Tactical breakdown: How did San Lorenzo & Boca Juniors cancel each out in top of the table clash

Youssef Amin returns to Golazo for the start of what will be a regular feature on the site as he takes a look back over the weekend’s big Superliga fixture and dissects the tactics.

San Lorenzo vs Boca Juniors was a clash between first and second in the Argentinean Superliga. It was a match full of drama and emotion, as well as a tactically astute performance from both sides.

This is the breakdown…



Boca started off originally with their preferred 4-3-3 formation, but after Pablo Pérez’s early injury, Guillermo Barros Schelotto took him off for Walter Bou. Considering this switch of a centre forward for a midfielder happened so soon, the formation displayed reflects that change.

The 4-2-3-1 offered a lot of fluidity to Boca, especially within Boca’s front four, where there was a lot of rotational movement and intelligent interchanging of positions in the attacking third.

Carlos Tevez was very effective acting as an enganche, linking between the midfield and the striker while floating around in the half space between the San Lorenzo defence and midfield; Cristian Pavón was the direct, out-and-out winger on the right offering a very useful outlet when things got too congested in the middle and Edwin Cardona acted as an inside forward, cutting inside almost as a faux number 10 allowing the Colombian left-back Frank Fabra to get forward and overlap therefore creating overloads on the wings.

The midfield composed of the energetic Nahitan Nández, who always tried to make late surges into the box and the disciplined Wilmar Barrios who is vital to Boca’s style of play. Leonardo Jara on the right side of defence was solid while not offering as much attacking impetus as Fabra.

San Lorenzo also went with a 4-2-3-1 formation, Claudio Biaggio’s team revolving around the talented playmaker Fernando Belluschi. The 34-year-old acts as the pivot which the team revolves around with his technical ability and vision, while the two inside forwards, particularly Rubén Botta looked very dangerous.

Robert Piris da Motta and Facundo Quignón acted as a double pivot, shielding the defence and allowing the front four to express themselves. The two full backs, Paulo Diaz and Gabriel Rojas looked very impressive on the overlap working in the half spaces out wide while the two wingers cut inside.

First Half

The first half was very end-to-end and exciting, both sides looking fearless and going for the win. As a result the defensive organization of both teams suffered and there were a lot of open spaces on the counter attack.


One such example of this was the Pavón chance which almost resulted in a goal. The San Lorenzo fullbacks completely commited to the attack, leaving behind a lot of open spaces which Boca exploited as soon as they regained possession. Nández immediately released Pavon with a vertical pass, created an attacking overload with one quick pass. The counter attack created a 3-on-3 situation and served as a reminder to San Lorenzo to keep their defensive discipline.

It was a pattern we saw many times in the first half, especially from San Lorenzo who aimed to play with a lot of verticality and pace, getting the ball forward as quickly as possible and aiming to create numerical overloads down the wings.


Boca came up with an effective plan to counter San Lorenzo’s dangerous wing play though. Their defensive positioning and compactness was spot on, which made them very hard to break down. After San Lorenzo bypassed the first line of press, Boca immediately fell back into the shape shown above.

The two full backs sat very narrow, almost becoming centre backs while the two wingers covered the runs of the full backs. Therefore creating numerical superiority down the wings and forcing San Lorenzo to go back or try and break them down in the middle half space.


Here is a perfect example of the impeccable defensive positioning from the Boca players, as they have closed all the available avenues for San Lorenzo. Structured and compact.


Meanwhile the first goal, which came very early in the game largely due to a stroke of luck from Rubén Botta wasn’t without fault from the Boca players.

As you can see, Botta is completely unmarked on the edge of the box. There is also no apparent attempt to close him down and prevent him from taking a shot. Poor positioning and defending from set pieces would become a recurring theme over the course of the game.


Meanwhile San Lorenzo took a different defensive approach than Boca. They played with a very high defensive line and executed a very impressive man oriented press with some brilliant pressing triggers. They all acted as a unit, as soon as one player initiated the press the rest followed. Suffocating Boca and forcing them to bypass the first line of their build up. Belluschi moved up with Nicolás Blandi to pick up the centre backs while the wingers immediately covered the Boca full backs, the central midfielders then picked up the stray players in the midfield.


Even in their own half, after the first line of the press was bypassed San Lorenzo still deployed an aggressive closing down system, albeit with a deep block. You can see two midfielders aggressively closing down the ball carrier, attempting to regain possession in as little time as possible and launch a quick counter attack.


The diagram above shows the average movement of players on either side. You can see the fluid rotational movement form either side, both sides played with the same formation but the style of play from either side couldn’t be more contrasting.

Second Half


The second half was undoubtedly a lot less exciting than the first, largely due to the sending off of Facundo Quignón moments before the break. This led to San Lorenzo playing a lot more of a conservative game, switching to a 4-4-1 and playing with a deep block.

The two wingers cut inside almost as central midfielders, to try and make up for the loss of Quignón and prevent Boca from creating overloads in the middle of the pitch. This inevitably meant that they stopped pressing and Boca had a chance to build up from the back again, while trying to break down the solid San Lorenzo defence.


You can see here the conventional build up shape that Boca use, this was restricted in the first half but in the second half they had a lot more freedom to build up play from the back.

You can see the positioning of Wilmar Barrios (in the D on the edge of the penalty area), who as I said before is probably the most important player in this Boca side. The two centre backs split while the full backs push high and wide up the pitch with Barrios dropping in between the two centre backs as a third centre back. What Boca do in the build up phase is very similar to what Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City do, Fernandinho taking on the role of Barrios in the Boca side.

Most of the second half consisted of sterile possession for Boca with the exceptions of a few quick and decisive counter attacks from the San Lorenzo side who were eventually reduced to nine men.


A lapse of concentration from the San Lorenzo defence almost undid all their valiant efforts in the second half, once again poor marking from a set piece situation. Nahitan Nández is left completely unmarked at the back post and he almost puts Boca ahead only for Fabricio Coloccini to recover and make a last ditch block.

After that chance there wasn’t really a lot of action, once again Boca tried to patiently break down San Lorenzo but they couldn’t even when they had two extra players on the field.

Biaggio and Barros Schelotto both proved their tactical acumen with the pair setting up very effective game plans and getting their tactics spot on. This inevitably led to both sides cancelling each other out to some extent.

A good game full of ebbs and flows, while there wasn’t a lot to tactically analyse, it was a really interesting tactical spectacle between two bright managers nonetheless.

Youssef Amin is a football writer and FM blogger. An Argieball faux expert and South American footy addict, Youssef also runs the Racing Club in English Twitter account


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