With the final stages of the Copa Libertadores on the line, Deportes Tolima hosted Boca in hope of qualifying. Boca Juniors, one of the powerhouses of the competition have made qualifying hard for themselves this year and needed to avoid a defeat away from home. Deportes Tolima with the next stages in their own hands would need to overcome Boca at Estadio Manuel Murillo Toro.
In this tactical analysis, we will look at how Deportes Tolima almost put a huge dent in the dreams of Boca’s qualifying hopes.
Gustavo Alfaro’s Boca opted to go from a 4-4-2 in their last game to a 4-3-3 system. The formation would transform into a 4-5-1 when defending which bolstered the middle. Ultimately Tolima would find it hard to play due to the high numbers.
Deportes Tolima went for an attacking 4-3-2-1 to a 4-4-2 at times during open play.
Tolima speed into the lead
Straight from the first whistle, Deportes Tolima sprung into action. The players positioned themselves high up the pitch and pressed. The pressing wasn’t as vigorous as compared to the likes of Liverpool but, it was done positionally and zonally.
If you would have thought that going 1-0 down to ‘laissez-faire’ defending would have woken Boca up you would be wrong. Not even 10 minutes later Boca would be caught short again with poor zonal defending.
As Tolima surged forward Boca Juniors looked second best going into every tackle. There was a sense of Boca just trying to keep their discipline and not wanting to be erratic. However, what happened was too far the other way with an almost contemptuous display of defending.
The hosts found themselves 2-0 up, Boca finally woke up and started to surge forward with the intent to score. Tolima though looked organised. It was quite clear there was a defensive plan. Compactness, man-marking and superior number were the tools that Alberto Gamero would command his team to apply.
Tolima didn’t want Boca to play through the middle and structured themselves in such a way to ensure this.
Once again, numbers at the back and middle hampered Boca Junior’s progression forward. Tolima sensing a big victory and with a big cushion remained organised.
Even on set pieces, Deportes Tolima looked structured and ready for anything Boca had to throw at them. In the image above we can see how they have man-marked every Boca threat inside the box with a man free (edge of the six-yard box) to anticipate the cross. The short corners were anticipated. Both wingbacks moved in on the player with possession whilst Castro (#23) ran back to mark the runner off the ball. Boca would need to dig deep to get anything from this game.
Boca started to attack by going down the channels and cutting inside. Once they started doing this Tolima panicked. A mistake was made and Boca found themselves back in the game on the 34th minute. Just when things couldn’t get any worse for El Vinotinto y Oro, they conceded a penalty just before half time. 2-2 Boca back in control.
Tolima lack a plan going forward
Tolima realised they would still need a plan of attack to get back into the game. A draw just wasn’t enough, they needed another goal. However, as they progressed forward they seemed to be completely devoid of an attacking plan. Alberto Gamero seemed to be relying on individual skill and flair to find the next goal as Tolima aimlessly hit long balls for the forwards.
Boca Juniors finally got their act together defensively and a real defensive structure started to form. We can see above the compact defence gave no room for Tolima to play in as they were forced to hit long balls and take shots from far out. It was their way of trying to penetrate a tight defensive structure.
Boca Junior’s defensive measures
Gustavo Alfaro’s men finally had the game under control and had very little desire to move forward in possession.
Out of possession, the whole team could be found behind the ball and in their own half, inviting Tolima to attack a now disciplined defensive side.
One defensive tactic used was the “pendulum” method where the defensive line holds as one player steps out and presses.
Whilst the player presses, the gap is filled in behind with lateral movement from the defending team. As the player in possession is pressed and the ball is offloaded to a teammate the player pressing returns back to the line as another player then presses making a pendulum-like movement.
Long balls and second balls
Wanting to immediately dissipate any pressure on the back four, Boca started sending long balls up the field. Over the opposition’s defence from goal kicks or through the defensive line when in possession.
When Boca do go forward
When Boca did have possession in the middle of the pitch there was one tactic which would completely catch Tolima off guard and would beat defensive lines repeatedly in the second half.
The tactic was the old ‘pass and move’ and when executed with just one touch can be deadly. This tactic is used by Boca’s rivals River Plate who do this fantastically through the middle of the pitch.
Looking at the momentum chart we can see early Boca dominance followed by Tolimas two goals once they attack midway through the first half. Boca responded with a massive shift in attacking momentum and drew the game just before half-time. In the second half, we can see Tolima attacking but it was only because of Boca’s tactics of hitting long balls and inviting Tolima onto their defensive set up.
Deportes Tolima faces bottom of the group for the next draw. They need Boca to lose to Athletico-PR and to win their game by more than seven goals. A bridge too far perhaps?
Conversely, Gustavo Alfaro’s Boca Juniors have one more game in the group stages at home needing only a draw. Advancing to the next round in the Copa Libertadores is firmly in their hands. However, they play top of the group Athletico-PR who may cause a threat. Will they go for goals at home or play it safe? See you back here on the 10th of May!