The champion with River that stopped Messi in the Champions

A picture. A replica, somehow, of two other snapshots in JPG. One, from December 2015, in a River-Barcelona. Another, from November 2016, of a Argentina-Colombia. Éder Álvarez Balanta achieved, in the third, a kind of defeat: he again marked Lionel Messi in an official match.

His team, Bruges, achieved an important 1-1 in their debut in the UEFA Champions League. And, thus, he left behind the two 0-3 of his record against the Flea.

At the age of 28, the defender who emerged from River’s Inferiores was a starter in the Belgian cast who as a local managed to tactically tie down the dream team -or l’équipe de rêve, in French- of Mauricio Pochettino. Although those who lost track of him since his exodus from Argentine football were surprised by playing the role of midfielder.

Balanta, against Messi in the 3-0 win over Colombia, on 11/15/16 (AP).

The transformation

Balanta arrived in Bruges in September 2019 -he had just renewed until June 2024- in exchange for € 2.4 million euros from Basel, his first post-River European stopover (he paid 3.5 million in 2016) and where he began to gradually become a midfielder. It was in Switzerland -88 PJ, five goals, three titles- where Marcel Koller tested him as a midfielder on the left, taking him out of his comfort zone, the defense.

However, the jump to Belgium ended up molding him as a member of the medullary, although in a different position: that of pivot. That is to say, of positional number 5, with a clear exit below but without losing fajina. There Philippe Clement stopped him against PSG.

Balanta, against Messi at the Club World Cup 2015.

Balanta, against Messi at the Club World Cup 2015.

In the confrontation with the French, Balanta contributed six recoveries, a clear, a punt and an interception. And he achieved what Clement wanted: to cut the PSG game away from the Mignolet zone. He even did it by resorting to fouls (he committed five, a yellow for foul to Neymar). The strategy worked. Neither Messi nor Neymar played comfortable trying to circumvent the Bogotá-born defender.

Balanta even managed to steal balls from both of them, nurturing their statistics in what was the debut as the starter of the captain of the National Team in his new club. A very brave match precisely because of the performance of its tactical sticker.

It is not surprising that Balanta has managed to easily fit into the role of 5: a few months ago, in dialogue with How You Go, the defender told that one of his confidants in the River squad in the pre-Gallardo era was Lobo Ledesma. “He told me that I should enjoy football because it happens very quickly, today at 28 I realize what he wanted to tell me.”

Eder Alvarez Balanta, at Basel.

Eder Alvarez Balanta, at Basel.

Nevertheless, Libra It was part of the MG cycle: he played 41 games, scored a goal and gave an assist (13 yellows, one expulsion) before emigrating. “Gallardo incorporated the theme of intensity as a player into my career, it is something that stayed with me when I was with him and I apply it to my career. He is always in all the details ”, he said a while ago.

With five titles in River, his plan is at some point to return to the institution. For now, he is based in Belgium. And at the Champions level.

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