Previously in Return to La Plata, Ángel Bastardo counted the money.
"Wait ages for one bus, then three come along at once" as the saying goes. The same could be said for Ángel Bastardo and cup finals. 3 and a half years of work culminated in three 2020 finals: a Copa Argentina face-off with Racing Club and then an all Argentine double bill against Boca Juniors in the Copa Libertadores. The pinnacle of South American club football and a watershed moment for Bastardo's Estudiantes, perhaps?
I rarely write game-by-game breakdowns but I've made an exception for these three spectacles, which were all streamed live on Twitch over the period of seven days. From these streams we also have a spectator's opinion on each game, who offer their unbiased view on 2020 Bastardo-ball.
Before that, a recap on what's happened in La Plata since May 2020...
There were no major sales in the summer, but we did lose our No.5 Deep Lying Playmaker Abel Aguilar to retirement. We also said goodbye to a few of the old guard fringe players: Darío Cvitanich, Israel Damonte & Walter Erviti.
In place of these departures the standout signings were:
- Augusto Fernández [Free Transfer from Independiente] - 34 years old
- Maximiliano Lovera [Free Transfer from Rosario Central] - 21 years old
- Maxi Pereira [Free Transfer from FC Porto] - 36 years old
- Raúl Rolón [€2.1m from Libertad] - 18 years old
- Leonel Vangioni [Free Transfer from Monterrey] - 33 years old
It's a great mix of youth and experience, but the huge coup is beating the likes of Paris Saint Germain to the signature of Raúl Rolón...who I think will be a huge player for us in future years:
So we continue with the 4141, just the one change in the 1-11 squad number system I use in this save: the aforementioned departure of Aguilar's No.5 shirt going to Fernández.
Season 2020/21 Argentine Superliga
It is hard to gauge how well we are doing in the 2020/21 Argentine Superliga. We are 7-8 games behind some teams around us, because we've had to juggle fixture congestion between the domestic and continental cup competitions. Still, 8 wins in 11 games leaves me with hope that we can build on last season's 3rd place finish and push for the title.
If you read the introduction, you know we reached the final of the 2020 Copa Libertadores. We've been solid throughout the knockout stages, winning home and away in Colombia and Brazil:
But before we taste the greatest South American club final(s), we had an opportunity to win our first trophy: the 2020 Copa Argentina. Strap yourselves in, it gets crazy...
1. Copa Argentina Final
Estudiantes 5-3 Racing Club
Estadio Libertadores de América. Avellaneda, Buenos Aires Province
11 November 2020
Both teams went into this on the back of away league loss. Racing losing 5-1 to Temperley and Estudiantes losing 2-1 at Godoy Cruz. What happened next was a classic, never say die, end-to-end final. The danger man was Racing Club's Lautaro Martínez, who the AI manager benched due to being jaded. In his place was Pablo Cuadra, a similar mould to Lautaro, and who netted two first half goals. Estudiantes went into Half Time 3-1 down. A solitary goal from Fernando Zuqui, converting Carlo Lattnzaio's fine run and cross. The 4141 wasn't working, young Carlo was often isolated upfront and Racing's sheer quality on the flanks was pushing us back.
I gave the 4141 a further 10 minutes...before matching Racing's 442. It's a formation I have struggled to face in FM18, and I find the best method is to fight fire with fire and mirror it. I went for a classic Big Man-Little Man partnership, with Walter Bou coming on as support Target Man. I figured we needed an outlet more centrally, somebody who could receive the ball and free up Lattanzio to make runs. It took just 4 minutes to get going, Lattanzio finding space to make it 2-3 on 59 minutes.
Then there was a great lull, I saw my 18 year old newgen left winger (Ramiro San Martíin) struggling on the final stage. So I subbed him off for left back Leonel Vangoini...and in turn pushing Álvaro Pereira forward into the ML slot. We needed crosses...but it was the other side that delivered. On minute 80 Carlo Lattanzio, as he did in the 1st half, made a great run down the right to cross for Walter Bou. It was 3-3!
It kicked started the most explosive 6 minutes of FM personally experienced. Carlos Auzqui, Zuqui's replacement showing the necessary cohones to find space and shoot. 4-3 La Plata...the tide was on our side. Four minutes later we sealed the trophy. Lattanzio the hero again, leaving Bastardo with his hands on silverware at last! 5-3 Team Bastardo.
