River Plate only managed a draw in the final match of the eighth round of the Torneo Clausura. They were playing Quilmes, a newly-promoted side and as such key opponents in River’s own battle against the relegation promedio as well as supposedly easy targets for three points in the chase for the title. River were dominant throughout the match, and it was difficult to recall more than a couple of chances for Quilmes, but the visitors came away with the result thanks to a healthy dose of good fortune, as much as anything. I was there, and here’s my attempt at making some sense of it.
Going into the game, River knew that a win would take them only a point behind league leaders Vélez Sarsfield, whilst Quilmes, still looking for their first win of the campaign, are even more desperate for points in the relegation table than River are. As well as River’s title tilt of course, the promedio continues to haunt them, thanks in no small part to All Boys’ outstanding results in some key matches so far, including the one I looked at last week. Three points would have pushed them a little further up those standings, and also dealt a more severe blow to Quilmes.
Since I started this series by looking at River’s dismissal of Independiente back in the third round, Ángel Cappa has changed his team’s shape somewhat. On Sunday, River started off with a traditional Argentina 4-3-1-2, with Diego Buonanotte playing as the enganche, but it rapidly became apparent that the real shape was to be more of a 4-4-2, since Buonanotte, although he’d clearly been given a free role, was nearly always to be found on the right wing. With Paulo Ferrari behind him, that side of the pitch saw a lot of River’s attacks in the first half.
Compared with their limp defeat to Tigre a few weeks ago – a match I was also at – Quilmes were far more organised this week, it must be said. They went with a 4-4-1-1 formation, Santiago Raymonda playing just off J.J. Morales and, when off the ball, dropping back to supplement the midfield, with Francisco Cerro and Gervasio Núñez providing most of the muscle in the middle, although Núñez switched frequently with Enzo Kalinski as the two took it in turns to try and get forward on the left. Quilmes’ midfield was lopsided – although that left channel was marshalled with discipline by those two, Diego Torres on the right was playing with much more abandon – when Quilmes had the ball, he was almost a wide forward.
Although he was booked in the 36th minute, Torres’ willingness to take up wide positions did enough to keep River’s defence stretched and meant they couldn’t relax too much at any point in spite of Quilmes’ otherwise fairly staid attacking approach. The first half was, to be charitable, more interesting than thrilling, with Rogelio Funes Mori reminding everyone of the sort of consistency he’s capable of after 25 minutes, when he raced onto a sloppy backpass from Leandro Gioda and, one on one with the goalkeeper, screwed his shot well wide. Frustratingly for River, that was to set the tone for Funes Mori’s entire performance.
Much better in the first half was Ferrari, who made two crucial interventions, and Adalberto Román, the Paraguayan centre half brought in by no less than club president Daniel Passarella, who was given his first start in a River shirt. His colleague Jonathan Maidana didn’t have his best game, but Román was basically solid enough to make up for that. The biggest intake of breath was caused by Erik Lamela, River’s young left midfielder, who gave the ball away stupidly near the edge of the River penalty box and almost saw his error punished by a goal. After that, though, Lamela grew in stature to the point where he ended up being the best player on the pitch.
After the dull opening half, Cappa made one change to River’s lineup, introducing Ariel Ortega for the deeply underwhelming Peruvian holding player Josepmir Ballón. As such, with Buonanotte and Lamela pushing up on the wings, River’s shape changed to a 4-1-3-2 with Matías Almeyda required to perform the holding duties on his own. Ortega didn’t weave the magic he’s still sometimes capable of, but Lamela stepped up and provided some thrilling moments, beating his man time and again on the left and looking really dangerous. It was useful for River that that outlet existed, because on the other side Buonanotte was drifting out of the game totally. Perhaps understandably distracted by all that’s going on off the pitch in his life at present, he seemed unable to pick a pass or link with his team-mates at all. Mauro Díaz, when he came on in the 79th minute for Buonanotte, did more in eleven minutes than the Enano had been able to in the previous seventy-nine.
Of course, by this point Ortega’s biggest contribution had already been made, when he swung in the corner from which Mariano Pavone – like Román making his first start for River – put the Millonarios into the lead. Pavone had already forced Quilmes goalkeeper Emanuel Trípodi into a great save as early as the seventh minute, but was able to stab home the first properly-delivered corner of the match to claim his first River goal.
If I’ve not said much about Quilmes’ approach, it’s because they didn’t seem to be bringing much to the game at all. They defended deep and stayed within touching distance of a result only thanks to Funes Mori’s continued profligacy. Funes Mori is never going to be an utterly clinical striker, but he could still improve considerably on his composure in front of goal, because it’s clear that he’s got the technique, size and ability to be a considerable handful. When confident, he sometimes looks like he can pull a goal out of his backside when playing badly, but on Sunday he wasn’t confident.
River were punished for Funes Mori’s wastefulness, and also for piling too much pressure on Almeyda. The veteran had to depart injured, replaced by Walter Acevedo in the 64th minute, after being asked to do too much as the sole holding midfielder after half time, but Cappa still didn’t seem to want to further stiffen the midfield, and thus it was that in stoppage time Quilmes broke on one of their only decent counter attacks of the evening, and the previously excellent Lamela – clearly not a defensive midfielder for all his evident talent – brought down Raymonda, and gave away the free kick from which former Boca Juniors midfielder Miguel Caneo was able to head in the equalising goal after Juan Pablo Carrizo failed to claim a ball he should have taken easily.
An unnecessary change of formation and the inability to take more of their chances cost River two points on Sunday, just as a previous wastefulness in front of goal has threatened to do before. Quilmes won’t care, of course, but in Núñez it’s looking increasingly like even the title challenge they needed might not be sufficient to drag River out of the relegation scrap, unless they can stop dropping silly points in matches they dominate.
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