CA River Plate – Match Report vs. Colo-Colo (27/04/2022)

Under the lights of the Libertadores, River Plate beat Colo-Colo 2-1 with two late goals and Colo-Colo got an even later consolation. Marcelo Gallardo’s River plate was set up in a 4-3-3 formation and played a very easy-on-the-eye vertical passing football. They often played long passes to send Julian Alvarez in behind Colo-Colo’s defence. Colo-Colo’s high defensive line was definitely a factor in this and their passing 4-2-3-1 stye helped make this match open and entertaining for the neutral. The openness of the game allowed me to get a really good look at my targets in this match: Julián Álvarez, Enzo Fernández, Nicolás de la Cruz and Barco.

Ratings 

  • A1 – Very good, could play higher 
  • A2 – Strong potential to play higher 
  • B1 – Good, strong player at level 
  • B2 – Potential to be strong player at level 
  • C – Average for level, re-watch 
  • D – Below average in this match

Julián Álvarez

  • Nationality: Argentinian
  • Age: 22
  • Date of birth: 31/01/2000
  • Current club: CA River Plate
  • Career: Atlético Calchín (Y), CA Atalaya (Y), CA River Plate U20 (Y), CA River Plate II (Y), CA River Plate, Manchester City, CA River Plate (loan)
  • Position: Striker
  • Secondary position: Right Winger, Left Winger
  • Preferred foot: Right

Hardy an unknown prospect at this point, Manchester City loanee Julián Álvarez played as a striker in this match. He led the press very well and harassed Colo-Colo players in possession all night. Álvarez might have been told to run in behind Colo-Colo’s high line by his manager, and his teammates often tried to play such passes, but he wasn’t successful in this. Sometimes his teammates couldn’t pull off the perfect passes and many were overhit or intercepted in the air by Maxi Falcon. As he kept losing his aerial battles with Falcon he dropped deep to receive the ball to feet, dribble and play passes through to runners. 

 Given he is only 170cm tall. It’s not that surprising that he wasn’t able to challenge effectively in the air. His slim, athletic build is quite deceptive as he isn’t easily pushed off the ball, implying decent lower body strength. The lower body strength and lower centre of gravity greatly aid his dribbling abilities. He regularly received the ball, spun and ran through players in this match. Álvarez has brilliant agility and can switch direction easily, making him just as much of a threat against a high line as a deep block. Álvarez has a good burst of speed to evade challenges and top-line speed to not be caught by retreating defenders. Although his frame and nationality might suggest he is a Sergio Aguero regen, stylistically Karim Benzema is a much more accurate comparison. 

Technically, Álvarez is a dream Manchester City player. Great at short passing with both feet and longer attempts with his stronger right foot. His first touch is, as you would expect, excellent. I cannot comment on his finishing ability as he didn’t take any shots in this match. Despite not scoring I don’t think Álvarez played badly. On the contrary, he played well and got an assist for the second goal. His manager may be slightly dissipated that he didn’t score but his overall play was very good. 

 Álvarez demonstrated a fantastic, resilient mentality by brushing off his aerial setbacks. He found other ways to get involved in the game, rather than just blaming his teammates for poor passes. I think that Álvarez is a wonderful team player, that can adapt to the game state. His adaptability and versatility could suggest a high footballing IQ as well. Pep Guardiola will like this guy, not only as a player but also as a player. 

Rating – A1

Álvarez didn’t score in this match but played well overall and got an assist. He is a complete forward by every definition of the term, except aerially dominant. Manchester City has pulled off a brilliant signing here, and it’s almost completely risk-free. At 22 he’s already good and can get better, but if he doesn’t improve, City can still likely turn a profit on the 17 million euros they paid for him. Great player, phenomenal business.  

Enzo Fernández

  • Nationality: Argentinian
  • Age: 21
  • Date of birth: 17/01/2001
  • Current club: CA River Plate
  • Career: CA River Plate U20 (Y), CA River Plate II (Y), Defensa y Justicia (loan), CA River Plate
  • Position: Central Midfielder
  • Secondary position: Defensive Midfielder
  • Preferred foot: Right

It’s quite easy to see why both Manchester giants are interested in the signature of Enzo Fernández. The Argentinean played as the right central midfielder in River’s 4-3-3 and was the team’s passing hub. Despite often being pressed, he was able to evade opponents, switch the play and ping passes into the final third. Given some defensive responsibility, he was there to help defend and stop counter-attacks. 

