South American Journeyman Recap #21

How’re you doing guys? Welcome to a new Monday Recap on the South American Journeyman. Here it’s been a busy week as things the quarantine finally comes to a close. However, it has a lot more to do with the economy as cases are still rampant so we can’t let our guards down just yet. I hope you’re all staying safe and still taking care of yourselves. Speaking of taking care, when we left the action last week Nacional had to take care of the second part of the season. A solid stint and we could be champions…so let’s see how it went

The Castolo 3-5-2

Last time around I was complaining about our attacking woes, our lack of effectiveness in front of goal and overall lack of scoring. Whilst a bit of that could be worked out in the 3 weeks we had before the start of the Closing Stage, I felt a refreshing of the tactics would not go amiss. We had been playing with the same(ish) 5-3-2 system for about a season and a half by then, so get the drawing board, we about to go experimenting!

Tactical experimenting on FM can sometimes lead to… unexpected results. Use caution.

My first instinct was to move the CM-A to the AMC position. I had been using him as an inside runner for a while now, with the added instructions of Move into Channels and Dribble More in order to take advantage of Ricardo Duque’s Flair and Dribbling capacity. I thought moving him closer to the opposition’s box would make him more of a threat, particularly over the extended periods of time when the opponent would sit deep and try to negate us. The now two men midfield stayed with the BBM-DLP-S combo that had proven balanced and effective.

On the wings, I shifted from wingbacks to midfield wingers. The reasoning was, once again, related to how often teams had parked the bus on us in the first half of the season. Relinquishing some of the wingbacks’ defensive duties, I was looking for higher, more penetrative runs. Our wide defensive setup meant we weren’t leaving (as much) space as we would normally, plus (again) the type of tactics we were facing meant more often than not the CB’s work was more about build up from the back and recycling of possession than, you know, actual defending.

1) The tactics. I’m calling it a 3-5-2 cause I have a disdain for overly detailed position numbering… 2) Average positioning on the 5-3-2. 3) Average positioning on the 3-5-2.

We ended up with this. As you can see it’s quite the offensive setup, with plenty of runners and two long-ball creators in the DLP-S and the Libero-S. Comparing the average positioning on two of our best wins, one in the Opening Stage vs. Wanderers and the other during the Closing Stage vs River Plate, we can see the wingers pushing higher, ready for a to race out on the wings, and a much more orderly, evenly spaced centre midfield.

The output also increased considerably, from a total of 30 goals scored in 22 matches between the Opening Stage and the Torneo Intermedio for an average of 1.37 goals per match, to a total of 31 goals scored in 15 matches played on the Closing Stage, averaging over 2 goals an outing. It did prove costly on the defensive side, from with goals conceded going from 2+1 on the first half of the season to 8 in the latter stages. I did enjoy the showing a lot more though, with some beautiful pieces of interplay like this beauty against Rentistas.

La Máquina

On June 12, 1942, a famed Uruguayan sportswriter who went by the pen name “Borocotó” wrote that River Plate, then leader of the Argentinian Championship, had “played like a machine” after the millonarios beat Chacarita Juniors 6-2. The nickname stuck, eventually becoming “La Máquina de River” a historic team that won 10 official titles between 1941 and 1947, and featuring legends like Labruna, Pedernera, Loustau and even debutants like Di Stefano and Amadeo Carrizo, both of whom would go on to become River Plate legends on their own.

After what had been a very mediocre Torneo Intermedio, I wanted the team to return to winning ways. We had to be unforgiving, we had to be remorseless, we had to become a máquina of our own.

The Closing Stage began with a win vs the always tricky Montevideo Wanderers, followed by trashings of Rentistas 3-0 and Liverpool de Montevideo 4-1. We hit a small obstacle in late October with fixtures coming hard and fast as we dropped 6 points in 3 matches, including a comeback vs Defensor Sporting after falling 2-0 down within the first half hour. 

