South American Journeyman Recap #15

What’s up guys? Welcome to a new Monday Recap of the South American Journeyman. How are things where you’re from? Here in Argentina we’re having a bit a spike in cases so the governament are going back on some of the more lenient measures that were put in place a couple of weeks ago. Even as the quarantine continues, I’ve been rather busy this week with an assortment of other projects, but fear not for I managed to squeeze a few hours of FM here and there, so the Journeyman keeps on journeying. Let’s take a look at how things went for Castolo’s Nacional.

Too good to be bad

Now, last week I finished the episode with a series of matches that felt of paramount importance to keep our seat at the Gran Parque Central; those were our second Libertadores group stage match vs Sao Paulo, a league match against (then 3rd placed) Danubio and the 3rd match of the Libertadores group stage, facing argentinian giants Independiente. I felt that should we fail to pick up meaningful results against them would probably be the beginning of the end for Castolo’s reign.

It all started poorly with a dismal display vs Sao Paulo, where the result was mostly determined by their inability to capitalize on their chances rather than our capacity to either defend or even create valuable scoring opportunities. In the end we got a 2-0 defeat that should have been even worse, but stayed bottom of the group as Corinthians dropped the same result on defending finalists Independiente, leaving us with a -6 GA versus their -5.

At the very least the Castoloball trademark wingback golazos weren’t lost in the middle of the tactical rumble… a fantastic hit courtesy of Lucas Sanseviero.

Next up was a key duel for staying in persecution of uruguayan title defenders Peñarol who were running away with it. A 1-0 win with little drama and little flair got us to 4th, 5 points off Peñarol and 1 point off 2nd placed River de Montevideo and 3rd placed Defensor Sporting who were tied on points.

I wasn’t terribly enjoying the strikerless setup that I had talked about last time around. Maybe it’s my lack of familiarity with those kind of systems, but I found us lacking bite up top, missing that reference up top. Still, I persisted with it for our 3rd key match, opting for a 5-1-2-2 with a Trequartista and a Shadow Striker as the attacking partners. Once again we were totally out-played, but the team at least was capable of generating risky situations, meaning we were on the right path; a 2-1 win vs. Independiente was encouraging.

Results since last episode. It looks like everything is in control, but our quality has been the one carrying us.

Taking this into consideration, I set about, once more, looking for a shape that will bring the best out of the players we have. My FM notebook has now like 10 pages dedicated to my attempts to get the team to click, trying to disperse the players in a way that is both efficient and coherent. This time I settled for a 5-1-2-1-1, which I took to name 5-4-1 cause that previous one was too damned long. And in a way, it’s working. Wins vs. Cerrito, Deportivo Maldonado, Rentistas and River Plate de Montevideo put us in 2nd Place thanks to a couple of slip ups from Peñarol, tied on points (though they’ve been scoring like madmen so our GA is worse). In a way, it feels like that thing I said last time about hoping that the Nacional squad would be too good to feel any drawbacks from the growing pains turned out to be true.

The 14 days stretch

After that came a 14 days strech which would see us basically play the remainder of the Campeonato Uruguayo Opening Stage, incluiding a showdown with Peñarol in a winner takes all duel.

It all started well, at least results wise, with a win vs Torque. A penalty early in the first half gave us the lead and as soon as it looked like they were gonna create problems they got a player sent off, and that was the end of it.

Then a 1 – 1 draw with Sao Paulo really complicated our chances of qualifying for the Copa Sudamericana Knock-Out stage as Corinthians drew with Independiente, keeping the race for 3rd neck and neck until the last match. It was a shame as we got on top early with a nice counter goal but a silly mistake at the beginning of the 2nd half gifted them the goal. Once again our main chances came from Set Pieces, which was worrying.

It’s a fight till the end with Independiente for the winner-takes-all-of-the-breadcrumbs qualification spot to the Copa Sudamericana

Of course that meant that we were officially out of contention for a place in the knockout stages of the Libertadores, but after the few couple of matches I had stopped eyeing one of those. Two days later a bore-fest draw vs. Tacuarembó saw us drop key points as their 89th minute tie coincided with Peñarol 90th minute winner at Montevideo Wanderers. The death match was set!

My first ever uruguayan Superclásico, and a tense one. Not only was my personnal vendetta against the guy who took the Peñarol job over me, Gustavo Matosas, but also a title defining one.

The match that divides Uruguay, Club Nacional de Football vs. Club Atlético Peñarol

As these things always do, it started rather well. A thrilling free kick from Santi Rodriguez put us ahead after just seven minutes. But, as these things always do, it soon complicated. The team once again showed it’s inability to take charge of a match and not five minutes had passed that Peñarol scored from corner. From there, we struggled for chances if not for the occasional counter. Only three minutes into the 2nd half they took advantage of a wide free kick where my defenders lost absolute track of who was who and headed the winner for a final 2 – 1. With a 5 points advantage and only 1 match left, Peñarol won the 2022 Opening Stage of the Campeonato Uruguayo.

That leaves us with just 2 matches to be played, a home clash vs. second to last Huracán del Paso and the last Libertadores group stage match vs Corinthians. After that, god knows. The Closing Stage starts in mid August and the Torneo Intermedio (a sort of short tournament played during the gap between the halves of the season) is either yet to be drawn or bugged out of existence.

Since I’ve only got a contract until the 30th of June, those two mathes remaining could prove my last at the helm of Nacional. The board doesn’t seem overly ecstatic with my performance and I’ve been struggling to achieve any sense of communion with the club or the squad, so who knows what the future holds for Castolo. I’d like another crack at getting this team to play decent football, but if I’m thrown out the door I won’t kick up a fuss… we’ll just have to wait and see.

Until then, thanks for reading!

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