Gustavo Bou lights up early rounds of Copa Libertadores with plenty of goals

No one scored more than five goals in last year's Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League. This year, after just two games, one player already has six.

Gustavo Bou of Argentina's Racing has started off the competition with back-to-back hat tricks, first away to Deportivo Tachira of Venezuela and then at home to Guarani of Paraguay. He could already have more, too; he rattled the post in Venezuela and mis-kicked his shot when clean through against the keeper on Tuesday night in Avellaneda, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

It's true that the standard of opposition will get tougher through the competition, but neither of Racing's opening rivals were complete mugs; Tachira had already eliminated Paraguay's Cerro Porteno in the qualifying round and should theoretically have enjoyed a physical advantage. Guarani, meanwhile, have plenty of old-style Paraguayan resilience, and briefly threatened a comeback at 2-1. In the end they succumbed by a 4-1 margin, and Tachira went down at home by the astonishing scoreline of 5-0. It means that in two games, Racing have scored nine times: Bou has six of them and helped lay on two of the others. It is, by any standards, a highly impressive start to the campaign.

A few months ago, the idea of Bou the hero would have stretched all credibility. His is a classic case of a player toiling away for years before becoming an overnight sensation. Now 25, Bou came up the youth ranks at Buenos Aires giants River Plate, hinting at teenage promise without being able to deliver on a consistent basis. He spent a season on loan to Olimpo of Bahia Blanca, a club to the south of the capital that yo-yos between the first and second divisions. There was another loan spell to LDU in Ecuador, and then another back to Argentina with Gimnasia of La Plata, where in the first half of last year he managed just one goal in 13 games.

There was some controversy, then, when Racing signed him in the middle of the year. Why pay good money for a perennial disappointment? Coach Diego Cocca was keen, but malicious tongues wagged: Cocca and Bou shared the same agent. By the end of the season, though, there was no room for doubt. Racing won the title, and Bou was their top scorer.

He was a slow burner, though. Bou didn't score until the eighth of the 19 rounds, when the absence of veteran centre-forward Diego Milito gave him a first team opportunity. After that, though, it was all about the Milito-Bou combination, who clicked to form one of the most potent partnerships in the contemporary South American game.

Milito, such a success at Inter Milan, provides the touch and technique, the vision and experience. Built like a boxer, Bou is all power and thrust. The pair benefited from a change of approach in the course of Racing's championship winning season. Diego Cocca is heavily influenced by Marcelo Bielsa; he even took over with the intention of relentlessly pressing the opponents in their half of the field. During the season, though, he became more flexible. When he dropped the team deeper and looked to break on the counter, it meant there was more space for Milito and Bou to work their magic. And so it has proved in the early stages of the Libertadores.

In front of their own fans in San Cristobal, Tachira went into the game full of confidence. They pushed forward, and their 4-2-2-2 system left plenty of vulnerable space down the flanks, which the Racing strike pair happily occupied. Guarani, naturally more cautious, put up stern resistance until Milito's ability on the turn carved out a chance for Bou which, with the help of a mistake by the goalkeeper, put Racing ahead just before the interval.

Future opponents have been warned -- they will surely aim to close down space and interrupt the circuit between Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou, the pair who have provided the outstanding spectacle in the opening days of the 2015 Copa Libertadores.