The 180cm tall Argentinean midfielder has an athletic and fairly muscular build. This allows him to not be bullied, as Jorginho sometimes is when attempting to dictate the play from deeper positions. Fernández is fast enough to not be classed as slow and can get back and forward well in matches. I think he uses his intelligent movement and intuitive timing to position himself in the right place at the right time. He isn’t a particularly dynamic player, but in the correct role, this isn’t a problem. Fernández’s physical profile seems to have convinced some Manchester United fans that he is the saviour of their defensive midfield woes. This is not the case. 

His technique is not the reason he’s not a defensive midfielder. Although right-footed, his weak foot isn’t all too weak. He can control the ball under pressure with both feet, can play short and medium passes and tries ambitious long-range passes with both feet. The most ambitious ones that reach their intended target are often those delivered from his right foot. Fernández has exceptional vision. Surround him with runners off the ball and there will be chances galore. Although he understands where to be, his tacking seems to be an area for improvement. He won around a third of his attempted tackles in this match. For a defensive midfielder in the Premier League and Champions League, that’s terrible. His size, strength and young age suggest that he could improve in this area, but playing him as a “6” would be a waste of his sensational distribution. Enzo reminds me of players such as Cesc Fàbregas, Fabián Ruiz and Toni Kroos. 

Fernández is a player that is always well positioned. He understands football, his role and any tactical instructions received. He strikes me as a superbly intelligent playmaker that has the discipline to play in an elite level double pivot alongside a more defensively secure player. He sees runs and opportunities that barely anyone else does, and has the confidence to try those passes. Always composed under pressure and flawless decision making give him a solid mental platform for his technical excellence. Fernández is very adept at tactical fouling in the right situation, a trait that Guardiola would certainly appreciate. 

Rating – A1 

Enzo Fernández has the world at his feet. With a £16M release clause if you’re early and £20M if you’re indecisive, one club will be lucky enough to secure this talented playmaker for an unmissable price. Real Madrid could have a ready-made replacement for Toni Kroos in Enzo Fernández. Clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester City, and Bayern Munich should be extremely interested. He won’t be the defensive midfielder many clubs are looking for, but a potentially world-class deep-lying playmaker can be bought for a pittance this summer. 

Nicolás de la Cruz

  • Nationality: Uruguayan
  • Age: 24
  • Date of birth: 01/06/1997
  • Current club: CA River Plate
  • Career: Liverpool de Montevideo FC U19 (Y), Liverpool de Montevideo FC, CA River Plate
  • Position: Central Midfielder
  • Secondary position: Left Midfielder, Attacking Midfielder 
  • Preferred foot: Right

Nicolás de la Cruz, inexplicably, is escaping the media attention of his midfield partner. At 24 and in the prime of his career, he does play like it. Nicolás de la Cruz shone in a box-to-box role in this match and seemed to do absolutely everything. Winning tackles in his box? Check. Spraying cross-field passes? Check. Driving through the centre of the pitch like a man possessed? Check. in true box-to-box nature, he was everywhere, did everything and was fantastic. In this match, he even played better than Enzo Fernández. 

Some players aren’t tall or particularly muscular and yet overcome the odds to be surprisingly strong. Nicolás de la Cruz is a member of this club along with a certain N’Golo Kanté. The Uruguayan has a slim and slight build and at 167 cm he is one centimetre shorter than the iconic Frenchman. Nicolás de la Cruz won so many fouls in this match because he is fast. Very fast, and can accelerate away from opponents and then draw a foul. His spellbinding agility and low centre of gravity make sure that he is a major threat on the ball. 

