Two straight defeats against Racing and Central saw Boca Juniors’ lead at the top of the Superliga swiftly evaporate but a third loss to Arsenal in La Bombonera would have been a crisis. The champions were not at their best on Sunday but averted such a calamity with a 2-0 win to reclaim their advantage in the title race.
Despite missing several players through injury, Boca were understandably on top against an Arsenal side destined for relegation but missing the fluency provided by Fernando Gago, the drive of Pablo Pérez and the ruthlessness of Darío Benedetto, the breakthrough didn’t come.
That was until the 34th minute when the dangerous Edwin Cardona crossed from the right and found the run of youngster Guido Vadalá. The 20-year-old was one of the great promises of Boca’s academy, which saw him move to Juventus as part of the Carlos Tevez deal, but having seen his development stall, Vadalá served a timely reminder of his talents with an outstanding finish.
Unable to kill off a spirited Arsenal side there were some nervy moments for Boca but when Germán Ferreyra was sent off for a two-footed lunge on Wilmar Barrios, the result looked safe. The excellent Cardona made absolutely certain in stoppage time with a fine left footed finish and Boca climbed back to the top of the table on goal difference but still with a game in hand.
While Boca were able to snap out of their blip, River Plate stumbled to another defeat, finishing the year in woeful form ahead of next weekend’s Copa Argentina final.
Uncharacteristically sloppy defensively and lacking incision in attack, River found themselves a goal down in La Plata shortly after half time when a Gimnasia counter eventually ended with former Boca midfielder Nicolás Colazo firing into the net.
Ignacio Scocco’s superb free kick pulled River back level but the game was settled in stoppage time thanks to Brahian Alemán’s stunning long range strike. Enrique Bologna had already kept River in the game with an excellent stop to deny Nicolás Dibble but could do nothing with the Uruguayans fierce drive into the bottom corner.
One win in nine now for River, five defeats in the last six and worryingly for Gallardo a Copa Argentina final in one week. Atlético Tucumán would have been heavy underdogs in normal circumstances but will have watched River in recent weeks with a renewed confidence.