A big thank you to Jack Tilghman for being kind of enough to write a great preview of the Argentina Superliga! Make sure to give him a follow over at Twitter @JackTilghman.
It will be a strange league season in Argentina. It could very well be the worst season in recent memory. The whole fixture list features a paltry 25 games. That’s right, from August to April, just 25 matches. There will be league football in Argentina in fewer than half the weekends of the year. There will be only one Superclasico (played in La Bombonera in Round 6). In fact, there will only be one match for all the biggest derbies from Avellaneda, to Rosario, Cordoba, and the wine region at the foot of the Andes. Yet for some reason, despite the increasingly horrible format and few matches, Argentine football seems to always produce drama that few countries could only dream of.
As the 2018-19 Superliga Argentina gets started this weekend, it is hard to see any favorite other than two time defending champions Boca Juniors, who look to win three straight titles for the first time in their history, or tricampeonato, as it’s known in Argentina. Although Boca won the league by just two points over Godoy Cruz, los Xeneizes cruised for most of the last part of the tournament after running out to such a commanding lead after the first half of the season.
All the big names are back for Boca, with the exception of Colombian leftback Frank FABRA, who tore his cruciate knee ligaments during his country’s World Cup training camp, and there are also plenty of reinforcements. Uruguayan Lucas OLAZA has come in from Talleres amidst much controversy. The league expanded its foreigner limit from six to seven, which in the opinion of many in the media and other clubs was a direct way to favor Boca, but regardless of the contentious manner of his arrival, OLAZA will be a more than adequate replacement for the injured FABRA.
OLAZA’s arrival was not the only Boca signing that caused an uproar in the Argentine media, as Mauro ZARATE’s move from Velez was even more scandalous. The former Argentina Under 20 International was on loan at his boyhood club from English club Watford last season and was close to making a permanent move to the Liniers based side stating that Velez was the only club in Argentina he’d ever pay for. Yet, at the last minute, Boca made an offer, and ZARATE decided to put on the yellow and blue jersey. Rumors circulated the Boca president Daniel ANGELICI had offered ZARATE a spot in the national team to intice him to switch sides, but much like OLAZA, regardless of how or why, ZARATE is a new Boca player, and a cracking addition at that. His good preseason and Copa Argetnina form have already pushed club icon Carlos TEVEZ to the bench.
Another brilliant signing is young Colombian Sebastian VILLA, who has shown great form in preseason and Boca’s Copa Argentina match, and is already pushing his countryman Edwin CARDONA for a spot in the starting line up. Goalkeeper Esteban ANDRADA has also moved over from Lanus in a last minute deal. The 27 year old former Argentina under 20 international will be a vast improvement over Agustin ROSSI, who has struggled since inheriting the number one jersey, despite winning the league title.
Boca will also be bolstered by being able to hold on to Cristian PAVON. Despite not performing up to his potential in the World Cup, the 22 year old was arguably Boca’s key man last season. Another World Cup player, Wilmar BARRIOS of Colombia, has also stayed as the anchor in midfield. Dario BENEDETTO is close to returning to injury and will be a key man to the already loaded attacking with ZARATE and Ramon “Wanchope” ABILA.
If a challenge is to come, one of the most likely candidates is always going to be Boca’s eternal rival: River Plate. Although River finished in just 8th place, a good 13 points behind their hated cross town rivals, they did beat Boca in the Supercopa Argentina and haven’t lost since February. In particular, River’s form turned with the arrival of Franco ARMANI last January. The former Atletico Nacional man’s form was so impressive he ended up starting for Argentina in the World Cup in Russia.
While Boca has been very busy in the transfer market, River has not brought in any major signings, but they have kept their squad intact. The front three of Lucas PRATTO, Igancio SCOCCO, and Gonzalo MARTINEZ is arguably the best in the league, while playmaker Juan Fernando QUINTERO was Colombia’s key man at the Word Cup, scoring what FIFA rated as the second best goal of the tournament, and providing two assists. One big questions mark surround River however will be coach Marcelo GALLARDO. Since taking over in June 2014, GALLARDO has a very poor record in league play, often prioritizing cup competitions. If he has mastered the art of squad rotations, River could win its first league title since 2014.
Mendoza side Godoy Cruz will also like their chances of challenging Boca after taking them to the wire last season, but with Copa Libertadores football coming up in February, one worries about how the Bodeguero’s squad will hold up. Star striker and captain Sebastián el “Morro” GARCIA, the league’s reigning top scorer, is back, as is top performer at rightback Luciano ABACASIS, but midfielder Pol FERNANDEZ has left for Racing.
The other big clubs will also strive to steal Boca’s crown, but like River and Godoy Cruz, depth will be an issue. Racing and Independiente with both be fully focused on the Libertadores during the first part of the season, with Racing taking on River, while Independiente take on Santos. Should either progress, their focus could shift completely to the Libertadores, as neither of the Avellaneda giants have two top players per position as Boca does.
Racing will lament the loss of youngster Lautaro MARTINEZ, who is already making big waves in Italy with Inter, but welcome back the hero of their last league title in 2014: Gustavo BOU. Coach Eduardo “Cacho” COUDET has impressed early in his tenure, and with Bou teaming up with his friend Ricardo CENTURION, who returned to the club in January after spells with Boca and Genoa, Racing will be a force to be reckoned with going forward.
Independiente have coach in Ariel HOLAN who, like COUDET, believes in attacking, possession based football. Striker Silvio ROMERO will be confident after his goal gave el Rojo the Suruga Bank trophy early Wednesday morning in Japan.
Both Rosario clubs will look to improve greatly, as Rosario Central and Newell’s finished 20th and 21st respectively. Central, on paper, has the stronger squad with Paraguayan midfielder Nestor ORTIGOZA pulling the strings and proving the bullets for Marco RUBEN, who looks to be staying at the club after much speculation. Franco ZAMPERDI will look to improve after his period of adaptation last season following his move from Atletico Tucuman, despite interest from various Buenos Aires based clubs. Newell’s will be anchored by veteran goalkeeper Luciano POCRNJIC and will hope that Portuguese born, Santomean international Luis LEAL provides the goals after finding the target last week in the Copa Argentina.
All in all, despite the strange format, it promises to be another topsy-turvy season in Argentine football, where sure enough many of the game’s future stars will by playing their trade.
Once more, a thank you to Jack and make sure to give him a follow.