Marcelo Gallardo has used a variety of systems, finding ways to adapt and keep his opponents guessing but the key attacking patterns are always visible and that's to create superiorities. River Plate's attacking shape resembles a 2-3-5 mostly, or a 3-2-5.
Gallardo looks to dominate the central areas which is where they create their overloads, high and central, with only the wingers giving the side width. To create depth and play centrally, they'll look to recycle the ball and invite the opposition to press looking to create gaps to play line-breaking passes and get in-between the lines.
Not only do they look to play narrow, but they are also very horizontally compact which helps the side prevent counter-attackers when losing the ball. The attacking pro is that the team can create numerical superiorities that forces the opposition to react and allows Gallardo's men to retain the possession well. And of course, with a heavy focus in the central areas, the opposition often give up their flanks leaving Gallardo's full-backs free in space and the opportunity for the ball to played inside and then out to the free full-back. They'd then be able to put the ball into the box where River Plate always put numbers inside the box. When Gallardo’s team plays the ball into a favourable numeric or positional superiority, they relentlessly attack it. When defending, Gallardo will set his team out in a high press. One of the most common themes witnessed was that he asked his four highest players to be ready to pressure by funnelling play out wide. But when you look at their positioning relative to the opposition, the first priorities are to take away the two central midfielders while also positioning the midfielders and forwards to coordinate first defender pressure on the outside-backs should one of them get the ball.
In the Argentine Premier Division, River led the PPDA table allowing just 6.62 passes before a defensive action but they also have the highest challenge intensity which measures how many defensive actions (defensive duels, loose ball duels, interceptions, tackles) a team is doing per minute of opponent ball possession. This reflects how often the team is actively trying to recover the ball when the opponent is in possession "Excellent structure in possession and an aggressive counterpress do the majority of the work. When Gallardo’s side defends in open play, their structure and ability to keep the field compact, funnelling play into pressing traps, which led to an exceptional season."
Strengths of 4-1-3-2
Anchorman shielding the back four.
The shape promotes numerical superiority in central areas.
The two wide central midfielders can help protect the full-backs.
A number 10 links midfield to attack. Operates in Zone 14.
Against 4 at the back formations, the two strikers can go 1v1 with central defenders.