Wednesday
September 20, 2017

Superclásico defeat poses questions

Friday, May 19, 2017

What now for Boca?

River Plate’s Gonzalo Martínez scores his team’s first goal in the Superclásico, beating Boca Juniors’ Gino Peruzzi to the ball.
By Francisco Aldaya
for the Herald

The defeat will continue to ache deep within the hearts of the Boca Juniors fanbase in the weeks to come. The only real comfort following the 3-1 home defeat at the hands of eternal rivals River Plate was that Boca remain top of the league, although that lead has now been cut down to only three points ahead of second-placed San Lorenzo.

For their part, the Millonarios have a game in hand, and if they eventually manage to secure those three points, they will sit just one point behind the Xeneizes.

Things certainly look different now compared to just a few weeks ago, when Boca held a comfortable margin in first place.

With key winger Ricardo Centurión facing another long spell on the sidelines due to injury, Boca have also lost the player who has been most pivotal this season. Fast and full of trickery, Centurión’s early injury on Sunday was indisputably a huge turning-point in the match, with Boca ultimately proving unable to generate precise attacking movements, save a few exceptions.

Fernando Gago was the best player on the pitch for Boca, who could have actually equalised in the second half, but Marcelo Gallardo’s tactics were superior to those of Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Perhaps more importantly, the former’s charges held their cool and were clinical when they had to be.

But what has concerned the blue and gold faithful all season, despite Boca’s deceptive lead at the top of the table, is the defence. Santiago Vergini and Juan Martín Insaurralde should not continue on at the club after June, while Gino Peruzzi’s aerial weakness and defensive vulnerability in general make him a strong candidate for departure.

It would be quite reasonable to say that most Boca fans would pick River’s starting defensive line over Boca’s any day of the week, and such a reality is unacceptable for a club like Boca, with its undying ambition for greatness. Rarely has a Xeneize defence looked so penetrable and slow against a River offence, especially playing at home.

The manager has been also been stubborn and refuses to recognise that his side has been lacking in collective play over the last five matches or so. His decision to replace Centurión with Walter Bou was also significantly questionable, considering that River had been bossing the midfield. Wilmar Barrios could have come on to remedy that situation.

Boca now have to face fourth-placed Newell’s at home, which will be a great opportunity for the players and the manager to show fans that they are alive and kicking. Fernando Tobio should replace Vergini in the starting line-up, and Leonardo Jara should be given a chance to start in the right-back position.

Tough matches are also left against Independiente — the best away side in the league— at La Bombanera, while there will also be some tricky away fixtures against Huracán and Aldosivi.

Boca have can still win the league, but the blow to morale that this defeat caused, as well as Centurión’s injury, means that Barros Schelotto and his men will have to pull something special out of the bag to secure the title, particularly considering that form has been plummetting.

As I said in this column last year, Boca need an in-form Gago now more than ever. Giving more playing time to young attacking midfielder Gonzalo Maroni, who saw his debut against Arsenal recently and scored, also seems like a strong option. Time will tell if there’s enough fuel left in the tank.

@franaldaya

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