It’s ‘Carlos who?’ for an unstoppable Boca Juniors as the Argentinean Primera returns after rest, recuperation and huge rows over money
Boca Juniors show no sign of missing Tevez
There was certainly plenty of scope for Boca Juniors to hit the skids as the second half of the Primera season resumed this weekend. Talisman Carlos Tevez is now in China, Guillermo Barros Schelotto had selection headaches and a trip to the Estadio Florencio Sola, where Banfield were unbeaten and had already ended Estudiantes’ unbeaten record, meant victory was far from a foregone conclusion for the league leaders.
Any such scepticism proved misplaced as Barros Schelotto’s decisions were vindicated and Boca ran out 2-0 winners extending their winning streak to five and ensuring the three-point lead at the top remains intact.
It was far from flawless and adjusting to life post-Tevez will take time but the two selection dilemmas were judged perfectly; Dario Benedetto got the nod over Walter Bou and scored both goals taking his Primera tally to nine and his strike rate to an impressive goal every 72 minutes while Agustin Rossi made his debut in goal reacting superbly to deny Banfield on more than one occasion.
Boca’s weekend got better as rivals faltered
Less than a month before the first half of the season drew to a close it looked for all the world as though Estudiantes would be ending the year on top. Defeat to Banfield triggered a run of three defeats in four and that unwanted streak continued on Friday evening as El Pincha lost even more ground on Boca after a trip to Velez yielded no points.
Both defences appeared still on their holidays for much of the entertaining clash but a real howler from youngster Ivan Gomez gifted Mariano Pavone a last-minute winner and handed Velez a vital three points in their effort to stave off relegation.
And Newell’s Old Boys also lost ground as they fell victim to Defensa y Justicia’s remarkable upturn in form since Sebastian Beccacese took over. The former assistant to Jorge Sampaoli took over El Halcon with just one win all season but they have now rattled off four in a row after the impressive Alexander Barboza’s winning header on Saturday.
After Libertadores humiliation, San Lorenzo keep pace
A four-nil defeat to Flamengo in midweek added a little extra pressure on Diego Aguirre’s San Lorenzo side but thanks to improved first-half performance, goals from Paulo Diaz and Nestor Ortigoza were enough to see off Belgrano.
The visitors did pull one back but Los Cuervos held on for the points and ensured at least one side didn’t lose ground on Boca. After the high-profile departures of Emmanuel Mas, Sebastian Blanco and Martin Cauteruccio, Diego Aguirre must at least resolve San Lorenzo’s defensive frailties if a title challenge is to be maintained.
River’s focus may be solely on Libertadores
Sunday evening provided further reason for Boca cheer as River Plate toiled at home to a well-drilled Union and could only muster a point leaving Marcelo Gallardo’s side now a possibly insurmountable eleven points adrift of the top.
On Wednesday, River begin their Copa Libertadores campaign and winning back the title they lifted in 2015 will be the main focus now but Gallardo will be a little concerned with how his side are performing and for how long this slump has gone on. The Copa Argentina victory and moments of individual brilliance from the likes of Lucas Alario or Sebastian Driussi aside, Los Millonarios are yet to truly recover from the dismantling of the side that lifted the Libertadores.
Could Racing provide a late charge?
Perhaps the performance of the weekend came in Avellaneda where Racing made light work of Transition champions Lanus and cruised to a 3-0 win. Gustavo Bou was in fine form with a goal and two assists, setting up Argentina under-20 international Lautaro Martinez and Marcos Acuna, but there is some way to go before claiming La Academia are back.
Even under Ricardo Zielinski during the first half of the season, when Racing rarely found their groove, the record in the Cilindro was good and most notably of all on Sunday, was it was against a second-string Lanus side.
Despite resuming the season only five points off the top, El Granate’s midweek defeat in their Copa Libertadores opener meant Jorge Almiron held back his first choice eleven for an important clash with Chapecoense on Thursday.
Diego Cocca won the title in 2014 and has brought some optimism back to Avellaneda but the ten-point gap to Boca could be a step too far.