If the proverbial Martian swooped down on a visit and asked what was going on with Boca Juniors, one might have a tough time explaining exactly what the current crisis is all about.
On the surface, all should be in more or less working order: the club is well on course to qualify for the play-offs in the Copa Liga Profesional, has lost just one game in 11, recovered from an inauspicious start in the Libertadores to get their campaign back on track and, as a bonus, pulled off a win in the Monumental against none other than their sworn adversaries River Plate.
Last month's Superclásico now feels like a lifetime ago, however. Four consecutive domestic draws since downing the Millonario mean that the elation generated from that triumph has all but evaporated, ramping up the pressure on rookie coach Sebastián Battaglia after barely six months in the post.
“I have the strength to go on, always,” Battaglia told reporters who had swarmed outside Boca's training complex in Ezeiza on Thursday, having sensed the possibility of coaching bloodshed. “I trust the players, I trust the squad, I am strong enough to go on.”
Ultimately he was lended a stay of execution by Juan Román Riquelme and the rest of the Xeneize board, who will no doubt be watching closely again on Saturday as Boca travel up to Santiago del Estero to take on Central Córdoba.
Results themselves do not appear to be at the core of Boca's malaise. Football teams do lose, after all, every now and then, with the apparent exception of Fernando Gago's Racing Club. River fell midweek in a tepid defeat to lowly Talleres, admittedly having rested several first-teamers for the intense activity to come. But in the Xeneize's case it seems to be a case of lacking both style and substance as the wheels have come off in recent weeks.
The second half of Wednesday's draw with Godoy Cruz was one of the worst in recent memory at the Bombonera. Boca were lost on the pitch and thoroughly outplayed in front of their own fans as the Mendoza team, who themselves have managed just two wins all year, almost doubled their shots tally. If it were not for veteran goalkeeper Javier García – the tracksuit bottom-wearing dervish who came up with save after save, including an incredible late double-stop – to keep the Tomba at bay, it could have been even worse for the home team. As the game wound to a close an ominous message sounded from the terraces: “Let's see, let's, if the players can hear, with Boca's shirt, it's win or die.”
Battaglia and his charges, then, may well be relieved to be hitting the road to Santiago this weekend, over a thousand kilometres from the pressure cooker of La Boca. A win would leave them one step from securing qualification to the next stage of the Copa, and do much to ease the tensions that have arisen following the euphoria in the Monumental.
But the outlook is nonetheless far from rosy for the Xeneize, and unless a real, sustained improvement both in results and performances is forthcoming Riquelme's hand may be forced into making yet another coaching change at a pivotal point in the season.