Athletico-PR hosts River Plate in the first leg of South American Recopa Sudamericana finals. The match will be played on Thursday, May 23rd at Arena da Baixada (Curitiba)
South American Recopa will determine the strongest team between Argentine River Plate, last year's winner of Copa Libertadores, and Brazilian Athletico Paranaense, who won Copa Sudamericana in December. The latter will contend for the trophy for the first time. River Plate is an obvious favorite because it won Recopa in 2015 and 2016. As the favorite, the Argentines will play the return and decisive game at home in a week. Do the Brazilians have chances in a home game?
Nunes, the head coach of Athletico, who led the team to historical success, immediately decided on the priority of competitions. The regular squad did not play in the state championship, as the Libertadores group stage starts earlier than Brasileiro. In the last season, Nunes struggled with the away fixtures of the team, which were much worse than home ones. The trend has been preserved, but home victories were enough to progress from the group. The fans were impressed by a home win over another Argentine stalwart, Boca Juniors (3-0) - a team that River Plate beat in the CL finals.
Nunes chose cup competitions as the priority. On the night between Thursday and Friday, the regular squad of Athletico played in the first match of the cup with Fortaleza. A goalless draw left a good chance to go further. Then the championship match against Corinthians (0:2 defeat) took place, interrupting the 12-game home unbeaten streak of Furacao. 2-1-2 results leave Athletico in 7th place, but the coach fielded exclusively reserve squad. The main forces of the Brazilian club are focused on the match against River Plate.
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The absence of midfielder Andrade, who is on loan from River Plate, will be the only loss of Nunes in the confrontation with the Argentines. However, this player is just an option in using the 4-2-3-1 scheme. In such an important match, the Athletico coach will not reinvent the wheel. As many as a pair of playmakers - Citaddini, Bruno or Gonzalez - will supply center forward Ruben with sharp passes, and the strong wingers Rony and Nikao will be able to create predominance on the flanks in the 4-1-4-1 scheme.
The head coach of River Plate Gallardo has no priority dilemma. The team cannot complain about the lack of time to prepare. The championship finished because it is played after the manner of Europe. However, in order for the teams not to lose their shape, the Argentine Federation came up with the Super League Cup. The Millionaires played their last match on May 15, hammering Atletico Tucuman (4:1). Nevertheless, it was an attempt to respond to its own away romp (3-0). The goal of the visitors did not allow River Plate to go further, but this did not upset the holders of the most valuable continental title.
Gallardo is more upset with the group stage of the new Copa Libertadores. The current champion of the continent got into the playoffs only from the 2nd line, losing as many as 4 points to another Brazilian team, Internacional. Of course, the coach is more concerned about the final stage of the tournament and the first confrontation with Cruzeiro, which will take place after the Argentine club holidays.
In addition to Andrade, the Argentines lost defender Maidana and sold playmaker Martinez. In winter, the whole bunch of new players came to the club, among which I would highlight defender Rojas and striker Suarez. The first replaced Maidana, and the second entrenched at the helm, becoming an option of Borre and Alvarez. Alas, Gallardo could not foresee the injuries of Quintero, the man of the last Copa Libertadores final. If a 1:1 draw against Alianza (even with Quintero) was considered an unnecessary misfire, then after the injury of the Colombian, the team suffered a series of failures. Ferreira did not cope with the role of a playmaker in the away game with Inter, and only the feature of De la Cruz let not to lose in Porto Alegre (2:2).
In the group stage of Copa Libertadores, River Plate beat away only weak Palestino (0:2). Then, Perez played at the position of Quintero and was surrounded by Fernandez and De la Cruz. Gallardo changed the scheme from 4-3-1-2 to 4-1-3-2, filling the attacking line. On the eve of the home return match with Brazilians, the Argentine manager realized that he could not play against the leader of the group with one pivot. Truth be told, even a 4-4-2 scheme almost turned into a fiasco. Entrusting the midfield to Zuculini and Palacios, the Argentines did not cope with the onslaught of the opponent. The change of the scheme with substitutions of Fernandez and Perez did not help either. Inter outscored 1:2 and dragged the hosts across the field, and only the goalkeeper’s blunder allowed Pratto to save the team from defeat (2:2).
Pratto notes that it will be not so easy for his team in Parana. Atletico plays modern high-speed football, different from that all Brazilian teams show. Boca Juniors, which lost at Baixada with a smashing score and miraculously gained revenge at Bombonera (2:1), failed to cope with the methods of total football from Nunes. I do not know the secrets of Gallardo, who, without Quintero and Martinez, is obliged to scratch his head over the position binding the defense with the attack. The visitors are able to score because the defense of Athletico is not perfect. The field factor will be decisive - an artificial cover of Baixada will play against River Plate, and the Hurricane can turn into a tropical downpour.
Prediction for the match: Athletico-PR to win with +0.5 handicap and Both teams to score - yes