The 4th round of the Copa Libertadores saw two teams face-off with the same motivation: win to try to secure a place in the next round of the most important club tournament in South America. Boca Juniors went into this game off the back of a tough 3-0 loss to Athletico Paranaense in Brazil. While Jorge Wilstermann won a very valuable point in the 2-2 draw against Deportes Tolima in Colombia last week.
The following tactical analysis will show how Boca Juniors ended up winning a match that turned out to be too easy for the team that plays at La Bombonera. The final result was 4-0 in favour of the Argentine team, a win that regains the lost ground and sees them rank second in Group G of the Copa Libertadores.
The home team came out with their usual 4-2-3-1, the system that has been used by Gustavo Alfaro since he took over as head coach of Boca Juniors in the first days of the year. The idea of Alfaro with this system is to open the field to generate the game inside. That is to say, having full backs that constantly attacks and wingers that play in the limits of the field, the internal lanes are released because they force the rival team to open up to refer players that go outside. On this occasion, the match leaned more on the right wing with Julio Buffarini and Sebastián Villa.
For their part, the Bolivian team Jorge Wilstermann came out with a 4-4-1-1 with the concept of closing the path of the goal to Boca. Two lines of four players to play compactly and occupy well the spaces of the pitch. That means the back line and the midfield line playing near. The idea was to recover the ball as far as possible from Arnaldo Giménez and quickly look for Cristian Chavez or Lucas Gaúcho, the men in charge of attacking.
The first half hour of the game did not predict what the final result would be, as Jorge Wilstermann surprised with their high pressure to not let Boca play from the back. This meant that during several passages of the game, the back-line felt pressured and forced to send long balls to bypass the pressure. The idea of the team led by Spaniard Miguel Ángel Portugal was to force the rival into a mistake. During the first 30 minutes of the match, it worked well.
Wilstermann wanted to close the lanes to Boca, who looked without ideas at the beginning. The 4-4-1-1 became strong and little by little they tried to get ahead on the pitch. At times, when Boca had the ball and was approaching the area, Wilstermann made a 5-3-2, almost adopting a man-for-man marking scheme. Boca could not find the path to the goal.
Also, there were passages in the first moments of the match in which the Bolivian team advanced their lines and wanted to start playing some football also. Not just to destroy, but also build plays of their own. At times, Wilstermann placed the back-line in the middle of the field to not feel so pressured and play away from Giménez’s goal. The plan was working, while Boca looked surprised.
Boca was disconnected, especially with the Nández-Marcone pair. Wilstermann’s good work made Boca players look confused. Chávez, the man of ideas for the Bolivian team, received the ball many times with time and space in the middle of the field. Boca’s pressure did not work, while Wilstermann gained confidence.
The good pressure and location of the players of Wilstermann made some players of Boca despair, as was the case of Benedetto at times. When he couldn’t receive the ball higher up, the striker dropped deep several times to look for it. This caused the team to lose balance and the roles to be confused. Boca players did not have mobility and they couldn’t find spaces.
Boca playing very open
The first thing to say is that Gustavo Alfaro planned a wide-open game to release the inner lanes. In that sense, the 4-2-3-1 took meaning, because the pair Nández-Marcone was responsible for generating progression from behind. The idea was to connect the centre backs with the midfielders and then pass the ball to the wingers.
Continuing with the planning and the idea of the Argentine coach, the following sequence shows the gameplan relating to the wings. The tandem of Buffarini-Villa in the right wing and the tandem of Más-Reynoso in the left wing were the pair in charge of generating depth with numerical superiority. The full-backs played very openly and the wingers were closed to play as interior midfielders.
Without the ball in their domain, Boca made a 4-4-2 with the Colombian Villa and Reynoso going deep to take a place in the line of midfielders. Marcone and Nández continued to act as central midfielders, with Tevez and Benedetto alternating front positions.
The idea of Boca, logically, was also to press the first-phase exit of Wilstermann and recover the ball quickly. Boca forced Wilstermann to kick long balls, although the team from La Boca neighbourhood was missing half the task: after recovering the ball they weren’t building attacks effectively.
After recovering the ball and advancing on the field, Boca used both wingers, Villa and Reynoso, as strikers next to Benedetto. They arrived at the area and Tévez dropped deeper to ask for the ball to play as an offensive midfielder. Meanwhile, the full backs accompanied the play via the wings.
Buffarini: the influence of a full back
If you knew the final result of the game you would not imagine the first half hour was so even. Jorge Wilstermann was playing a good game until the first Boca goal came from a mistake by the Bolivian team. After this moment, the game totally changed for Boca, which ended up being imposed by the experience of its players in this class of matches. Football is a state of mind, definitely.
The first goal from Boca came thanks to a good action from Buffarini, the right full back. Also, it was a positional mistake from Aponte, Wilstermann’s left full back. Nández starts the play by playing Buffarini a long ball, in which it seemed that he did not arrive. The right full back runs and gains the position against the opponent and puts a perfect pass for the arrival of Reynoso. Reynoso finished the play arriving as a second striker.
Reynoso is the key
From the first goal, the game took another course and there was only one team on the field. With the result in favour, Boca played better and we saw a more loose team. The improvement of Boca on the pitch came with the improvement of one of its best players: Emanuel Reynoso.
Reynoso is a special player. The 23-year-old is a creative midfielder with a very good vision of the game. The problem for Reynoso is when the coach puts him to play on the wings because there he must fulfil other functions and his true qualities are lost. He needs to play where he feels most comfortable. That’s the best for the player and for the team.
Reynoso is a player who does not mind taking the reins of the team and can solve a match at any time. He asks for the ball, he shows himself and he does not ever hide. Reynoso provides the link for the strikers and is in charge of assisting them for a goal. He is a player who always makes good decisions and does what the situation requires.
Counter-attack and good pressure
Boca’s second goal was a penalty kick, after a dubious handball from a Wilstermann player. Remember that in the Copa Libertadores there is no VAR. Benedetto hit the ball hard and in the middle, impossible for Giménez to stop. But the other goals were after some good collective plays that are worth reviewing.
Boca’s third goal came after a Wilstermann free kick near Boca’s area. It speaks well of the speed of Boca players in making the transition from defence to attack. The Wilstermann players did not back down and Boca had plenty of room to attack. The finish by Mauro Zárate, who had entered in place of Carlos Tévez, was magnificent.
The fourth goal from Boca came after good pressure from the right wing. Cristian Pavón, who had entered for Sebastián Villa, retrieves the ball and takes it to the byline. He then gets a good cross in for Zárate, who anticipates it very well.
If we were guided only by the result, the match was ideal for Boca Juniors. Four goals in favour, no goals against, and the chances of qualifying for the next round more alive than ever. With this victory, Boca ranks second in Group G of the Copa Libertadores with seven points and takes a distance of three points from Deportes Tolima, their opponent next week.
But if we are guided from the game as a whole, Boca Juniors still lacks a lot. A team as weak as Jorge Wilstermann complicated them a lot during the first half hour of the game with a simple plan: two lines of four players, a compact defensive block and high pressure at the start. Gustavo Alfaro was calm with the result, but not with the operation of his team. The Argentine must continue working to find the best version of his players. If Boca continues like this, it will be very difficult to overcome stronger opponents.
For their part, Jorge Wilstermann has almost lost their chance to qualify for the next phase of the Copa Libertadores. Wilstermann is last in the group with two points. But the Bolivian side still has the option of qualifying for Copa Sudamericana. For that, they must be third in the group. They have an advantage in that the two remaining games will be at home. Wilstermann is a very strong team in this sense. Surely in those matches, the coach’s proposal will be different and they will come out to win.