River Plate hosted Alianza Lima in the fourth round of the Copa Libertadores at El Monumental. Marcello Gallardo’s side were in desperate need for a win to further their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages. The Peruvian team, Alianza Lima, would be perfect to gain all three points against, as they lay bottom of the group with no wins. This would prove to be a tough test for Alianza and a long night.
In this tactical analysis, of the Copa Libertadores, we will look at how River Plate overcame a defensive Alianza Lima.
Alianza Lima would set up defensively away from home in a 5-4-1 formation. This was in order to keep River Plate at bay and hopefully steal a point at El Monumental. The only changes from their previous result, a loss to Real Garcilaso, was H.Salazar and J.Guidino joining the defence.
Marcello Gallardo set up in his usual 4-3-1-2 which would transition to 4-1-3-2 and 4-1-4-1 when attacking with the aim of keeping at least eight players in the oppositions half.
Only two changes from their previous Copa Libertadores line up saw forward Rafael Santos Borré replaced by Matias Suárez. Midfielder Nicolás De La Cruz replaced the out of form Cristian Ferreira.
Alianza: damage limitation
With five at the back for Alianza, it was clear that the objective of the game was to stop River from scoring too many goals and hopefully shut them out for a draw.
In their 5-4-1 formation, the wing-backs pushed in and upfield to press any wing threat coming from River. We can see above how the left wing-back has moved inside to anticipate any oncoming attack from the midfield. However, in doing so, Alianza left massive vulnerable areas in the two corners of their half. Gallardo’s new plan would completely exploit this.
River Plate plan of attack
Previous games have seen Gallardo’s team going straight through the middle opting for direct and risky through balls. With five at the back squeezing inwardly and tightening on the middle Gallardo had a plan to expose the final line of defence.
River Plate moved their wingbacks high up the field and wide, leaving just two central defenders at the back to control the game. Usually, River play long balls to the top half of their own territory and from there play through balls up the middle but this game would see something different.
River played on the ground, from the back and with great patience. They moved the ball back and forward from the centre backs to the midfield line and back in an attempt to slowly pull Alianza apart positionally.
Once River felt they had achieved this or spotted Alianza’s wing-backs creeping in front of their back three centre backs the ball would be played behind the Alianza defence into the corners where a massive space was left by the wing backs. The forwards or wing backs would already be running into that area to receive the ball to then cross into the middle.
We can see how high and wide wing back, number four, Fabrizio Angileri is for River. Ready to run onto a long ball played from the back straight into Alianza exposed top left corner. Completely bypassing the midfield and straight towards Alianza’s last defensive line.
Once the ball is played, Angileri moves down the wing. From there he cuts inwards and hopes to provide a key pass for a forward to run onto and ultimately finish.
River continue to expose the top corners
Below we can see again a defining ‘V’ shape to Alianza’s defence leaving the top corners exposed. River are about to play quick and direct. The ball is played to the forward who then, with his first touch lays it straight into the exposed space. His teammate has already begun to move into space and ready to send an attacking ball centrally.
In doing this River were constantly tearing the Alianza defence apart and creating an abundance of goal scoring opportunities.
Above and again, River play a long ball over the defence exposing Alianza. Right wing-back Gonzalo Montiel has made his run and just out of shot. Montiel receives the ball near the by-line and plays a ball into the path of an oncoming forward for yet another goalscoring opportunity.
Alianza: no plan B
Throughout the entire game, Alianza Lima struggled in all areas of the game. Positionally, possessively, attacking and defending. They struggled to string more than four passes together and didn’t look a threat to River Plate at any point in the game.
Alianza also didn’t capitalise once possession was regained. Below we can see Alianza with the ball looking to break out of defence and transition into attack. However, poor positioning limits their choices of passes. Players are too close to one another or in complete isolation.
Green dotted lines show potential passes to teammates. Although, one player is in isolation and being tracked by River’s centre back (out of shot). The other is being anticipated and pressed by River’s wing back.
Poor decisions from Alianza and River’s structured defence
The very few opportunities that Alianza Lima had going forward always ended in making the wrong decision. In addition to this, River’s structured defence also stopped Alianza getting a shot on target.
Below we can see a complete reverse of the situation with River Plate’s vulnerable left and right corners. Alianza are on the attack with two players rushing to get forward into better positions. The player in possession is being tracked by River’s midfield player whilst a centre back positions himself in the way showing him the outside left touchline.
With the Alianza player tracked, the potential passing lane is shut down to his left. There is now, one good option left to his right. However, the dotted white line denotes where the ball actually went. Into nowhere and River regain possession.
Safety in numbers
With the ball lost, River attempted to win it back immediately. Alianza got pressed with several players which limited passing options and forced them to panic pass. We can see below how this was done. River completely surround the player in possession, forcing a mistake. Off the ball, a centre back man marks the Alianza player to discourage any through balls.
More poor decision making
This really was a disastrous night for Alianza Lima. They concede from a corner due to poor man-marking decisions.
Below we see a River Player sprinting right towards the ball. Alianza panic and two players follow him. Foolishly one of those players is already man-marking a River player in the middle.
The highlighted River player now has a ton of space to easily nod it pass Alianza keeper Pedro Gallese.
The momentum chart shows how dominant and in control River Plate were in this game with only a few periods of Alianza Lima actually seeing the ball.
The statistics tell the same story with Alianza winning the defensive areas of the game with 23 clearances to dissipate the pressure and only 33% possession.
River meanwhile missed four other big chances which could’ve easily made the scoreline 7-0.
Russo will head back to Peru well and truly beaten and exit the Copa Libertadores. They simply weren’t good enough for the challenge and seemed completely out of their depth in all areas.
In contrast, Gallardo once again has tactically outdone his opponent. Knowing that the opposition would do there best to try and stifle the middle of the pitch, River knocked the ball high and wide for wing backs and wingers to run onto. From there, the ball was crossed into the middle.
River should progress into the next stages with two more games to play in the group stages. Can Gallardo go on to defend this prestigious cup and win it for the third time?
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