River’s progress in this year’s Copa Libertadores has been a struggle since the opening fixture and after scraping out of their group in remarkable circumstances and then progressing past Boca by default after the pepper-spray incident, they now face the uphill task of overturning last night’s defeat when they face Cruzeiro in Belo Horizonte.
It is in attack where Marcelo Gallardo’s side have struggled in 2015: Teo Gutiérrez is out of form, Rodrigo Mora’s purple patch from earlier in the year has dried up and Leonardo Pisculichi suddenly appears to have lost the creative spark that made him so integral to River’s successes in 2014. Last night in the Monumental was no different as River continued to fall apart once they moved in the final third of the pitch.
Matías Kranevitter impressed in central midfield on his 22nd birthday and in general River looked solid as Gallardo once more packed the centre. Another of River’s youngster also caught the eye as defender Emanuel Mammana showed just why he is considered one of the brightest talents in South American football for much of the match.
Mammana has managed to keep Gabriel Mercado out of the side at right back but the 19-year-old was at fault for the vital away goal for the Brazilians. It was his sliced clearance that kept the ball alive in the River penalty box and with the ball in the air, Mammana failed to keep track of Gabriel Xavier, whose shot was parried by Marcelo Barovero but fell to Marquinhos to tap into the unguarded net. For all of Mammana’s considerable talent, at this early stage in his career he is still prone to error and this could be very costly to River.
Marcelo Gallardo’s side must now attack Cruzeiro in Belo Horizonte to overturn the deficit and although the Brazilians are not an outstanding side, they will no doubt be looking to exploit any spaces that River afford them as they push forward.