The biggest match in the 17th round of Superliga was between two sides: Boca Juniors and Independiente. With El Rojo having their struggles and being only in the 16th spot before the match, the win for them could be the turning point of the season and lift their spirits tremendously. Boca, on the other hand, were sitting in the third position with the goal in mind of becoming the leaders in this title race. So, there was a lot to play for for both teams, and, as the match progressed, it was becoming more and more evident. The referee pulled out two reds cards for both Boca and Independiente, however, the match still ended in a goalless draw. In this tactical analysis, we will examine the tactics of both teams, how did they change with red cards, and which players had the most impact on the game.
Gustavo Alfaro, the Boca Juniors coach, made several changes from the previous game against Athletico-PR: the main left-back Fabra replaced Mas, López replaced Alonso at centre-back, Reynoso was replaced by Salvio and Carlos Tevez stepped in as the second striker together with Mauro Zarate.
For Independiente, it was practically the same line-up as in their previous game against River Plate, only Romero instead of Blanco in the right midfield spot and Silva instead of Barboza in the centre-back position. Overall, both teams were ready to fight for the three points, which would surely improve the league situation for either club.
Attacking patterns in the beginning
For the first 24 minutes of the game (before Boca’s centre-back Izquierdoz got a red card) Boca were playing in the initial 4-1-3-2 formation with Salvio and Obando drifting wide in the build-up and the deep-lying midfielder Campuzano helping the two centre-backs. Campuzano, one of the midfielders, was positioning himself closer to centre-backs to outweigh the two pressing opposition players. Fernández, the other midfielder, is higher and closer to the middle third, and Salvio and Obando wide.
As Boca Juniors progressed the ball further down the pitch, Fernández or Campuzano, who was joining him in midfield, were helping full-backs and wingers (Salvio and Obando) form triangles and attack primarily through the wide areas. Then it would be a cross for Zarate or Tevez, who would try to get to the end of that. In the first 20 minutes, Boca had 66% of possession and were pretty much in control of the game. One of the tactics they’ve also used in this match was a frequent involvement of their goalkeeper in the build-up play. Marcos Díaz, just like Andrada, is pretty good with his feet and was able to make an accurate long pass. This approach allowed Boca to bypass the opposition press with several passes. We can see an example of that below:
However, Independiente defended well and didn’t allow that many chances for Boca’s attackers. All the crosses and tries to entry the penalty area were unfortunate and didn’t bring Boca any clear-cut chances to open the scoreline. It was an attack after attack by Boca, defended really well by Independiente.
In this timeframe, Independiente hadn’t shown any kind of build-up structure whatsoever. Nonetheless, they were able to successfully exploit the speed of their attackers. They tried to get the ball to the final third as fast as possible, using long and through balls. Once they got the ball in the middle or final third, they played vertical football with high-risk, high-reward passes. Most of them, obviously, were intercepted or just weren’t accurate. Here you can see that Independiente have options in the final third, however, there are four Boca players in the way, and Pablo Perez decides to release Romero on the left-wing:
So, both teams’ attacking attempts were good and sensible in their own way, but it wasn’t enough to score goals.
Boca’s switch of play after a red card
Unfortunately for Boca Juniors, a good start to the match was ruined. Izquierdoz made a foul on Silvio Romero (#18) and thus got his second yellow card and was sent off the pitch in the 24th minute. This destroyed all the plans of Boca for domination in this match. Now, they would have to defend most of the time and try to find their chances through rare attacking opportunities. Boca’s coach decided to have one less attacker, and Zarate, the second striker, was moved in the left midfield spot.
Gustavo Alfonso immediately changed the formation to 4-4-1 with Zarate dropping into midfield and Tevez acting as the only striker.
Now with Zarate acting as a left midfielder and the whole team defending deeper, Independiente took the ball under control. However, when Boca were with the ball, they still used a lot of players when going forward, including even both full-backs. They came around creating every attack very thoroughly, still committing a lot of players forward and trying to get the most out of every opportunity.