The Twitter Thread:
From the stands:
"The nerve, the pulse, the sounds of the crowd. Unique to the most important games of South American football. It was time for the Copa Argentina final against Racing and the first chance for Bastardo’s boys to win some silverware. It looked promising when Zuqui broke the dead-lock but Racing swiftly turned the game around with three goals before half-time. I had the feeling that the half-time talk would be a tough one and when one grown man after another came out back onto the pitch with ash grey faces and shiny eyes I knew that I had been right In my assumption.
Last of all came Bastardo with fire in his eyes and his hair on end. The Estudiantes players responded superbly to the half time scolding scoring two goals to get back to even score. When Estudiantes scored the 4-3 goal I spontaneously rose from my seat screaming “Champagne all around”, but quickly sat down when my eyes met the Bastardo “Stare of Death”. I felt ashamed and became terrified I had jinxed the team and would have Bastardo haunting me forever if Racing turned it around once more.
When the 5-3 goal fell I could finally relax, and when my eyes met Bastardo’s he smiled at me and made me feel the way that only he can! I don’t know what happened to the bottle of champagne I gave to one of the Arena guards after the game with the instruction to take it to the Estudiantes dressing room, but when I fell asleep in my bed after the game I dreamt that Bastardo was standing in the shower room with the bottle in his hands, laughing crazily while spraying down Auzqui and Lattanzio, both giggling like school girls out of equal amounts of fear and joy".
2. Copa Libertadores Final [1st Leg]
Boca Juniors 3-3 Estudiantes
La Bombonera. La Boca, Buenos Aires
25 November 2020
Away goals count in every knockout Copa Libertadores stage with the exception of the Copa Libertadoes Final (Why? Because it’s CONMEBOL). It's something that encouraged Bastardo's initial pragmatism: we'd go 4141 again, structured and try to play on the counter. But as these live finals were playing out...chaos is the only option. It was 2-1 to Boca by the 14th minute. Ezequiel Schelotto & Alejandro Gomez causing Estudiantes problems on the wings. But Estudiantes were given a lifeline as Boca's Alexis Sosa brought Advanced Forward Carlo Lattanzio down who was through on goal. Maverick Centre Back Diego Polenta was tasked with the penalty, who smashed the goal and the net. It was a proper defender's penalty, the best kind!
But Estudiantes were poor throughout. Carlo Lattanzio was isolated for long stretches and Reynoso AWOL. To remedy this we went 442 (again) bringing on Target Man Walter Bou...and initially it backfired. Alejandro Gomez, Boca's best player, putting them 3-1 up. The lowest moment in the two finals so far, we looked well and truly beaten with 22 minutes still to play. A few tweaks to the mentalities of player roles and an introduction of Carlos Auzqui changed the game once more. Auzqui laying off to Carlo Lattanzio, now in the Poacher role, to stab it home. A lifeline: 3-2 to Boca.
Then boom! Walter Bou delivering a great cross during an overload counter attack for Lattanzio who made it 3-3 on 84 minutes. Young Carlo's 4th goal during the two finals. The fight would return to La Plata, all square and all to play for. 3-3 Full Time - another frantic day for Ángel Bastardo.
The Twitter thread:
From the stands:
"I witnessed a great encounter between two sides craving for continental success. Boca Juniors were dangerous on the flanks with ‘Papu’ Gomez and Ezequiel Schelotto creating lots of trouble for Estudiantes’ fullbacks. A deserved lead for Boca was eventually nullified after Ángel Bastardo switched to a 4-4-2, resulting in two late goals. A great tactical move which massively troubled Boca’s defence.
The referee should have sent off Boca's young defender, Alexis Sosa, for causing that penalty though. Red cards don’t get any clearer than that! Let’s hope it won’t hurt Estudiantes in the second leg. Overall, Estudiantes will be happy to take a 3-3 draw with them to La Plata where they can win their 5th ever Copa Libertadores title.
Vincent Guzman (@VincentGuzman_) - South American Football Analyst
3. Copa Libertadores Final [2nd Leg]
Estudiantes 3-0 Boca Juniors [6-3 on agg]
Estadio Único, La Plata
02 December 2020
Those that know me, or who have read the blog for a while, will know that I am stubborn. The 4141 had started pretty poorly in each of the previous two finals. But I was determined to keep it for the biggest game of Bastardo's professional career...after all we were at home and had been solid with it all season (those two finals aside).
