We cast an eye over Argentina’s top tier ahead of this season’s kick-off, predicting the movers and shakers in what looks set to be another exciting Superliga season.
The second Superliga is now upon us. In 2017, Argentina’s top tier, the Primera División, was rebranded amid great pomp and circumstance, and here we arem, back again for another edition with 26 teams vying to emulate reigning champions Boca Juniors and take the title over the next year.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s men took the inaugural trophy back in May despite an unconvincing end to the season and will be the team to beat again after reinforcing an already formidable squad heavily over the winter. But the Xeneize will not have things their own way: from Independiente to River Plate and a host of others besides, there are plenty of other sides who will fancy their chances.
These past few months have seen a whirlwind of activity across the Superliga, with players coming and going at a frightening rate. The Times, however, is here to bring you up to speed on all the biggest moves since the last league came to an end, and venture a few predictions over how the 2018-19 campaign might pan out...
Coach: Gustavo Álvarez.
Last year: 1st in Primera B Nacional (promoted).
Key signings: Denis Stracqualursi (Tigre), Facundo Castillón (Lanús), Fernando Godoy (Talleres).
Key departures: Leandro Somoza, Sebastian Moyano (Gimnasia), Maxi Velázquez.
Player to watch: Cristian Chávez.
Superliga asado ingredient: Barbecued swordfish. As the Superliga’s only representative on the Atlantic coast this season, Aldosivi bring a pescatarian alternative to the traditional beef-fest.
Prediction: Should have enough to stay up, having returned to the Primera at the first time of asking last term.
Coach: Alfredo Berti.
Last year: 12th.
Key signings: Raúl Bobadilla (Monchengladbach), Junior Benítez (Benfica), Franco López (River).
Key departures: Lucas Barrios, Nicolás Gonzalez (Stuttgart).
Player to watch: Alexis MacAllister
Superliga asado ingredient: Rack of lamb. Everyone’s supposed favourite, but never that impressive when you try it.
Prediction: The Paternal side have everything necessary to kick on and break into the top reaches of the table.
Coach: Ricardo Zielinski.
Last year: 15th.
Key signings: Mauro Matos (Chacarita), Juan Mercier (San Lorenzo), José San Román (Newell’s).
Key departures: Augusto Batalla,
Player to watch: Luis Rodríguez
Superliga asado ingredient: Empanadas. A surprisingly effective addition to the established order.
Prediction: Anything above last year’s deadaverage season would be acceptable for the Decano.
Coach: Julio César Falcioni.
Last year: 17th.
Key signings: Nicolás Bertólo (River).
Key departures: Pablo Mouche (San Lorenzo), Erik Remedi (Atlanta Utd), Claudio Villagra (San Luis).
Player to watch: Emanuel Cecchini.
Superliga asado ingredient: Cuadril. Not always considered amongst the favourites, but often worth a try.
Prediction: The talent is there to break into the top 10.
Coach: Lucas Bernardi.
Last year: 13th.
Key signings: Gastón Gil Romero (Estudiantes), Denis Rodríguez (Newell’s).
Key departures: Cristian Lema (Benfica), Jonathan Ramis (Vélez).
Player to watch: Matias Suárez.
Superliga asado ingredient: Potato salad. Stodgy, not too exciting and always hits the mark.
Prediction: Lower mid-table.
Coach: Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
Last year: 1st.
Key signings: Mauro Zárate (Vélez), Sebastíán Villa (Tolima), Esteban Andrada (Lanús), Lucas Olaza (Talleres), Carlos Izquierdoz (Santos Laguna).
Key departures: Walter Bou (Vitoria), Guillermo Sara (Lanús), Junior Benítez (Argentinos).
Player to watch: Cristian Pavón. Having signed a fresh new contract at the Bombonera, the Argentina international’s form will once more be vital to his team. Pavón’s goals and assists are the cornerstone of the Xeneize’s play, although he should have more creative assistance this term alongside Zárate.
Superliga asado ingredient: Bife de lomo. The costliest, most-coveted cut on the grill. Can still be outperformed on a bad day, however.
Prediction: Overwhelming favourites to make it three league titles in a row.
Coach: Eduardo Domínguez.
Last year: 11th.
Key signings: Franco Zuculini (Verona), Gustavo Toledo (Independiente), Erik Godoy (Tigre).
Key departures: Alexander Domínguez (Vélez), Diego Vera (Tigre).
Player to watch: Javier Correa. Superliga asado ingredient: Salchicha parrillera. A strong starter that is usually forgotten when the real big guns get going.
Prediction: Another Sudamericana berth should be the minimum for the Sabaleros.
DEFENSA Y JUSTICIA
Coach: Sebastián Beccacece.
Last year: 9th.
Key signings: Francisco Cerro (Rayo), Lisandro Martínez (Newell’s), Marcelo Larrondo (River), Jonas Gutierrez (Independiente).
Key departures: Fernando Márquez, Fernando Elizari (Johor), Marcelo Benítez (Vitoria). Player to watch: Ciro Rius.
Superliga asado ingredient: Mollejas. The conoisseur’s asado choice, even if the masses don’t appreciate them.
Prediction: With a bit of luck, dark horses for Libertadores qualification.
Coach: Leandro Benítez.
Last year: 16th.
Key signings: Fernando Evangelista (Newell’s), Lucas Albertengo (Monterrey).
Key departures: Gastón Gil Romero (Belgrano), Leandro Desábato (retired)
Player to watch: Lucas Rodríguez.
Superliga asado ingredient: Lechón. While its bovine rivals take centre-stage, consistently challenges for top honours.
Prediction: A modest improvement on last year’s mid-table finish
Coach: Pedro Troglio .
