The silky skills of the returning Fernando Gago are pushing Boca Juniors towards another Primera title as Dario Benedetto keeps banging them in
Boca Juniors’ past, present and future were all on display in La Bombonera on Sunday evening and combined to hand Los Xeneizes a much-needed three points and restore their lead at the top of the table.
Such is the pressure of being one of Argentina’s biggest clubs, two consecutive draws constitutes something of a mini-crisis and amid injury concerns, Guillermo Barros Schelotto was desperate for a win against the Primera’s bottom club, Arsenal.
Veteran Fernando Gago was available again after yet another enforced absence and gave a performance that showed just why he was snapped up from La Bombonera all those years ago and why were it not for his fragile body, he would likely still be in Europe.
The metronomic dictator of possession when fit, Gago is of the utmost importance to Boca and while in a team of stars, like Argentina, his work goes relatively unnoticed, back in the blue and gold his role as conductor in the orchestra is clear.
The player signed at the start of the season to fire Boca to glory may not have had the most auspicious of starts as Los Xeneizes limped out of the Copa Libertadores in 2016 but Dario Benedetto is now firing on all cylinders and his brace on Sunday not only downed his former club but sent the 26-year-old clear as the league’s leading scorer.
Many questioned whether Benedetto was the right man for Boca when around $6 million was paid to Mexican giants Club America but Pipa’s determination was such that he put his own money in to force the move and has since reimbursed Boca with a goal every 96 minutes on average.
If Gago and Benedetto represent past and present, Boca were given an exciting glimpse of the future by 18-year-old Gonzalo Maroni’s first start.
Favoured over Fernando Zuqui, Nazareno Solis and Junior Benitez to fill the void left since Ricardo Centurion’s injury, Maroni dazzled with a display of such confidence and technique that belied his youthful experience.
The Cordoba-born youngster has come through the Instituto youth system like his idol Paulo Dybala but the supporters in La Bombonera would have seen shades of Juan Roman Riquelme during the first half when the teenager flicked the ball over one Arsenal defender before nutmegging the next in one movement.
Maroni marked his first start with the third goal, a finely struck volley, but looks to have all the attributes to become a favourite in La Boca and have a bright future.
Arsenal provide perhaps the weakest opposition that the Primera can offer but the victory puts Boca three points clear at the top. The next three fixtures will likely determine if Guillermo Barros Schelotto will lead the club to the title as Estudiantes, River and Newell’s lie ahead.
Newell’s lead the chasing pack
It took a deflected Nacho Scocco goal to beat Huracan on Saturday but Newell’s Old Boys just won’t go away and for 24 hours, until Boca played on Sunday, Diego Osella’s were level at the top.
There is little spectacular about La Lepra but a fifth consecutive clean sheet illustrates just how difficult they are to beat and veterans Scocco and Maxi Rodriguez have the quality to nick results at the other end.
However, the challenge of Newell’s should no longer be a surprise unlike the side now in third. Colon have set a new club record, notching up seven straight wins, conceding just once in that time and gate-crashing the title race in the process.
Not the most exciting to watch, Eduardo Dominguez deserves credit for building from the strong central defensive pairing of German Conti and Guillermo Ortiz and adding striker Diego Vera in January to provide some much-needed incisiveness.
Significant results in the relegation zone
Arsenal’s defeat to Boca was entirely expected but has left Humberto Grondona’s side in deep trouble. The Grondona family built the club but with seven defeats in eight matches, it is looking increasingly likely that Julio’s son will relegate them for the first time into the second tier.
The situationwas made worse by Temperley’s surprise victory over Racing, which not only took the Gasolero out of the bottom four and derailed La Academia’s title bid, and Quilmes’ narrow win against Talleres.
Olimpo’s damaging defeat to seemingly doomed Atletico de Rafaela, is giving the current bottom four have the look of those slipping into the Nacional B.