This shows that Boca didn’t abandon their ideas of possession football and still were trying to make thoughtful attacks. Sometimes it worked out for them as they were able to create good chances through their passing play:
Boca kept their ideas of attacking play, with good build-up, but it was hard for them to break down Independiente’s defence even with 11 men, let alone while being outnumbered. They still managed to create good chances, like in the image above, and keep threatening Independiente’s goal. As for Independiente’s counter-attacking opportunities, they didn’t get anything of it as Boca were really quick in the transition phases.
Independiente attacking structure
With the opponent having fewer players and thus defending deeper and with more players, it seemed reasonable for Independiente to get more players involved into attacks than they did before the red card. Also, it wasn’t reasonable to play such a vertically-oriented football anymore so there was an emphasis on more thorough build-up.
One of the things I want to point out about Independiente’s attacking structure is their willingness to have a lot of players in attack. The main reason was obviously a red card, and the only immediate attacking threat was Carlos Tevez, as others had to cover a great distance to get involved in the attack. So, there wasn’t a direct threat for Independiente apart from one striker if they lose the ball and they tried to exploit it:
As they were trying to stretch the opposition, using full-backs became vital. Full-backs had to be great with progressing the ball, seeking the opportunities and always offering themselves for a pass. Thus, the left-back Juan Sánchez Miño was crucial for them in the build-up and participated in a lot of attacks. Sometimes he was positioning himself in half-spaces and sometimes very wide depending on the situation. His involvement can be seen in the image below which shows that their most dangerous attacks were coming from the left at the end of the day:
More than half of their most dangerous attacks came from his flank at the end of the day, and Independiente’s #6 was a continuous threat with his crosses and passes into the box. Even at the beginning of the attack, most of the time he was unmarked and was a passing option. The flank players, especially full-backs, most of the time were free to receive the pass because Boca just didn’t have the time and maybe legs to cover everything. Moreover, sometimes Independiente’s full-backs had a lot of space ahead of them as well so they could just run through and exacerbate:
With full-backs having so much freedom, Independiente’s attacks were continuously coming and coming. They had nice combinations in the final third with attempts of placing attackers on obvious goalscoring positions but Boca’s defenders were always in the game and tenacious enough to prevent any of those attempts. So Independiente had the ball, had the chances, but Boca’s defence was solid and their attack managed to create some chances too. Then, the game structure of both teams changed again. In the 76th minute, Pablo Perez, Independiente’s midfielder, who had his chances to score and was instrumental for his team, was sent off the pitch after a foul. So, it became 10v10, and Boca tried to get the match under control again as in the first 20 or so minutes.
Seeking the win in the end
After the second red card Boca remained within their 4-4-1 formation, the only changes were Villa instead of Zarate on the left midfield position and Ábila came on as a striker instead of Tevez. Independiente, with the absence of Pablo Perez, didn’t make any changes apart from changing their formation from nominal 4-4-1-1 to 4-3-1-1, playing with three midfielders instead of two:
Boca equalled the possession, making it 52% for them and 48% for Boca, compared to 35% and 65% respectively from 60th minute till the red card. It was then that the game became heated with a lot of fouls, transitions and individual tries to find that one winning goal. The attempt of Salvio after a great run was the best one, but both teams were unable to create any proper chances from that point on. The game ended 0-0, which I believe is a fair result.
Hopefully, this tactical analysis brought you some understanding of tactical insights of this game. Of course, this is the game in Argentina, so there will always be a lot of fouls, heated moments, yellow and red cards, etc. But both teams showed some great tactical tweaks after red cards, and I think a draw is a great result for both of them. Boca continue their battle with River Plate for the first spot and this result against a big opponent might mean something for Independiente – maybe the end of series of terrific results. There is a lot of interesting stuff here in Superliga, so we will continue to watch and follow this awesome league.