It’s quite rare to see a player combine explosive athleticism with great technique, but that’s exactly what Nicolás de la Cruz offers. He has a very good passing range and can switch the ball with ease. His first touch is solid and can help him to keep the ball in tight spaces surprisingly well. It is his dribbling that stands above all else though. Nicolás de la Cruz can take the ball from the 6 and run forward quickly and always purposefully. Even more impressive is that he seems to very rarely lose the ball from failed dribbles, getting fouled or passing the ball on is much more likely. His tackling is impressive too. He steals the ball from opponents often and well then immediately tries to progress the ball forward. Much like Naby Keïta at Leipzig, I’m sure Nicolás de la Cruz has jaw-droppingly good numbers on WyScout. 

The positives don’t end there with this hidden gem because his mentality is outstanding. In every phase of play, you can think of, this man has exactly the right mindset. Off the ball defensively he is a hard-working and tenacious player who can win possession back for his team. He ran so much in the match that it was almost inspiring. I felt motivated to go on a run or something watching this guy. I hope this translates onto his teammates too. His recovery pace is a huge asset here. On the ball, he makes nice passes, sure, but he excels in the dribble. He drives forward relentlessly. Aware of the high likelihood of being hacked down, he drives forward bravely and confidently regardless. 

Rating – A1

Another A1? Yes. Absolutely. Nicolás de la Cruz is a superb player for this River Plate side and with his contract up at the end of this year, he could shine in Europe this year yet. Capable of playing in many midfield roles, I’d play him in this box-to-box role as one of the advanced central midfielders. Since Frank Kessié is leaving Milan this summer, they would be wise to have a look at buying Nicolás de la Cruz for a cut-price fee this summer. 

Esequiel Barco

  • Nationality: Argentinean
  • Age: 23
  • Date of birth: 29/03/1999
  • Current club: CA River Plate
  • Career: Club Atlético Jorge Frica U20 (Y), Independiente U20 (Y), Independiente, Atlanta United, CA River Plate (loan)
  • Position: Left Winger
  • Secondary position: Second Striker. Attacking Midfielder
  • Preferred foot: Right

On loan from MLS outfit Atalanta with an option to buy, he’s back in Argentina. In this match, he played on the left-wing in River’s 4-3-3. A classic inverted winger, Barco was tasked with cutting inside onto his stronger right foot to play in teammates with crosses and through balls as well as to shoot from range. Eventually, after many weak attempts, Barco scored a very well taken goal late on in the match. 

Barco is a diminutive winger at 167 cm with a slight build. He’s not that physically weak but judging by his tiredness in the last ten minutes of the match, there’s a chance his fitness isn’t up to scratch. Whether this is poor conditioning or lack of match fitness, I can’t say, but he barely managed to play 90 minutes in this match. When he’s not exhausted, Barco had brilliant acceleration and can maintain a high speed to run away from defenders, or to track back. 

Definitely more of a goalscorer than a creator, Barco has pretty good passing but not quite ideal vision to see and execute passes that could cause a defence problems. Barco very much enjoys shooting from long range. He gets most of these shots on target but all but one lacked enough power to beat the goalkeeper. I think that with good coaching and some gym work, there is potential for Barco to become a very dangerous and consistent threat from range. Barco takes some set pieces and demonstrated dangerous delivery from dead balls. Overall his technique is very good. He’s got a great first touch, but everything is just a little too predictable due to his inability to use his weak foot. Like Riyad Mahrez and Antony, he does everything with one foot. I’d like him to train his weaker foot and to be less predictable, then he could maybe become a very good player. 

Talented wingers aren’t usually seen as very hard-working, but Barco did his share of defensive work in this match. He tracked back and won the ball back on several occasions, to my surprise and to his credit. Barco showed selfishness in the final third. Often shooting and ignoring teammates in better positions. Despite missing many of these chances, he kept trying and eventually scored. This showed impressive resilience and mental strength that will serve him well in his career. 

Rating – A2

I think of Barco as currently quite a good player. if he’s available for £10-£15M there’s an opportunity for a non-elite club to sign a potential game-changer. He has enough flaws in his game to deter Champions League contenders, but at a he’d be good for a Europa League and he could maybe develop well there. PSV could maybe be interested in Barco should they sell Gakpo this summer.

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