Racing Club entered Il Cilindro on Saturday facing their modern day Bette Noir, River Plate.
Racing have had a rough start to the season, with two league draws and a shock elimination to third tier Boca Unidos in the Copa Argentina, and a win against River would make an incredible statement to the rest of the league and the fans starting to worry about the defence of the league title.
Racing have not won against River Plate since 2017, and suffered two painful and resounding defeats to Las Gallinas last season in the league and Copa Libertadores, in an otherwise excellent season which culminated in winning the league.
Eduardo Coudet made a few changes heading into Saturday night, naming Nery Dominguez in place of holding midfielder Chelo Diaz, naming Lucas Orban at center-back for the first time this season and handing a debut to new signing striker Nicolas Reniero.
The game started badly for Racing who could have been behind within 20 seconds, as within moments of taking the kick off River had gained possession and were attacking the Racing goal at breakneck speed.
Three minutes into the game Racing played an aimless ball which Alexis Soto ran over 50 meters to win, played a great low cross into the area, dummied through the legs of Licha Lopes and Augusto Solari controlled and finished passed Solari to give the hosts an unexpected lead.
River continued their high pressing game, looking to establish a stranglehold on the game, making probing attacks through the Racing midfield but for the most part the defence and Arias stood firm.
River Plate, champions of South America, looked in complete control whenever they had the ball, never without a passing option. Racing were playing disciplined and organised defensively, allowing River space until they got within thirty yards of goal, but Racing lacked an effective “out-ball” with Licha being overpowered in the air by the River center-backs.
The hinchas in the stadium were incredible all throughout the night, with their last real moment to cheer being on 12 minutes when Ivan Pillud, the cult figure right back, completed an audacious Cruyff turn to get out of trouble and try and conjure an attack.
It would be Pillud who lost possession in the 35th minute that would lead to River’s opening goal. Full backs are expected to shoulder much of the offensive burden and offer the width in Coudet’s system, and Pillud was trying to find Licha after a give and go run. Instead found Exequiel Palacios who hit a perfectly weighted pass to the feet of Borre who had comfortably beaten any offside trap and had the composure to calmly finished from outside the area past an onrushing Arias.
River doubled their advantage moments after the restart, Racing losing possession in the midfield, a theme for the night. Palacios found Matias Suraez with another perfect pass, who rushed into the Racing box squaring to a sliding Borre at the far post for his second of the night.
Racing failed to learn their lesson and threw the game away moments after the kick off as they, yet again, lost possession after a hit-and-hope long ball was won by River’s De La Cruz, who was a constant threat all night, whose perfectly weighted pass to Suarez left the striker with little to do but keep his composure and finished past the tireless Arias in the Racing goal.
In the space of three minutes Racing went from holding a relatively comfortable lead against the most formidable team on the continent to staring an embarrassing defeat in the face.
Despite personnel changes at half-time from Coudet introducing Motoya and Diaz for Matias Rojas and Dominguez, Racing’s game completely collapsed as another quick counter from Suarez was ended illegally by a late challenge by Sigali, who received a straight red card from Patricio Loustau.
Racing brought off Reinero for Pulpo Gonzales to sure up the midfield and shifted Diaz to center-back to no avail. A mix up between Diaz and Pillud led to the later conceding a penalty duly dispatched by Ignacio Fernandez, before a triple sub from Gallardo introduced former Racing youth product Bruno Zuculini, Ignacio Scocco and Lucas Pratto to the party.
River hit their fifth and six goals in quick concession, Pulpo’s simple pass in the midfield badly missing it’s target, finding the feet of Casco who found Pratto to center for De La Cruz who made no mistake adding a goal to his excellent all around performance.
De La Cruz would be on hand to gain an assist for River’s sixth goal, an excellent team move demonstrating the devastating brilliance of Los Millonarios. Quarta received the ball from a throw in at the left back position and hit a cross field ball to De La Cruz who was wide open in the right wing forward position, who clipped a cross into the area where an unmarked Scocco met the ball with a delicate dipping header that just alluded the diving effort of Arias and put the cherry on a humiliating defeat.
Racing’s fans in the stadium were as loud as any game I’ve ever heard them, including, and possibly exceeding, two league champions and countless great individual moments in the years of supporting Racing Club. Los hinchas de Racing, were an absolute credit to the club.
Racing’s defeat to River, Coudet’s fourth such loss, can be attributed in part to Coudet’s tactical inflexibility, sloppy borderline mindless passing and Gallardo’s ability to set up a team better than any manager in all of the Americas.
Racing will get the chance to bounce back and pick up their first win of the season when they travel to Superliga new boys Central Cordoba on Sunday whilst River turn attention to Talleres de Cordoba before hosting Boca in the superclasico.
Racing 4-1-3-2 – Eduardo Coudet
Arias; Soto, Orban, Sigali(RED), Pillud; Dominguez (Diaz); Rojas (Montoya), Zaracho, Solari; Reniero (Gonzales) Lopez;
River 4-4-2 – Marcelo Gallardo
Armani; Casco, Quarta, Rojas, Montiel; De La Cruz, Perez (Zuculini), Palacios, Fernandez; Suarez (Pratto), Borre (Scocco);