We quickly bounced back with a 3-0 thrashing of then 2nd place River de Montevideo, and went on to make it 9 from 9 in November before the key matchup vs Peñarol. This time, however, it was about more than the Campeonato. Peñarol were 3rd, 7 points behind us and looking from the outside in on the title. They could, however, spoil a very big season for us. They had already done it, in fact, with our sole defeat at their hands on the Intermedio robbing us of an undefeated title, something that had not been done in Uruguayan football since Nacional (whom else) did it in 1941. We could go ahead and win the title without need for a final, yes, but would it mean anything with no wins vs. Peñarol in the league? We had a result to get. 

The “Banda del Parque” were looking to unleash a roar stuck in their throats for too long. A win vs. Peñarol was a must.

The match started like every Superclásico Uruguayo, a grudge match with both teams getting chances. We hit the woodwork within 15 minutes and ghost of the past rose from their graves in my head. The clock’s needle had barely graced the 40 minutes mark when we got a red card against. Now, I’m not claiming it wasn’t red; FM’s animations have yet to reach a point where I can make a confident claim. But, thing is, there is always something with Peñarol. In 9 matches vs Peñarol we’ve had 3 red cards, 2 penalties and 3 high risk free kicks go against us. Maybe it’s the Nacional fan growing in me, maybe it’s just chance, maybe it’s my rousing team talks before this kind of matches, but all I see is a dodgy precedent. And I wanted to beat them so bad.

For 58 minutes they had us a man down. And yet out of the gates we were the best side. Academy graduate winger Juan Giménez scored the first just before the hour mark of a free-kick beautifully controlled by centre back Ferraresi. Even with Peñarol beginning to sense the urgency of it all, we remained the better side. Late in the second half, Facundo Ospitaleche curled a fantastic ball in after the rumble of a corner for centre back Joaquín Fernández to put it away of the bounce with his left foot. I literally jumped of my seat.

Knowing that they had less than 10 minutes plus whatever was added to spoil the party. They got one back in the 87th minute courtesy of some terrible clearence and got us against the ropes for a while but as the 96th minute dawned, the referee blew his whistle and that was it. I felt like running downfield, Mourinho style.

Don’t cry for me Nacional

After that, all that was left was to validate a fantastic season on the remaining fixtures.  A win vs 2nd placed and surprise of the tournament Centro Atlético Fenix would leave them outside of contention. We managed that with a great win 2-0 that should have been bigger result, then went on to take 2-0 and 3-0 wins vs Tacuarembó and Atenas respectively, taking 7 wins in the last 7 matches, and securing the title with a 7 point gap to 2nd placed Liverpool.

On the Overall table, we destroyed the competition, putting 20 points between ourselves and king of the plebs Peñarol, and putting records for most points in a season, most consecutive wins and most consecutive matches without conceding. We also achieved the title winning the Opening and Closing Stages, know in spanish as the Apertura and Clausura, something that hadn’t been done in Uruguayan football since Danubio did it in 2007, some 16 years ago.

In all, it’s not a bad way to leave the club. We took the Nacional job with the club on a down, spiraling out of contention and falling into a continuous status as the “also rans” to Peñarol. That course has been corrected.

The only remaining challenge (like with certain Argentinian manager) is the international cups. That Sudamericana loss only becomes more and more painful as it was a golden opportunity to get some continental glory, but I guess it’ll have to wait. Whomever takes the Nacional job has a team and a half to exploit and continue developing. Names like Coudet and Zubeldía have been doing the rounds, all very interesting in terms of what they could do with this set of players. 

In all honesty, I think I’d enjoy staying at this great club and building an ever stronger side under the principles of the Castoloball, but it runs against the spirit of the save, so the South American must look for pastures a new once again. Having gotten an offer to manage Cruzeiro shortly before the beginning of the Closing Stage, a return to Brazil seems an interesting prospect, but I feel it might be too soon. I’ve had enough of the shores of the Atlantic, I’m thinking maybe some mountaineering might do me some good. We’ll have to wait and see.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Published by fromero92

Argentinian writer and journalist

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