But certain adjustments had to be made to counter Boca. Their strengths from the first game were certainly the flanks, so our Full Backs were more conservative. 35 year old Álvaro Pereira was told to hold his position and 36 year old Maxi Pereira's attacking instincts were restricted, he'd no longer be instructed to get further forward. I hoped their considerable experience would be enough to tame Schelotto & Gomez, who had both caused carnage against me in the 1st leg. The knock-on to this would be that we'd be less supportive to the two wide men: Jesús Medina & Fernando Zuqui. But it's the balancing act we'd have to make.
The 1st half was tight. No real chances of note, except an Estudiantes disallowed goal. Alexander Barboza adjudged to be offside when heading in from close range. But the good news was that Boca Juniors were no threat down the wings whatsoever. I always trust my boys to show some grit when going in level at on HT...and that's exactly what we did in the 2nd half. We finally saw true Bastardo-ball in action. It was glorious.
On 46 minutes Carlo Lattanzio, our Homegrown Advanced Forward, smashed a shot against the cross bar...the stars aligned and it fell to ex-Boca boy Fernando Zuqui. 1-0 Estudiantes. Then we scored a freekick straight out of the Keysi Rensie handbook: Medina, laying it off short to Lattanzio to run & cross for Augusto Fernández. The 35 year old powering his volley into the net. 2-0, the La Plata crowd were roaring.
Estudiantes’ third goal on 64 minutes was the archetypal Bastardo-ball goal. Boca’s corner breaking down, allowing Emanuel Reynoso to incisively pass to Lattanzio. There is no stopping this kid, he bleeds for Bastardo. Running the length of the entire Boca half, before laying it off to Jesús Medina. The Paraguayan made no mistake: 3-0. Estudiantes hands were on their 5th Libertadores trophy.
But there was still work to be done. We switched to the Contain Mentality, summoning the spirit of Zubeldía, Sabella and Simeone to push us through. Anti-fútbol was alive and rocking! Boca had no answer, and even when they did get a slice of fortune: a penalty on 90 minutes, there was still one man to stop them. 37 year old captain Mariano Andújar, a winner of this trophy 11 years ago in 2009. Boca’s penalty was saved, and the referee blew for full time: Estudiantes 3-0 Boca Juniors.
The Twitter Thread:
From the stands:
So, having watched the first leg and seeing Bastardo's tactical masterclass lead to a 3-3 draw after being down 3-1. Coming into the second leg of the final, essentially being 0-0 due to a lack of away goals, I was slightly nervous due to Boca's strength and their dominance in leg one, but it was clear that Bastardo was able to take the game to Boca.
An early disallowed goal (Boca trying to pay off the refs, surely), was the only real thing of note in the first half, but the second half was full of excitement. With three, well worked goals, the second being my favourite, it was clear who the dominant force of South America was: Ángel Bastardo's Estudiantes de La Plata. Los Pincharratas dominated once the second half whistle had blown, due to Bastardo's strong words at halftime, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable watch, with 3 masterclass goals, amazing tunes, and I'm happy I was able to watch it
The Future of Bastardo-ball
A few people have asked if wining the Copa Libertadores means the end of my time with Estudiantes de La Plata in FM18. It actually couldn't be further from the truth. Ángel Bastardo has finally delivered on his promises to the Board & Fans, who together can now begin working on the remaining objectives (the ones I set out in my intro post):
The 'La joya de Bastardo' aka Nico Rosales came good at FC Porto and was called up for an Argentina friendly, earning his first International Cap. Playing 17 minutes in one of the warm up matches, before being selected ahead of the 2020 Olympics squad. That ticks off (5). So now we look ahead to league titles and Club World Cups. Bastardo can only dream, and make no mistake, he's a dreamer.
Thanks in advance for reading/sharing and caring. Also massive respect to everyone who took an interest in those 3 finals, whether you stopped by for 1 min or 270 mins of those finals...it's appreciated. Or even if you just read the live tweets and enjoyed it, it's been a blast. I wouldn't expect many more streams from me in FM18, I'm only doing the 'first' finals before I win them. So the next logical destination is the Club World Cup...this month!
Until then, punch strong.
FM Grasshopper, in the guise of Ángel Bastardo.