Despite a flying start to the season to suggest the Superliga title would be won at a gallop, Boca Juniors limped over the line to reclaim the crown
When Boca Juniors defeated River Plate in last November’s Superclásico, it was an eighth straight win for a perfect start to the season and the defending champions were already nine points clear at the top. The side that battled to a 2-2 draw against struggling Gimnasia on Wednesday night, was a shadow of that team but it was enough to lift the Superliga title nonetheless.
After (what will be after this weekend) 27 rounds of matches spread over nine months no one could deny that Boca are worthy champions but what had at one stage looked like being a canter would end up being something of a stumble over the finish line.
Injuries, loss of form and some suspect business in the transfer window all took their toll and while Pablo Pérez’s and Ramon Abila’s goals were enough for the point needed in La Plata, there are still questions to be asked of Argentina’s champions.
The defence creaked as it has in recent weeks and allowed a Gimnasia side that averages just over a goal a game to score twice, goalkeeper Agustín Rossi was not to be blame but will likely be replaced in the coming window and it was individuals that saved Boca in the run-in rather than any sense of cohesion.
No player more so than Cristian Pavón, whose form might just have earned him a place in Jorge Sampaoli’s World Cup squad and certainly dragged Boca to the title. The 22-year-old is destined for a big money move and after racking up more than 60 consecutive appearances became the key man for Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
Six goals and twelve assists (the most in the Superliga) were vital as Boca gradually looked increasingly to Pavón for inspiration.
Pavón’s contributions caught the eye and made headlines but Colombian Wilmar Barrios did plenty of the ugly work in defensive midfield and the pair’s consistency over the season separated them from their rivals.
Had Dario Benedetto stayed fit, the title would likely have been wrapped up weeks earlier as the 27-year-old is still Boca’s leading scorer despite suffering a serious knee injury during Boca’s first defeat of the season back in November.
Festejan Gago y Benedetto. ¡Los estamos esperando, cracks!
— Planeta Boca Juniors (@PlanetaBoca) May 10, 2018
Benedetto’s nine goals in the opening nine games saw Pipa earn a place in Jorge Sampaoli’s Argentina squad and he may well have been heading to Russia had he been fit. And the same could be said for Fernando Gago, although Boca’s midfield coped far better than they did without Benedetto.
And as for Carlos Tevez…what was supposed to be the catalyst for a resurgent Boca in the second half of the season never really clicked as Barros Schelotto failed to find the best way to utilize the player after his year-long ‘vacation’ in China.
ARGENTINOS CON MÁS TÍTULOS
🏆🏆EN LA HISTORIA🏆🏆
Lionel Messi – 33 títulos
Carlos Tévez – 26 títulos
Alfredo Di Stefano – 25 títulos
Esteban Cambiasso – 25 títulos
Lucho González – 25 títulos pic.twitter.com/l5kSSRmm1P
— Clubes Porteños (@ClubesPortenos) May 10, 2018
No longer to be used as a number by his own admission and requiring a complete reshuffle to play as a ten, Tevez was often a passenger in Boca’s team. His previous return did indeed drag Boca to the title but a few years on and the 34-year-old looked more of a hindrance at times.
Ramón Abila eventually proved his worth with goals in the two critical games against Unión and Gimnasia but for long periods, Boca cursed the absence of Benedetto.
Becoming the first side to win back-to-back titles in twelve years is an impressive achievement, admittedly made easier by the longer championship format, but with the possibility of an embarrassing first round exit in the Copa Libertadores, Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s job isn’t safe.
Another title in Boca’s illustrious history but still plenty to do before this can be considered a great team.