ANALYSIS: How Marcelo Gallardo is reshaping River Plate for more Libertadores glory

By Peter Coates

With not as much as a friendly in preparation before the resumption of this year’s Copa Libertadores, the expectation of River Plate and the remainder of Argentina’s representatives was that it might take a few weeks to get up to speed. However, Gallardo’s River have particularly shown few signs of rust and have already booked its place in the Round of 16 by qualifying first in Group D.

While fatigue was understandably evident in the closing stages of matches, the emergence of the next phase in the evolution of this River team was what really stood out.

For all the plaudits of winning eleven titles in a shade over six years, arguably Gallardo’s greatest achievement has been rebuilding after key losses of personnel. From the 2015 Copa Libertadores triumph to repeating the trick in 2018 with a vastly different eleven, the River coach is now in the process of reshaping things in the wake of 2019’s final heartbreak.

The 4-2-2-2 or 4-1-3-2 of 2019, in which Exequiel Palacios played such an important part, gave way to a 3-5-2 after the midfielder’s departure to Bayer Leverkusen.

Many of the core principles – the high press, quick short passes to create overloads and the midfield breaking forward at pace to join the attack – are all still evident in 2020 but with an additional defender added to allow full-backs Gonzalo Montiel and Milton Casco greater license to get forward and provide the attacking width.

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