is also on his way up having scored a brace in the weekend against Tigre.
Additionally, the last 2 Superclasico’s held at La Bombonera have been won by River. While Boca has won 3 out of the last 4 Superclasico’s held at El Monumental, having drawn the 4th. Which is why recently these matches have proven to be difficult to predict.
What’s certain, is that in the last few weeks, Guillermo Barros Schelotto has found his recipe to win international football matches. In all previous stages, Boca has proven to play comfortable after winning the first leg at home (all 3 won by a scoreline of 2-0). The second leg score lines managed were 2-4, 1-1, and 2-2. Because of this, Boca will likely be the more aggressive side. With the home crowd backing them, and no away goal rule, Boca will look to take the first step in route to conquering their seventh Copa Libertadores title.