The Argentina Superliga goes into summer recess with Boca Juniors still the team to beat as Velez play ketchup with Heinze
The mercury continues to rise as Argentina’s unbearable summer temperatures prompt the nation’s football to take a much needed breather. It’s time for the clubs to reflect and regroup ahead of a critical second half of the season and although Boca Juniors remain the team to beat, the battle at the top and the bottom has heated up just like the weather.
The perfect start that Boca made came to an abrupt end with back-to-back defeats against Racing Club and Rosario Central but the champions have since responded well. Sunday’s hard fought win over Estudiantes was the second since those defeats and ensured more than 365 days that Boca have sat top of the pile.
The injuries to Fernando Gago and Dario Benedetto, arguably the two most important pieces in Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s plan, have understandably seen performances dip from the imperious levels set earlier in the campaign and while this has allowed the chasing pack to close, Boca remain out in front.
Gago and Benedetto will still be unavailable when the season resumes at the end of January but you can rest assured that Daniel Angelici will once more dip into the reserves to bolster the squad ahead of the Copa Libertadores. Burly centre forward Wanchope Abila is already on board and the rumours of a Carlos Tevez return continue to grow.
Boca’s riches afforded them the best squad in the league and through injuries or anything else that may occur, expect the same in 2018. However, their most likely challenge at the top of the Superliga will come from two of the other traditional ‘Big Five.’
San Lorenzo are best placed, three points behind the leaders, and following their 2-1 win away to Tigre have now rattled off four consecutive victories. Claudio Biaggio was only supposed to be an interim manager after Diego Aguirre’s slow start to the campaign and Copa Libertadores exit cost him his job.
However, seven wins from nine has seen El Pampa land the job full-time and if they were to continue their current form, Los Cuervos pose a threat.
And despite their priority being the Copa Sudamericana, Independiente may yet make a serious challenge. Their route to a first international final in seven years has seen the Superliga take a backseat but despite rotating the squad, Ariel Holan’s impressive side have beaten River Plate and Racing to end the year potentially in third, after their game in hand.
That may well be about without the talents of youngster Ezequiel Barco, who looks set for a move to Atlanta United, but there is enough to suggest that Holan is building something sturdy enough to cope with the loss of the 18-year-old.
River Plate ended the year lifting the Copa Argentina after victory over Atletico Tucuman and Racing Club defeated Gimnasia but both clubs will now be aiming to rebuild during the break after disappointing campaigns. Marcelo Gallardo will demand a shake-up in his squad while Racing will be appointing a new manager with the aim of making significant and swift improvements.
And so to the relegation battle, where Argentinos Juniors look to have eased their own fears with an splendid start back in the top flight while fellow promoted club Chacarita Juniors remain in grave danger. Los Funebreros finished the year with an impressive win over Lanus but still look destined for a swift return to the Nacional B.
Arsenal are odds-on to join them after winning only once, Temperley are scrambling for points after ending the year four unbeaten, Olimpo are on the brink and Velez, Patronato, Tigre and Huracan are all nervously looking over the shoulder.
One thing that almost all these clubs have in common in the twelve rounds of football that have passed so far, is a change in management. Fourteen of the 28 Superliga clubs have already parted ways with at least one coach and that will likely be even higher by the team, the football gets back underway.
Velez unveiling former Argentina defender Gabriel Heinze this week perhaps the most high profile and while the club find themselves in a tight spot, El Gringo looks an astute appointment to get out of trouble.
Fifteen rounds remain and the action will resume (unless there are any unforeseen setbacks) at the end of January. With so much still to play for, so many more twists yet to come, there is all to play for in 2018 in what promises to be an exciting second half of the Superliga.