Argentina Apertura: River Plate Goes Top as Boca Juniors Flop

John Tilghman Correspondent IDecember 17, 2016

Just three matches into the Argentina Apertura, and the country's two biggest and most successful clubs have started in opposite directions. 

Just a few hours after River Plate beat Independiente in the afternoon's Clásico 3-2 in thrilling fashion to join Vélez Sarsfield atop the standings, Boca floundered against promoted side All Boys and fell 2-0. 

Although the results are quite startling, they only tell half the story of the two Buenos Aires giants. 

Each side is operating with a new coach, but only River's Angel Cappa has been able find the right formula to not only win matches, but give the fans the type of football they crave.

The former Huracán boss wowed the country in 2009 with his "Tiki-Tiki" style of slick one-touch passing built around Javier Pastore, Mario Bolatti, and Matías De Federico. 

Historically, River has always had the foundation of playing beautifully, and although the club had fallen on hard times recently, players such as Ariel Ortega and Diego Buonanotte were already in place to help Cappa construct a team to his liking. 

Cappa joined River at the end of last season, and was able to use the final five games to work and implement his squad as well as evaluate which players were for the off. Joining the team last season also allowed Cappa to work closely with new President Daniel Passarella in regards to transfers and to get to know the youth players who have been key components to River's perfect start to the Apertura.

At the time Cappa took over last year, Rogelio Funes Mori had yet to manage a goal, but under the tutelage of Don Angel, the young Mendoza-native netted a hat-trick in the Clásico against Racing before netting against Tigre on the final day of the season. 

This tournament, the 19-year-old Funes Mori has continued his hot streak, netting a 91st minute winner on opening day against Tigre before striking a double against Independiente Sunday afternoon. 

Cappa has also been able to get the most out of flying wingers Facundo Affranchino, 20, and Roberto Pereyra, 19, who have been instrumental in creating link-up play down the flanks, while also adding defensive stability when needed. 

While all the young players have been impressive under Cappa, it is his latest discovery, 17-year-old Manuel Lanzini, who has turned many heads in the early going of the Apertura. 

After failing to make much of an impact in his debut match against Tigre, Lanzini was pulled at halftime; yet Cappa kept faith in the youngster and put him in place of suspended captain Ariel Ortega, and the youngster thrived as the team's playmaker, assisting Funes Mori's second goal and providing a number of fancy flicks and tricks in the middle of the park. 

Cappa has not only brought through a number of top prospects who are putting match winning shifts each week, but he has worked closely with Passarella to bring in top-quality transfers. 

Goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo had a nightmarish two year spell in Europe that saw him lose his place in the national team, but has rediscovered his form at River making a number of key interventions, particularly in the dying seconds of Sunday's match against Independiente when he spectacularly denied Nestor Silvera to preserve River's lead. 

That save from Carrizo improved River's record against Independiente to a stunning mark of 69 wins against just 49 losses and 46 ties. 

The perfect start to the season has also seen the renaissance of senior players Ariel Ortega and Matías Almeyda who are playing as if they were in their mid-20s not mid-30s. 

Boca went through a tomultuous campaign last term that began when coach Alfio Basile and general manager Carlos Bianchi both resigned just days before the start of the season. 

Rather than finding a new coach and beginning a new era, Boca went through two interim coaches in Abel Alves and Tito Pompeii and underwent a war in the media between its two biggest stars, Juan Roman Riquelme and Martín Palermo

Even though Pompeii managed to put together good results down the stretch after an awful run of games under Alves, President Jorge Almeal decided to make another coaching change, the fourth of 2010 by bring in Claudio Borghi. 

Through three games, Boca has failed miserably to adapt to Borghi's unorthodox 3-4-1-2 system. 

The new signings from the offseason from defenders Matías Caruzzo, Cristián Cellay, and Juan Manuel Insaurralde, goalkeeper Cristián Luchetti, and midfielders Damiån Escudero and Clemente Rodríguez have all been terrible. 

Club idol Martín Palermo, who turns 37 in December, is a shadow of his former self and has not even looked like scoring. 

Meanwhile, star man Juan Roman Riquelme is still injured. When the former Barcelona man does return, the expectation will be that Riquelme saves the club from its rough moment, but without a system built around him or a strong supporting cast as he had in the past, the injury-plagued Riquelme is unlikely to provide any miracles this time around.

Making matters worse for Boca is the lack of promising youth. Marcelo Cañete is talented, but has been poor every time he has suited up for the first team.  

To be frank, Boca is without the hierarchy of top class players that clubs such as Estudiantes and Vélez have in their ranks. Boca is also sans the top class youngsters that River Plate has an abundance of. 

Already eight points back in the title race, and 18 points out of the Copa Libertadores places, Borghi has admitted he could leave the club should things get worse.