As the footballing world barrels toward the World Cup in Russia this summer, Argentina’s strike force seems to be hitting its stride at just the right time. Perhaps a bit quiet the last few weeks as Barcelona have settled into autopilot in the league, Lionel Messi is still as sharp as ever and is on 29 goals in 42 games in all competitions this season. But it’s Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuaín who have really stood out.
Agüero bagged four goals on Saturday in Manchester City’s league 5-1 win against Leicester City, and then scored against when City beat Basel 4-0 on Tuesday in the Champions League. Higuaín had a hat trick in Juventus’ 7-0 demolition of Sassuolo on February 4 and scored a brace in the Italian club’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham in the Champions League Tuesday night. Defenses of Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria beware.
The traditional power base of Argentine football — the commonly-known 'Big Five' clubs of Boca Juniors, River Plate, Racing Club, Independiente and San Lorenzo —doesn’t look particularly powerful right now.
Sure, Boca continue to top the league relatively comfortably. But San Lorenzo, who had the week off and still sit in third, are nine points off the pace and just weeks ago were in second. Independiente doesn’t show up until sixth place, though the points are tight. Racing’s spotty record, though they’ve won two on the bounce, puts them in 13th place and 15 points off the top.
But by far the club in the biggest rut is 34-time league winners River Plate, who are now wallowing in 19th place after a 1-0 loss to Lanús (who themselves were smashed 4-1 by Godoy Cruz in a midweek makeup game). Boca have more than twice as many points as River, and the Millonarios have lost seven times in 15 matches this season.
In contrast, Talleres de Córdoba, a club that has never won Argentina’s top division, is now the best bet for Argentines who don’t want to see a Boca repeat. With only two defeats in their last 14 league games and three clean sheets in a row (this weekend a 1-0 victory over Banfield), they’re now seven points back in second place, not an unassailable margin.
The rest of the game week saw various clubs trade blows in a league table that’s looking increasingly crowded in the middle, the most goal-filled of which was Defensa y Justicia’s 4-2 win over Chacarita Juniors. Toward the top of the heap Unión settled for a scoreless draw with Arsenal and Godoy Cruz earned six points in five days after beating Lanús in midweek and then Belgrano 2-1 on Sunday.
Lionel Messi played 90 minutes in Barcelona's (Spain, first) 0-0 tie with Getafe (11th). After consecutive draws Atlético Madrid is now only seven points behind Barcelona in second place. Barcelona’s first Champions League match of 2018 takes place on February 20 against Chelsea.
Éver Banega has a minor hamstring injury and was not in the 18 for Sevilla's (Spain, sixth) 1-0 win over Gerona (10th). But he did play 84 minutes in Sevilla’s 2-0 win over Leganés in the Copa del Rey on February 7, which sees them advance to the final where they will face Barcelona on April 21.
Sergio Agüero had perhaps his best game of the season, scoring four goals in the second half of Manchester City's (England, first) 5-1 destruction of Leicester City (eighth). He also scored in City’s 4-0 win in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 against Basel on Tuesday night.
Érik Lamela came on in the 70th minute in Tottenham's (England, fifth) 1-0 win over Arsenal (sixth). He started and played 89 minutes in Tottenham’s 2-2 draw with Juventus in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Marcos Rojo was an unused sub behind a center-back pairing of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in Manchester United’s (England, second) 1-0 loss to Newcastle United (13th). Sergio Romero was, as always, United’s backup goalkeeper.
Ángel Di María and Giovani Lo Celso both played 90 minutes in Paris Saint Germain’s (France, first) insipid 1-0 win over Lille (15th). Javier Pastore entered in the 71st minute. Paris Saint Germain face Real Madrid Wednesday night in the first leg of the two giants’ Champions League matchup.
Gonzalo Higuaín scored a late goal in Juventus' (Italy, second) 2-0 win over Fiorentina (11th). He then scored both goals in Juventus’ 2-2 draw with Tottenham . Paulo Dybala is still out with a hamstring injury.
Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Mascherano play for Hebei China Fortune (China), who begin their season in the Chinese Super League in March.