If Gallardo has most commonly favoured variations of 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations, the features that most consistently define his teams are the extent to which they prioritise possession, build up from the back and offer changes of pace to swiftly launch attacks. He encourages short, precise passes from defence and a gradual build through the thirds until a suitable attacking position is reached, but in a relatively short coaching career he has also demonstrated an admirable degree of flexibility.
In his first year at River Plate, he regularly organised his team into a 4-3-1-2 or 4-4-2 that was built on its defence; in 2015 that was followed by a more consistent 4-4-2 that involved a higher line, width, and their defenders guarding against counter-attacks. Later still, when Ramiro Funes Mori and Matías Kranevitter were sold – Gallardo’s recruitment has so far proved sound – and Iván Alonso, Andrés D’Alessandro and Ignacio Fernández were signed, the 4-2-3-1 they were attacking with evolved into a 4-2-2-2.
His team, strengthened by Enzo Pérez, Germán Lux and Javier Pinola, showed increased width in 2017, when they again used a 4-3-2-1, a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2, and was also potent on the counter. More recently, the presence of Franco Armani, Juan Fernando Quintero and Lucas Pratto led to an increased focus on possession and counter-pressing, and contributed to them eventually winning the Copa Libertadores in 2018.
When River are defending, Gallardo instructs his players to press in advanced territory, and to make quick recovery runs to regain their defensive shape following losses of possession. If this has essentially been consistent during his time there, their exact defensive system is, similarly, determined by those at his disposal, but without sacrificing their ability to protect the central areas of the pitch, often by offering increased numbers there (below, against Boca Juniors).