Alianza Lima v River Plate (Wednesday, 19:30 local time/EST, 21:30 ART, 00:30 Thursday GMT)
The euphoria of the epic extra-time victory at ‘home’ in the Bernabéu back in December is gone if certainly not forgotten, given the identity of their opponents in that match, for River Plate. The hard work of defending their Copa Libertadores title begins in Lima tonight, where they visit an Alianza side managed by former Boca Juniors boss Miguel Ángel Russo. Readers in the US can watch live with Fanatiz: head to this page, and use the code hopfz for a 20% discount on your first three months.
Alianza have two wins and a defeat (the latter to rivals Sporting Cristal) from the opening three rounds of Peru’s Liga 1, and had a very encouraging attacking display at the weekend, when they beat César Vallejo 3-1 with each of their front three – José Manzaneda, Mauricio Affonso and Kevin Quevedo – scoring a goal. For this match, they’ll have only one change from the starting lineup there, according to Líbero: Héctor Salazar will come in at centre back to replace Hansell Riojas. In midfield, veteran Rinaldo Cruzado will oversee Wilder Cartagena and Joazhiño Arroé. Accustomed to being largely on top in Peru, where they’re a big fish in a small pond, Alianza might well see their 4-3-3 shift into more of a 4-5-1 here, with Manzaneda and Quevedo forced to drop deeper, although both will provide a useful outlet on the wings when on the counter attack.
River have been in good form lately, and battered Newell’s Old Boys at the weekend in a 4-2 win which was arguably more one sided than the scoreline makes it sound. Here, they’ll welcome the Superliga’s best attacking player, Juan Fernando Quintero, back into the starting lineup, after the Colombian was given some time off to mourn the death of his grandfather last week. According to La Nación, The setup with be the familiar 4-3-1-2, with Quintero in behind striker Lucas Pratto and Rafael Santos Borré, though Ignacio Fernández’s forward runs will have the effect of turning it into a 4-2-2-2 during spells when River have the ball. The main doubt for River is at left back, where Milton Casco has fractured his clavicle. He’ll be replaced either by Uruguayan utility player Camilo Mayada or by Fabrizio Angileri, just a couple of days after the latter was signed as an emergency replacement from Godoy Cruz.
Argentine sides got off to a slow start in the Libertadores group stages on Tuesday night, all drawing 0-0, but I find it hard to see the same thing happening here. For one thing, two of last night’s representatives – Godoy Cruz and San Lorenzo – qualified for this Copa way back in May last year and have since completely lost their form (San Lorenzo are bottom of the Superliga), and for another the third – Boca Juniors – had altitude and a strangely muted scheme to contend with. River meanwhile are in fine form and have a good and settled team.
River have started the Libertadores slowly at times in the last few years, and Alianza are used to playing at this level so won’t be pushovers, but if you’re having a flutter I’d still suggest backing an away win – just don’t expect it to necessarily be a thrashing.
A reminder that readers in the US can watch this game – and the rest of the Libertadores – live and legally with Fanatiz. Click here, and use the discount code hopfz for 20% off your first three months. If you’re not in the States but are elsewhere outside Latin America, you can use the same deal to watch Argentina’s Superliga and Copa Argentina. And even if you only click the link, you’ll be helping to support my weekly Argentine football podcast, Hand Of Pod.