Boca are quickly becoming the team to beat in Argentina. After winning the league last season they have made the best start to a season in their history this year winning 6 out of 6 and scoring 15 goals. In this article I will be breaking down the tactics of Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side and what makes them so successful.
Formation and starting shape:
Boca play with a very fluid 4 3 3 in which many players interchange positions. Peruzzi and Fabra are both very attacking fullbacks who try and get forward at every opportunity. Barrios is deployed as an anchorman and he is always the deepest of the midfield three, while Perez and Nandez are the two shuttlers with Nandez the more advanced of the two. Cardona is always looking to cut inside and he tries to exploit the half spaces between the opposition midfield and defence while Pavon is a more traditional winger who tries to beat his man on the outside this, in turn, restricts Peruzzi’s movement forward. Benedetto occasionally drops deep but he is mostly trying to get on the end of crosses in the box, which is illustrated by the fact that most of his goals are from inside the box.
Build up play:
As mentioned before Schelotto believes in playing attractive passing football which includes playing out from the back. The way his teams set up when defenders have the ball are similar to the way Pep Guardiola’s teams set up. The two defenders split and the full backs push farther forward while the deepest midfielder (pivote reincarnate) Barrios in Boca’s case drops deeper. Wilmar Barrios, in particular, is massively important in regaining the ball which is shown by his stats. He averages 2.5 interceptions and 3.7 tackles per game.This, in turn, creates many triangles and frees up space for the ball to be played in.
After this phase, the ball gets to the midfield. This is when the fullbacks especially Fabra push up and look for space in behind the opposition fullbacks. If this space is found a long diagonal will be played into space for the fullback to run into. Many of the goals Boca have scored have come from this type of play which is very effective due to Boca drawing the opposition with the passing amongst the defenders which creates space for the wide players to run into and exploit.
Here a few examples of Boca drawing out the opposition which leads to the midfielders finding space and the wide players exploiting the space left by the fullbacks in behind,
Boca’s attacking shape is very similar to what Pochettino used to do with Spurs last season. The defensive midfielder drops in to form a back 3 and shield the team from being vulnerable to counter attacks while the two fullbacks get forward and provide the width. Cardona cuts inside in behind the midfield block forcing the full back to track him and freeing up space for Fabra to run in too or getting the ball and waiting for the overlap.
Fabra’s importance to Boca’s attacking play is highlighted by his stats this season as he has 1 goal and 2 assists from 6 games which is very impressive for a fullback.
You can see Pavon holding onto the ball waiting or the overlap from Fabra. This is a very effective tactic as it draws players towards the two players in order to prevent an overload from happening in the half-space which in turn frees up more space for Benedetto.
The high pressing system Boca use is very impressive and requires a lot of practice to master. Once the opponent gets the ball they are surrounded by Boca players which forces them into mistakes. If they bypass that press the Boca players then get back in a very solid compact shape.
The Boca midfield always press in triangles to avoid being exposed easily. Barrios is always the deepest of the 3 midfielders who is there to stop the opposition if they get past the two shuttlers Nandez and Perez. What’s interesting about the Boca pressing style is how deep the central defenders are, normally with high pressing teams the centre-backs push high up the pitch to try and compress the space and force the opposition into mistakes. While with Boca the front 3 press the defenders as a triangle and if they bypass that triangle the midfield 3 press in a triangle. Meanwhile, the centre-backs stay relatively deep to avoid the team being overloaded if the opposition bypasses the two pressing stages. This can be very effective if you have a front 6 with good stamina and a good understanding of the way the team presses.
Now let me explain the second part of Boca’s defensive structure which is what they do if a team bypasses their triangle press.
When the midfielders of the other team get the ball in Boca’s half the whole team drops very deep in their own half on the edge of the 18-yard box. This is a very quick transition after the press which is helped by the fact that the
Centre-backs were originally very deep. The fullbacks cut inside and the 3 midfielders drop deeper to provide a solid defensive block. The two wingers stay very wide without the ball which is a stark contrast to what they do when they have the ball which pins back the opposition full back and prevents them from getting forward. This, in turn, helps the team make a quick transition from defence to attack when they regain the ball and this is what makes them lethal on the counter.
Boca are all but nailed on to win the title this season but a few things could derail their quest for their first Libertadores since 2007. Pavon and Benedetto have recently signed new deals at the club but they seem more like contracts to lift their value than to ensure that they stay at the club. Fabra is also catching the eye of many top European clubs and those 3 leaving could be disastrous for the club. They would struggle to find replacements of the same quality and they would sorely miss Benedetto’s goalscoring prowess. There are rumours that Tevez could return but his form right now is shocking and I don’t think he would be able to replace Benedetto in terms of providing goals.
As for tactical weaknesses, a direct team may be able to expose Boca due to the nature of their pressing. Long diagonal balls to the wingers would bypass the triangle press and could cause overloads in the half spaces down the wings if the full backs push forward. The long ball would also make sure that Boca would struggle to get compact again in time.
All in all, I think Guillermo Barros Schelotto has a very well drilled outfit who perfectly understand what he wants them to do, in my opinion, Boca are arguably the best side in South America in terms of tactical organization and they are undoubtedly one of the best technically. I think they will be very hard to stop in the league this season and I expect them to be big contenders in the Copa Libertadores next year.