For River Plate perhaps not suffering any further injuries ahead of the Copa Libertadores semi final against Boca Juniors was the most important thing but Marcelo Gallardo would have wanted his side not to lose any more ground in the league and so defeat to Vélez Sarsfield on Sunday evening coupled with the sight of Enzo Pérez limping off was almost the worst case scenario.
The thigh strain that caused Pérez to be replaced during the second half is not thought to be serious which will be a welcome bit of good news for River yet with defeat to Vélez, the Millonarios are once again in danger of seeing any potential title challenge disappear.
Six points behind Boca in the Superliga already it will all be worthwhile if River get the better of their bitter rivals once more in the Libertadores but this year the hope for many was that Gallardo would finally find the balance domestically.
And while there does appear to have been a greater focus on the league and the likes of Lanús and Huracán have been dismantled by a full strength River, Vélez became the second side to take three points from the Monumental.
The threat of Gabriel Heinze’s side is no longer a surprise though Vélez were required to ride their luck at times. River were unfortunate not to have been awarded a penalty for a clumsy Lucas Hoyos challenge on Matías Suárez before Nicolás Domínguez ran in behind to slot Vélez in front.
Nacho Fernández had also rattled the crossbar with a fierce long range effort and once the game got back underway after half time, it was all River.
Another penalty shout was waved away when Gastón Giménez caught Julián Álvarez but the equaliser appeared imminent. It arrived on the hour mark thanks to some fine work down the left wing from centre back Lucas Martínez Quarta resulting in Fernández forcing the ball in from close range.
There now appeared to be only one winner and as River turned the screw Martínez Quarta volleyed against the upright.
Vélez were clinging on and then with seven minutes left, Thiago Almada skipped in behind the River defence, rounded Franco Armani and was brought down by the goalkeeper. Referee Andrés Merlos was already unpopular in the Monumental and managed to further anger River by failing to spot Almada’s inadvertent handball when receiving the pass. Instead the 18-year-old kept his cool and slotted Vélez into a surprise lead.
Merlos, as if eager to make amends with River, then awarded a penalty at the other end for a non-existent handball against Nicolás Domínguez, sending off the midfielder in the process. But where Almada succeeded, Nacho Fernández failed and his well struck effort was wonderfully saved by Lucas Hoyos.
Vélez held on for a fourth straight win while River have worries that go well beyond their current league standing. Marcelo Gallardo will be hoping to have players back fit before the Libertadores semi final first leg in a little over a week.
River Plate 1 – 2 Vélez Sarsfield
Champions Racing Club made it three consecutive wins after managing to see off Arsenal de Sarandí in Avellaneda.
Eduardo Coudet’s side had wasted a couple of good chances before Darío Cvitanich headed them in front from a corner midway through the first half and looked in control when Arsenal defender was shown a red card for a headbutt on the goalscorer.
However, Nery Domínguez swiftly levelled things up with a second yellow card after 33 minutes and when Nicolás Giménez equalised with a wonderful free-kick shortly after half time, the game looked in the balance.
For ten minutes at least before Racing once again showed their dominance at set-pieces. Another corner this time flicked on by Alejandro Donatti and stabbed in by Lisandro López, making it a remarkable 22% of goals under Coudet coming from set-pieces (not including penalties or direct free-kicks).
Victory for Racing moves them level with Arsenal some five points behind Boca though Eduardo Coudet knows that the champions are far from the level reached last season and need further improvement to really challenge.