The format and title of Argentina’s footballing reboot might have spelt changes for the game, but the same two teams will be battling to win the Superliga
Argentine football returns on Friday evening as Vélez Sarsfield visit Tigre and for all intents and purposes things may seem exactly the same as last season. However, the Argentine Football Association’s (AFA) rebranding and plans to reduce the number of top flight teams is already underway meaning last year’s hideous 30-team Primera is now the ever-so more palatable 28-team Superliga.
In an economic breakaway, similar to that of the Premier League or LaLiga, Argentina now has its own Superliga but aside from an increase in money (particularly to the grandes) there is little noticeable difference.
Kicking off this weekend, the 28 top flight Superliga clubs will play each other once and once only, scrapping last season’s slightly controversial Fecha de Clasicos, in which the only fixture to be played home and away was each team’s corresponding derby.
From Friday, the Superliga runs through until the midseason break in December, resuming again at the end of February before crowing a new champion in May 2018.
And who might that champion be?
When Juan Roman Riquelme speaks, Argentina listens and last season as his former club Boca were edging towards the title, the mercurial number ten said with the change in format to one year-long league season (rather than the two short tournaments Argentina has had almost exclusively since 1990) – “we’ll have to get used to Boca and River always winning.”
The Superliga has made that even more likely given the structure of payments from the league are weighted so that Argentina’s most famous rivalry get the lion’s share.
Certainly Boca and River start the season with the two most impressive squads and with two good young managers in charge, a fierce head-to-head looks likely.
Lifting the Primera title was more or less the minimum requirement for Guillermo Barros Schelotto last season and the expectation of Boca’s defence is no less demanding. Having kept the core of the side together with the additions of centre back Paolo Goltz, lightening quick winger Cristian Espinoza, Uruguayan talent Nahitan Nandez and exciting playmaker Edwin Cardona, Boca remain a formidable force.
Last season’s leading scorer Dario Benedetto signed a new deal, complete with hefty buy-out clause and in Fernando Gago, Los Xeneizes still have perhaps the best midfielder in the league when fit.
— Boca Jrs. Oficial (@BocaJrsOficial) August 24, 2017
River, meanwhile, came up short in the title race last season, as Copa Libertadores commitments took priority and despite losing Sebastian Driussi to Zenit St Petersburg, Los Millonarios have reinforced well.
Enzo Perez, Javier Pinola, Germán Lux and Ignacio Scocco bring unquestionable quality and a wealth of experience, Alexander Barboza returns from loan as one of the league’s top central defenders and in Nicolas de la Cruz and Rafael Santos Borre, River have two outstanding, young talents.
Any team that manages to finish above Boca and River will likely be champions.
The chasing pack
The Superliga’s pyramidical economic structure benefits the rest of Argentina’s grandes next and outside the top two, any other possible challenge will perhaps come from here.
San Lorenzo still need to resolve the defensive issues that have plagued Diego Aguirre’s side but have made some intriguing signings in the window and are capable of beating anyone on their day, just like the two Avellaneda giants.
Racing have lost Gustavo Bou and Marcos Acuna but in Lautaro Martinez have one of Argentina’s brightest attacking talents and have obviously addressed areas of defensive fragility in the transfer market while Independiente are perhaps weakened by the sale of Emiliano Rigoni but under attack-minded coach Ariel Holan remain a threat.
Newell’s Old Boys and Banfield look likely to struggle in reproducing the relative successes of last season while Estudiantes and Lanus have little outside their starting eleven to compete with the favourites over the course of a long season.
Training in good mood ? pic.twitter.com/VxXLuKVCSU
— Newell's Old Boys (@CANOBoficial_en) August 22, 2017
And who is for the drop?
Given the task of reducing the number of clubs in the top flight, this season is exactly the same as last, with four of the 28 set for the drop to be replaced by two from the Nacional B.
The promedios (average points per game) system remains to decide the identity of those four and obviously the two promoted clubs, Argentinos Juniors and Chacarita Juniors are among those in danger. The elation of securing promotion could be short-lived and certainly both clubs could have had better windows.
Los Bichos lost manager Gabriel Heinze and a couple of vital first team players while Chacarita saw goal-machine Rodrigo Salinas depart for Saudi Arabia.
Battling with them at the foot of the promedios table will be the usual suspects – Arsenal, Temperley, Olimpo and Patronato. While two of Argentina’s bigger clubs Huracan and Velez will be aiming for strong seasons to avoid being sucked in.