This is episode three of a wider series. To begin at episode one, please click here.
“It would be remiss of Fernando Teixidó to be complacent, as fate does not always follow the bookmaker’s odds.”
La Boca Barrio has a new hero.
As well as being a well documented Bob Dylan acolyte, Fernando Teixidó loves to quote from a variety of sources. Most recently to a room full of excited journalists clutching laminated press passes, it was the nocturnal vigilante Batman he chose to briefly recite. “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.”
Ordinarily this grandiose amplification of achievement would be unpalatable (especially after just 133 days), but Teixidó has the air of a man who is easy to listen to, easy to believe in, warm and somewhat funny.
It also helps when what he is doing is quite remarkable.
Yes. You read that correctly. Teixidó has led his Boca Juniors side to 15 victories and 3 draws from his 18 games in charge.
Notably this has not included the Copa Argentina. Boca had disappointingly already been eliminated from the domestic cup by Racing in the 5th round, just prior to Teixidó’s appointment. More significant, however, is the team’s impressive run to the forthcoming Copa Libertadores final. An early and hugely meaningful trophy win would go some way to validate the strong reputation he is beginning to forge here in Argentina.
We will analyse some of these performances in a moment, but for clarity, this is how the Superliga table currently looks at the end of October 2019.
So just what is Teixidó instructing his players to do that is working so well?
Teixidó’s Boca are quick, aggressive and committed to playing short passing, counter attacking football for the majority of each 90 minute fixture. They rely on la palanca, the midfield lever, usually Iván Marcone, to support the two centre backs, often starting moves by collecting the ball from Esteban Andrada in goal. This momentum shift effectively signals for the marauding wing backs Frank Fabra and Julio Buffarini (more often than not), to push forward to provide width. Sebastián Pérez supports Carlos Tevez behind the strikers whereas former full back turned central midfielder Leonardo Jara usually remains marginally more restrained in the attacking phase.
This strategy has led to some impressive statistical standouts so far this campaign. Frank Fabra has the joint highest assists in the league with 5 (7 in all competitions), coupled with 5.19 tackles and 1.08 key passes per 90 minutes. His role to make that left flank his own is clearly one where the Colombian is flourishing.
Key deep-lying playmaker Iván Marcone astonishingly completes close to one successful pass per minute as he averages 89.41 of them, as well as carrying out 2.89 successful tackles per 90. La palanca is undoubtedly operating as intended.
Centre back Lisandro Lopez has 5 man of the match awards to his name (the highest in the division), as well as an impressive 2.69 successful interceptions per 90 minutes and a surprising return of 6 goals scored.
Occasionally Lisandro’s proclivity to push forward leaves defensive partner Carlos Zambrano isolated at the back, but the experienced Peruvian has the awareness and composure to regularly prevent disaster. Zambrano has only made 6 quantifiable mistakes in 1,265 minutes on the pitch. This is, by an impressive margin, the smallest number of all of Boca Juniors’ outfield players this year.
Self-professed Boca Juniors fan Wanchope has notched 9 goals from 17 games in all competitions, but it should be noted that 4 of these have come from the penalty spot. The committed striker is working tirelessly, but only bagging 2 goals in 11 league games from open play is nowhere near enough for the club’s chosen number 9. Mauro Zárate and Eduardo Salvio rotate for the other striking position, but haven’t shaken any trees with their performances.
Carlos Tevez has been full of his typical workman-like endeavour, scoring 6 times in 13 outings from the classic number 10 position. With the talismanic captain inevitably hanging up his boots at the end of the season, and the below-par performances of the current strike force, this is one area of the pitch where Fernando Teixidó must surely be keeping an eye on player selection policy. Young enganche Emanuel Reynoso and strong, well-balanced 19-year old Venezuelan striker Jan Hurtado are more than just keen understudies, and may soon begin to slowly replace their more senior peers.
Interestingly, despite a commitment to very short passing; at certain points in a game, usually when chasing a goal late in either half, Teixidó clearly instructs his team to pivot strategy entirely, and look towards a more classic long-ball approach, originating from either of the centre backs or a midfielder dropping deep. It is only for brief periods, sometimes for three or four minutes at a time, a couple of phases of play at most. It’s quite the departure from the Boca norm under Teixidó, but it works when needed.
This plan B largely tends to remain up the eccentric Peruvian’s sleeve, but Carlos Tevez’ crucial away goal and equaliser in the 94th minute of the Copa Libertadores quarter final first leg against Brazil’s Palmeiras, would not have been possible had the team not temporarily abandoned their default tactical principles, as the Boca icon flashed in a header from a lofted long ball.
This was Teixidó’s 7th game in charge, and the first time we had seen a team dominate his side for most of the game. Vanderlei Luxemburgo has been around long enough (he’s been managing for 36 years and counting) to not only see gaps in Boca’s tactic, but to exploit it, primarily through the dazzling skill of Dudu and reported Liverpool-target Gustavo Scarpa in the wide areas. Superliga rivals, take note.
Still, it was not enough to eliminate Boca on this occasion, and Carlitos’ late away goal proved absolutely crucial, as the second leg at La Bombonera was a tightly-contested 0-0 draw, the Argentinian side squeezing narrowly through to the semi final to face Colombia’s Junior FC.
To fill in the blanks, Boca eased past the Colombians 2-0 on aggregate, in a more straightforward affair over the two legs.
Boca Juniors’ adversaries in the Copa Libertadores final will be Bueno Aires-based domestic rivals San Lorenzo. Led by esteemed former player Leandro Romagnoli, Los Gauchos de Boedo have had an incredible continental adventure so far. The team from just 8km away are not matching their continental competitive cutting edge in their league campaign, however. San Lorenzo currently sit 17th in the table with only 2 wins from their opening 12 games.
It would be remiss of Fernando Teixidó to be complacent, however, as fate does not always follow the bookmaker’s odds. Especially in a major cup final.
Before the Estadio Monumental Libertadores final in the manager’s native Peru, Boca Juniors have to contend with the next two league games first. The next one up? San Lorenzo at home.
The manager had the following to say on the prospect of taking on San Lorenzo at home, a matter of weeks before the big final. He took advantage of his multilingual ability to paraphrase 1963 Dylan this time, delivering a pointed threat to Boca’s neighbours and rivals.
“You that never done nothin’, but built to destroy. You play with my world, like it’s your little toy. La Bombonera no tiembla. Late. The Bombonera does not tremble. It beats.”
The Copa Argentina is gone. The halfway point of the Superliga campaign has passed. The Copa Libertadores final is imminent. Things are heating up here in South America.
Thanks for reading.