After a short summer break, the Argentinian Superliga returned with a bang. Independiente, with a new manager (club legend Lucas Pusineri), faced giants River Plate at home. The home team only won two matches of their last seven. They would have hoped for a better first half of the season, as they currently sit in 15th place, while they finished in the top 7 in the last five seasons.
River Plate on the other side lost the final of the Copa Libertadores against Flamengo recently, which meant that they could not compete with the likes of Liverpool and Al-Hilal. They haven’t had their greatest form lately as well as they lost two of their last five matches and struggled especially at home. Gallardo’s side would take over the first place if they would win against Independiente.
Independiente played in a 4-1-3-2 formation. Captain Mártin Campaña started in goal. Alexander Barboza and Alan Franco formed a pair in defence, while Juan Sánchez Miño and Fabricio Bustos played out wide as full-backs. Lucas Romero played in front of Barboza and Franco as a defensive midfielder, while Cecilio Domínguez and Domingo Blanco played out wide on the wings. Páblo Pérez started as an attacking midfielder. Leandro Fernández and Silvio Romero were the two strikers of Independiente.
Gallardo’s side, River Plate, chose an unfamiliar system. They played in a 3-5-2 formation, with two full-backs playing as wide midfielders. River Plate missed Nicolás de la Cruz (recently linked to Manchester City) and Lucas Martínez Quarta due to a suspension. Franco Armani started in goal, while Paulo Díaz, Javier Pinola and Robert Rojas formed a defensive trio. Milton Casco and Gonzalo Montiel played as wide-midfielders. Enzo Pérez, Leonardo Ponzio and Ignacio Fernández played as central midfielders and Santos Borré and Matías Suárez formed an attacking duo.
Tactics of Gallardo and weaknesses of Independiente
As it was the first game since they enjoyed the summer-break, it all started sloppily and both teams couldn’t get any grip on the game. A lot of long balls were played and a lot of fouls were made. After the match settled down a bit after ten minutes, Gallardo’s side picked up the pace and started playing their game.
Independiente gave away lots of space between the lines and did not play compact in defence at all. Pusineri’s side had a direct approach to this game and made sure that they would try to get to the opponents’ goal as soon as possible. This resulted in the match being quite open with end-to-end action.
However, River Plate had a surplus of quality and the tactics of Gallardo were clear. As Independiente played with a narrow formation, there were lots of space down the wings for both wide midfielders. Especially Montiel, the right-midfielder, often had acres of space. This was exploited by River Plate very well. When an analysis is being made about the danger level of the attacks, River Plate had an xG of 1.21 down the right-wing (in total they had an xG of 1.41).
Gallardo’s side switched sides quickly and forced Independiente to close gaps constantly. Pusineri’s side did not do well to give away such big gaps between the lines and the defenders of Independiente were exposed constantly due to bad positioning and because they were not aware of their surroundings.
In the image above can be seen that Independiente gave away lots of space in-behind and that River Plate exploited that weakness nearly perfectly by making many runs in-behind. This time it did not lead to a dangerous situation as the pass was not that good.
The 0-1 of River Plate is a good example of this. In the image above can be seen that Montiel has lots of space to drive forward and he receives a good pass. The right-midfielder dribbles down the wing and gives a good cross towards the penalty spot.
In the image down below can be seen that Suárez makes a run to the front post, while Borré dives into the gap that is created by Suárez. Alan Franco, the right centre-back of Independiente, does not keep an eye out for Borré and arrives too late. A perfect cross by Montiel results in a goal for River Plate.
Out of possession, Gallardo’s side did not press their opponent until the ball was near the sideline. In the image down below can be seen that the players of River Plate are forcing the player of Independiente to make an error. However, Pusineri’s side could have done much better in those situations. There was enough space for the striker of Independiente to ask for the ball and that could have lead to dangerous situations as there would be a lot of space down the other wing.
Changes after Borré’s goal
The game changed after the 0-1 as River Plate played more long balls and Independiente put more pressure on Gallardo’s side. As already mentioned, Independiente had a direct style of play and wanted to reach the opponent’s goal as soon as possible. All players tried to play one-two’s to progress further up the pitch and it often resulted in some nice plays.
In possession, the left-winger of Independiente played higher up the pitch, while the right-striker drifted out wide. Lots of diamonds were created in order to be able to build-up quicker. However, River Plate did well to cut the passing lanes to Romero (CDM) and Blanco (RCM) which forced Franco to play the ball to Bustos, who is put under pressure immediately.
After Independiente scored the equalizer in the 47th minute, the game changed again. Independiente had momentum and pressed Gallardo’s side aggressively. River Plate did not have an answer and still played a lot of long passes which resulted in possession loss often. Only 26 of 58 long passes of River Plate were accurate.
However, after a bad pass by Domínguez Barboza got sent off and this changed River Plate’s approach enormously. River Plate played the possession game and waited for their opportunity. Independiente now played in a 4-3-2 formation. A great pass by Díaz led to Borré scoring his second.
After the 1-2, Independiente played a high defensive line and gave away lots of space in the counter. Especially because they often gave away possession in the midfield third, which lead to dangerous situations for Pusineri’s side. In the end, Independiente were lucky to not concede a third.
Gallardo’s side exploited the weaknesses of Independiente in the first half, as they played a lot of balls to the wings and the midfield of River Plate tried to play a lot of through passes. River Plate struggled at the beginning of the second half, but after the red card they did not get into any trouble at all and in the end, River Plate deserved the win.