The Copa Libertadores is not widely known in England or furthermore in Europe in general. It is the South American equivalent of the Champions League, where the best teams qualify through their respective nations. This game saw Alianza Lima, runners-up from the playoffs in the 1st tier of the Peruvian league. They hosted last years Copa Libertadores winners who beat Boca Juniors, Argentinian ‘powerhouse’ River Plate. Alianza definitely assumed the role of ‘minnows’ in this game. They would bravely shut the defending champions out for 95 minutes, including saving a penalty. In spite of this, Alianza would concede a free kick near the last kick of the game which would be converted brilliantly by substitute Cristian Ferriera.
In this tactical analysis, we will look at how River Plate dominated the game and how they really should’ve put this game to bed.
River Plate switched from the 3-1-4-2 they used in the 4-2 win of Newells Old boys to a 4-3-3. Rojas replaced with Angileri. Cruz and Mayada swapped for Borre and Quintero respectively.
Alianza would stick to a ‘safe’ 4-4-2 formation in an attempt to bolster their defence.
River Plate’s dominant positioning
River Plate grasped control of the game straight from the off. As they got possession of the ball, players immediately ran into passing lanes and unoccupied spaces. This gave the player with possession of the ball multiple options of passes. Even with a fairly high Alianza press with 6 players, River Plate could pass around them diffusing the press.
Below you can see how this was orchestrated with opening up the passing lanes. The solid green lines show options to pass whilst the dotted green lines show potential passes once a pass is complete.
Despite River Plate‘s dominance, they conceded from a long throw-in which bounced freely to an unmarked player in the 6-yard box. Caught napping, River Plate did not panic.
Playing in between the lines & breaking them
What River Plate did fantastically through the entire game was breaking through the Alianza lines. The picture below shows the ball initially being passed, breaking an unorganised midfield line. Not only is the line broken but River Plate have tactically positioned themselves between the Alianza defence and midfield lines. This ensured complete control. Additionally, as the player receives the ball the forward makes his attacking run to break the final defensive line without the ball.
River Plate showed consistency in taking advantage of Alianza’s failed attacks and disorganisation. Alianza gave River Plate far too much space in the middle of their own half which gave multiple options of attack. As you can see below River Plate have potential options in green, all leading to progression towards the goal. The white dotted line shows the actual path. The forward can then hold up play and has runners to the left and right of him.
Reluctance to attack wide
Within the first 10 minutes, River Plate showed how they can work Alianza’s defence from the wings to produce great opportunities for a shot on goal.
Deep on the right flank, River Plate have the ball, a second player runs toward to assist. The Alianza player, instead of staying with his man tracks towards the ball. One simple pass beats him and allows an opening. In the box, the River Plate striker reads what is going on and runs towards the edge of the box for assistance. Two Alianza players on the edge of the box hold their position anticipating the ball to be passed into the middle for them ready to intercept.
Once the ball is passed, the player carries on his run in a pass and move sequence. The ball is then played towards the player giving assistance who then lays it off to the player who initiated the whole sequence and takes a shot on target.
This was a well-worked move and was hugely impressive to watch. It looked like a well drilled moved which had been practised in training and it created a clear opportunity on target. What would be frustrating is that River Plate didn’t favour the option of attacking from a flank position.
Commitment to Vertical Passing through the middle
Attacking straight down the middle would be the favoured option for defending champions. There were plenty of times where options to either flank provided the easier pass which could then be the springboard of the attack. More often than not though River Plate would take a riskier pass directly through the middle. As you can see below the player has two easy passes to the left of him. However, he gambles and passes through the Allianza player.
This time it pays off and River Plate are directly through on target. Unfortunately, the shot would be wasted.
This happened repeatedly through the game and got frustrating to watch. The statistics don’t lie either. Alianza, despite only 32% of possession won 19 interceptions which is well above the average for a game. Most of these interceptions came from the direct through balls River Plate attempted time and time again.
Alianza finally organise their defence
It seemed that the manager Miguel Angel Russo addressed the poor organisation of the Allianza. The defence closed down the gap between themselves and midfield to deny River Plate freedom of movement in such a vulnerable area. The midfield as you can see below pressed the ball as a group, shutting down forward passing lanes. The defensive line stuck to man marking anticipating the relentless middle through balls.
Alianza Lima started to read River Plate too well and it looked as if a massive upset was on the cards. Luckily for River Plate, they received a free kick on the edge of the box in the last minute of stoppage time. Like as if it was scripted the substitute Ferreira sailed the ball over the wall and into the top right ‘bin’. The defending champions scrape a draw by the skin of their teeth.
If we look at the statistics it is quite clear River Plate could’ve and should’ve won this game very easily. The majority of the stats fall to River Plate as they dominated possession and had significantly more chances at goal.
River Plate will have to go back to the drawing board and think about employing different attack instead of vertical passing through the middle. They showed that they had the capability to attack from the flanks early on but just didn’t seem to try that method. Although a draw salvaged a point from this game, they should really be thinking its a game they should’ve won.
Alianza Lima will be gutted at conceding more or less at the last kick of the game but will take heart that they shut out the defending champions for the most part of the game. However, going forward they looked massively ineffective and to progress further in the Copa Libertadores Russo must address this.