River Plate were looking uncatchable at the top of Argentina’s Liga Profesional de Fútbol. They led rivals Boca by a massive 14 points with 16 games remaining, having already strolled to success in Copa Argentina.
The main man behind their success was attacking midfielder Alejo Zalazar, who’d scored 27 in 29 games under Lazaró. And that form was rewarded by winning South American Footballer of the Year, after 33 goals in 46 games in 2072, becoming the first River player to win the award since 2031. He was joined in South American Team of the Year by centre-back Vicente Reyes and Lazaró’s only signing at River, Biel López Vázquez won Argentine Young Player of the Year.
However, Lazaró’s plans took a hit as more European clubs showed an interest in his star players. He swiftly set a new national record sale for the second time in six months as striker Alex Garcete joined Lyon for £30 million. But, crucially, they kept hold of star man Zalazar, who informed Lazaró he wasn’t interested in moving to Real Madrid. Hero.
Lazaró already had Garcete replacements in mind without spending a penny, promoting promising 19-year-old homegrown striker Rodrigo González, along with 18-year-old Brazilian striker Cléber and 19-year-old Brazilian midfielder Alexandre.
Chasing the Argentinian title
Zalazar showed why the likes of Real were after him with an amazing four-goal haul and created the other for striker Jonathan Martínez as River won 5-0 at Estudiantes on their return from a month-long break. And Zalazar and Martínez both scored again in a 3-0 win at home to Unión.
They suffered a big blow as goalkeeper Adrián Brandán was ruled out for four weeks, but that didn’t stop them from routing Estudiantes 3-0 away led by a Zalazar brace. The winning streak ended with a 0-0 at home to Patronato, who’d climbed into second above Boca and are having a stellar season for a club that’s never finished above eighth in the top-tier! But River still went into the final 10 games with a 13-point lead.
Another chance at silverware came in a Superclásico clash in the Argentine Supercopa. River played well and twice took the lead only for Boca to respond each time. And Boca eventually claimed the trophy 4-2 on penalties.
Copa Libertadores group
River’s assault on the title also coincided with the start of Copa Libertadores. They got a group alongside Lazaró’s old foes Flamengo, Peruvians Atlético Grau and Bolivian side Blooming.
They began in style with Martínez scoring all four in a 4-0 away hammering of Blooming. The striker impressed again as his brace inspired a 2-1 win at home to Flamengo, before a much-changed side lost 1-0 in Peru. River got revenge by beating Grau 3-0 led by a Zalazar double and Alexandre scoring his first for the club but got hammered 4-0 in Brazil, leaving them level with Grau going into the final game. But they qualified easily with a 4-0 win, which saw Alexandre score again and Cléber score his first River goal.
10 games from glory
River made it one win in five games as they drew 2-2 at home to Banfield and away to Independiente, but that still kept them 11 points clear with eight games to go. That mini-wobble was arrested with a 3-0 win over Juv. Unida, with left-back Nicolás Vidal scoring and getting two assists, then a 2-0 win at Guillermo Brown, which kept them 11 points clear with six to go.
A disappointing 0-0 with Atlético Tucuman went unpunished by Boca, who drew 2-2 away. That meant River needed just four points from their final five games to become champions. And more dropped points in a 2-2 at Vélez allowed Boca to close the gap to nine points with four games remaining.
A good chance to arrest any nerves came at 11th-place Colegiales. And they duly delivered with Zalazar scoring twice in a 4-2 success. Boca also won to keep the gap at three points, but River’s far superior goal difference means the title was effectively theirs. That win took River to 99 league goals, surpassing the previous record of 96.
They became the first Argentinian team to score 100 in a season with a 4-0 thumping of Argentinos Jrs. thanks to Vázquez and Zalazar braces. That sealed River’s first title in five years and Lazaró’s 39th national title of his epic Football Manager career.
River Plate were Champions of Argentina!
The River chicos spent the week out on the streets of Buenos Aires partying with their devoted fans. But they had the small matter of being able to celebrate their title on the turf of La Bombanera as they faced Boca a week later on Lazaró’s 89th birthday. They started brightly with Zalazar scoring after just 25 seconds, but River responded two minutes later and it somehow finished 1-1.
Fittingly, the season concluded by welcoming Lazaró’s former club Newell’s Old Boys to town and that man Salazar bagging two more goals to seal a 2-1 win.
River finished the season with 95 points, only losing once, drawing eight times, scoring a ridiculous 106 and only conceding 23. They only conceded six goals at home and scored 56 in their 19 away games. Now that is total domination!
Zalazar absolutely dominated the league, scoring 38 goals, getting a league-high 16 assists and setting new league records with 16 player of the match awards and an 8.25 average rating. He is on a different level and obviously won the league’s Best Player award. While Brandán led the league with 19 clean sheets, only conceding 19 times in 33 games.
Massive credit has to go to Patronato too, who recorded the club’s best-ever finish and qualified for Copa Libertadores for the first time, despite falling from second to fourth in the final few weeks. While there were mixed fortunes for Lazaró’s former sides, with Newell’s qualifying for Copa Libertadores and Godoy getting relegated and conceding 105 goals.
Zalazar was clearly River’s main man this season, scoring an amazing 45 goals and setting new club records with 20 assists and an 8.18 average rating in 49 appearances. Martínez also impressed with 33 goals and 11 assists in 48 games and Vázquez got 10 goals and 18 assists.
Lazaró contemplated ending the epic journey there. However, he was only a few games short of the 2,500 matches milestone, one short of 40 national titles and only a year shy of managing into his 90s. So it made sense to carry on and try and repeat the feat with River, who offered him a new two-year contract at the end of the season.
Despite that decision to remain, he had major reservations about the club’s finances, which seemed to be disappearing despite his best efforts in twice breaking the national record sale!
So could Lazaró’s side repeat their heroics in 2073/74? Join us tomorrow to find out!