Athletico Paranaense took the lead in Group G of the CONMEBOL Copa Libertadores after their 3-0 home victory this Tuesday over last year’s runner up, Boca Juniors. A perfect Marco Ruben hat trick (left footed goal, right footed goal, headed goal), was a testimony to his clinical nature, but also came as a result of Boca’s incapacity to finish their chances and to make adjustments on the defensive end.
This was the first time these two teams have ever played each other in CONMEBOL tournaments. Athletico Paranense, the reigning Copa Sudamericana champions, came from an opening loss against Tolima in Colombia in a tightly contested 1-0 loss while smashing Jorge Wilstermann 4-0 at home during their last match.
Boca Juniors sat in first place with 4 points after a solid 3-0 home win against Tolima last matchday. They had tied in the tough Bolivian altitude against Jorge Wilstermann in their opening match. Boca had fared well in Brazil recently, having tied in their past 4 matches visiting Brazil and looked to keep the streak alive in Paraná.
During the early stages of the match, Boca looked comfortable in possession, with the duo of Sebastián Villa and Julio Buffarini causing problems on the right-hand side. The speedy Colombian was able to get off dangerous crosses, including a perfectly weighted far post cross to Benedetto in the 16th minute, who barely put the header wide.
Boca continued to take advantage of the right-hand side of attack, looking to exploit the left-back Renan Lodi. Lodi is a full-back who’s best qualities are in attack rather than in defence. In the 30th minute, a chance fell to Reynoso from the top of the box after a cross from Villa was poorly cleared. The 21-year old goalkeeper Santos pulled off a good kick save, but Boca had found success on that right wing once again.
Although Boca found paths to hurt the Brazilian side in attack, they were unable to translate their possession and opportunities into goals.
The first Paranense goal originated from a bad switch of play by Benedetto and Buffarini’s inability to beat Rony to the ball. This caused Boca to be caught upfield, leaving Rony on the ball with space. The winger was able to get past Buffarini on the left-hand side of attack and pull back a cross towards the penalty spot for a streaking Lucho González. González’s scuffed shot fell onto Marco Ruben at the far post, who calmly tapped it into the open net for the 1-0 Paranaense lead.
This 1-0 lead seemed to calm Paranaense, who looked to sit further back in their own half and use the speed of their wingers Rony and Nikão to break on the counter.
In the second half, Boca continued to push the ball deep into the right-hand side of attack, where Lodi continued to struggle to stop Villa, Boca’s best performer on the night. At the 47th minute, yet another dangerous cross from Villa found Reynoso in the box, who drew a defender and set up Benedetto. Unfortunately, Boca’s top scorer skied the shot and Boca continued to struggle in front of goal, with Benedetto putting in one of his worst performances in recent times.
As Boca pushed for the tie, Athletico sat and waited deep in their half. Boca’s full-backs consistently looking to join in the attack, left Boca with a 3-4-3 shape, as Marcone would hold back and join the defensive line when the full-backs pushed forward.
The two central midfield spots were taken by Nández and a tucked in Reynoso, who looked to be the playmaker and distributor for the team. Up top, Tevez and Benedetto would rotate, but ultimately it was Tevez who was pushed further out left, while Villa continued to attack down the right.
Meanwhile, Lucho González and Bruno Guimarães would line up with Nández and Reynoso, Guimarães dropping a bit deeper. Rony and Nikão would track the full-backs. With this defensive scheme, Paranaense were never outnumbered in defence, and any dangerous balls into the box were properly dealt with by Thiago Heleno and Léo Pereira.
The game-flow continued with Boca dominating possession (53.8%) and pushing Paranaense deep into their own half. The Brazilian side did well to anticipate passes coming into their final third (23 total interceptions) and then quickly breaking forward. With the full-backs out of position and two speedy wingers, Paranaense had a field day on the wings on the counter.
Added to that, the fact that Villa and Reynoso aren’t exactly midfielders who collaborate defensively, Boca found themselves outnumbered on the counter often. Paranaense had several chances, compiling a total of 21 shots, against Boca’s 10.
Paranaense’s second goal came at the 69th minute after Tevez sluggishly lost a ball to a Lucho González tackle from behind in the midfield. Once again, Boca was caught out of position and outnumbered.
Great conduction by Guimarães combined with a crossing run by Rony, dragging the defender with him, opened a lane for Guimarães to stroll into the box on the left side of attack. The 22-year-old centre midfielder then squared a pass to the middle to an open Marco Ruben who tapped in his second goal of the night.
From then on, Paranaense strolled through the match, making some defensive adjustments with Wellington coming in for Lucho González and Marcelo Cirino for Bruno Guimarães.
At the 80th minute, Marco Ruben became only the second player to ever score a hat trick against Boca Juniors in Copa Libertadores history. The goal came after an effort by Rony hit the crossbar after a corner kick. Marco Ruben was there for the rebound and without hesitation headed the ball to the back of the net.
Both these teams are going through very different periods of their seasons. Athletico Paranaense have just begun their season, having participated only in their regional state championship. They play mostly lower tier teams, cruising through most of their matches, and playing little competitive football.
Meanwhile, Boca Juniors are nearing the end of a long Argentina Superliga campaign. Like it or not, this has an impact on the teams at several levels. While Paranaense is just starting to find their rhythm and integrating the new players to their team, Boca has already been playing competitive football for the majority of the year.
The general thought is that the team who has been playing competitively for the longer period has the upper hand, considering that they have a more playing time together and a more developed and experienced system. This match seemed to support the exact opposite theory. Paranaense outhustled and outplayed Boca with relative ease.
The Xeneize’s looked a step slower, at times looking exhausted and burdened by the end of a season that brought no titles. Having reached the Copa Libertadores final, the weight of losing that final to their eternal rival River Plate, while only managing to finish third in the Argentine Superliga seemingly has caught up with blue and yellow.
Boca has their final Superliga game against Aldosivi coming up, and host Jorge Wilsterman for Libertadores next week. Athletico Paranaense will face Rio Branco in the Paranaense state semifinal, and then host Tolima in a decisive matchup for Libertadores.
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