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Boca need an in-form Gago to win the league

Boca Juniors midfielder Fernando Gago.
Boca Juniors midfielder Fernando Gago.
Boca Juniors midfielder Fernando Gago.
By Francisco Aldaya
for the Herald
The Xeneizes must gel as a unit to make up for absence of Tevez

That legendary number 10, Juan Román Riquelme, hit the nail on the head, 24 hours after Boca’s 2-0 win away at Banfield on Saturday when he said Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s team needs more pauses in midfield, instead of always looking to get the ball upfield as quickly as possible, with winger Cristian Pavón permanently darting forward. Addressing this deficit would mean outplaying opponents rather than relying on isolated moments of inspiration or fortune, even if Boca do capitalise on them well, as they showed against Banfield.
And this is where Fernando Gago should step up to truly replace Carlos Tévez as the team’s leader. The holding midfielder must ask for the ball more and use his intelligence to make the team gel as a unit. Los Xeneizes may win the league without doing so, but their chances will be far greater if Barros Schelotto channels the team’s creative efforts through the former Real Madrid man. We’re not asking him to reinvent the wheel. Gago is known for constantly nagging for the ball, and when he came back from a year-long injury last year, he showed his magic touch was intact. The problem now is that he can no longer share the weight of this responsibility with Tévez.
With regard to the match, Boca didn’t look entirely convincing as a unit, which wasn’t too surprising on the back of an 80-day stoppage. But Banfield looked far more dangerous in the first half, and should even have taken an early lead: the referee wrongfully disallowed a goal from Darío Cvitanich. In the end, two moments of individual inspiration from Frank Fabra and Wilmar Barrios were enough to provide number-nine Darío Benedetto with two easy tap-ins, a lead which Boca ultimately defended well. Much improvement is needed in defence, where set pieces and long balls caused too much trouble, but more so regarding the virtues of patience, prudence and intelligence in the middle of the park.
It wasn’t the first time Boca stepped onto a pitch this year, but we’re all aware that friendlies can be deceptive. We don’t need to look further back than to 2015, when the Xeneizes trounced River Plate 5-0 in a traditional summer “friendly” in Mar del Plata, only to see the latter crowned as continental champions later on in August. What’s more — any pepper spray-related controversy aside — the Millonarios also knocked Boca out in that edition of the Libertadores, proving that form should only be judged when points or qualification are at stake.
Nonetheless, before facing Banfield, Boca played eight friendlies, winning three, losing another three and drawing two. The absence of Carlos Tévez’s creativity and grit up front was particularly felt in the 2-0 defeat to River, while defensive efforts continued to look fragile. It must be said, however, that Barros Schelotto seems to prefer outscoring opponents over sacrificing forward momentum in order to shore up the defence.
At the other end of the pitch, the manager has decided to trust in Darío Benedetto’s experience, over the precocious goal-scoring record of young Walter Bou. The latter’s goal ratio is slightly higher, and he has scored in several important fixtures, including a 4-2 win away at River last year. But both are solid strikers, and on Saturday, Benedetto certainly repaid the trust invested in him. Another key player in the latter half of this tournament will be Ricardo Centurión, who will don the number-10 shirt in lieu of Tévez’s absence. The former Genoa and São Paulo winger certainly has the magic touch required to drive the team forward, while newcomer and former Lanús man Oscar Benítez looks a great alternative to the irregular, albeit promising Cristian Pavón.
The historic club from the south-east of Buenos Aires City will not be taking part in any international competition this year, meaning that Barros Schelotto and his men will be able to concentrate solely on maintaining their lead — currently of only three points — at the top of the league.
In the mid-to-long term, the objective is to win the league, which also means qualification to the 2018 Libertadores Cup, which might serves as enough encouragement for Tévez to return from China at the end of the year. It’s definitely an attainable objective for the current squad.                w
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