If Sunday’s earlier clásico had been enough to turn viewers off Argentine football, River Plate’s visit to Rosario Central proved to be the perfect antidote. Central have enjoyed a wonderful start to the season while River have been unsettled by defensive injuries but Marcelo Gallardo’s side are never to be counted out and gave El Canalla their toughest match of the season so far.
Eager to undo the wrongs of defeats to Belgrano and Godoy Cruz, River began at a fierce pace with immediate reward. Lucas Alario’s towering header gave them the lead after only five minutes but Central being controlled by the increasingly impressive Giovani Lo Celso remained a threat. Despite River welcoming Emanuel Mammana back into the side, the defensive remained fragile and it wasn’t long before Germán Herrera capitalised and ran clear to slot the ball past Marcelo Barovero.
River were not done there though and after Tabaré Viudez pounced on a rare error by Javier Pinola, the Uruguayan found Alario, who had the presence of mind to cut the ball back into the path of Rodrigo Mora and the striker rifled the ball into the net.
Midway through the second half when Marcelo Larrondo sliced Lucas Alario’s header into his own net to extend the vistors’ advantage, Central looked to be heading for a first defeat of 2016.
River were forced back as Central increased their pressure and Lo Celso was finding gaps to operate in and probe the River defence with a series of wonderfully weighted passes. When Larrondo headed a second goal for the home side it was little surprise and with time and momentum on their side, the opportunity for more was clear.
A stoppage for a partial floodlight failure meant nine minutes of added time were to be played and in the sixth of those, Larrondo thumped a second header past Barovero.
Both sides begin their Copa Libertadores campaigns this week and so it remains to be seen how their squads will balance the extra workload but certainly on the evidence of Sunday night, both will be in contention for the title. The Libertadores is a new experience for Central while River’s defence remains a worry but when their matches are as entertaining as this, few are complaining.