Last year: 23rd.
Key signings: Santiago Silva (Talleres), Sebastián Moyano (Aldosivi), Víctor Ayala.
Key departures: Brahian Alemán (Al-Ettifaq), Facundo Pereyra (Apollon Limassol).
Player to watch: Víctor Ayala.
Superliga asado ingredient: Kidneys. A real minority choice but also a guilty pleasure.
Prediction: Bottom half of the table once again.
Coach: Diego Dabove.
Last year: 2nd.
Key signings: Joaquín Varela (Newell’s).
Key departures: Juan Garro (Huracán), Pol Fernández (Racing).
Player to watch: Santiago García.
Superliga asado ingredient: Red wine. Always present, and at its best can be the star of the asado.
Prediction: 2017-18’s shock runners-up have lost two key players, but with the goals of ‘El Morro’ García they can still dream of staying up there amongst the elite.
Coach: Gustavo Alfaro.
Last year: 4th.
Key signings: Carlos Auzqui, Iván Rossi (River), Juan Garro (Godoy Cruz), Saúl Salcedo (Olimpia).
Key departures: Ignacio Pussetto (Udinese), Martín Nervo (Santos Lugano)
Player to watch: Andrés Chávez.
Superliga asado ingredient: Entraña. Exquisite at best, dried out and tough at its worst.
Prediction: A repeat of fourth place may prove unrealistic, but Huracán have more than enough to stay in the top 10.
Coach: Ariel Holan.
Last year: 6th.
Key signings: Ezequiel Cerrutti (AlHilal), Pablo Hernández (Celta), Guillermo Burdisso (León), Francisco Silva (Cruz Azul), Carlos Benavidez (Defensor Sporting).
Key departures: Gustavo Toledo (Colón), Juan Manuel Martínez, Damián Albil, Jonás Gutierrez (Defensa y Justicia).
Player to watch: Maxi Meza. He might not have shined at the World Cup, but the winger is still one of the finest talents in the Superliga. Meza will once more be key for the Rojo as they fight on multiple fronts this season.
Superliga asado ingredient: Vacío. A consistent favourite that has everything it takes to come out on top.
Prediction: One of the few teams on paper who can challenge Boca for the Superliga. If the Avellaneda team can stay fit and in form there is no reason why they cannot take the title.
Coach: Ezequiel Carboni.
Last year: 21st.
Key signings: Sebastián Ribas (Patronato), Jorge Pereyra Díaz (Johor), Guillermo Sara (Boca).
Key departures: Esteban Andrada (Boca), Germán Denis, Iván Marcone (Cruz Azul), Román Martínez (Morón), Nehuén Paz (Bologna), Facundo Castillón (Aldosivi).
Player to watch: Lautaro Acosta.
Superliga asado ingredient: Chorizo. Quality can vary hugely, but it wouldn’t be an asado without them.
Prediction: Carboni has seen a lot of changes in his personnel, meaning Lanús are somewhat an unknown quantity. An improvement over last year’s 22nd place is a must, though.
NEWELL’S OLD BOYS
Coach: Omar De Felippe.
Last year: 22nd.
Key signings: Iván Píris (Monterrey), Zé Turbo (Inter), Leandro Grimi (Racing) Key departures: Denis Rodríguez (Belgrano), José San Román, Joaquín Varela (Godoy Cruz).
Player to watch: Brian Sarmiento.
Superliga asado ingredient: Chimichurri, a niche ingredient that adds a tough of spice (not, as some wags might suggest, barbecued cat).
Prediction: The only way is up for Newell’s after an awful 2017-18 season, but they might be in for another struggle.
Coach: Juan Pablo Pumpido.
Last year: 19th.
Key signings: Ezequiel Rescaldani (Atlético Nacional), Mauricio Sperduti (Banfield), Pablo Ledesma (Colón).
Key departures: Sebastián Ribas (Lanús).
Player to watch: Damián Lemos.
Superliga asado ingredient: Grilled chicken. Nobody knows why it’s there, and few would miss it if it were gone.
Prediction: Ribas’ exit will leave relegationthreatened Patronato short of firepower, a big loss for the relegation battle that looks on the cards.
Coach: Eduardo Coudet.
Last year: 7th.
Key signings: Gustavo Bou (Tijuana), Gabriel Arias (La Calera), Marcelo Díaz (Pumas), Eugenio Mena (Bahía), Jonatan Cristaldo (Vélez), Mauricio Martínez (Central).
Key departures: Lautaro Martínez (Inter), Juan Musso (Udinese), Miguel Barbieri (Central), Diego González (Tijuana), Enrique Triverio (Toluca), Marcelo Meli (Vitoria).
Player to watch: Ricardo Centurión. ‘Ricky’ will have a big point to prove this season after being overlooked at the last minute for Argentina’s World Cup squad. The winger is quick, talented and unpredictable, a heady cocktail that makes him such a tough player to stop.
Superliga asado ingredient: Bondiola. At its best, a spectacular meat – but a disaster if left untended.
Prediction: Coudet’s Racing were one of the most exciting teams to watch during the first six months of 2018, although La Academia went off the boil somewhat in the final weeks after making such a great start to the year. If they can keep up that rhythm, a Libertadores spot is attainable.
Coach: Marcelo Gallardo.
Last year: 8th.
Key signings: None.
Key departures: Marcelo Saracchi (RB Leipzig), Ariel Rojas (San Lorenzo), Carlos Auzqui (Huracán).
Player to watch: Lucas Martínez Quarta. At 22, the defender has what it takes to marshal River’s backline, and he should take a starring role this term with both Jonathan Maidana and Javier Pinola edging toward the end of the line. It is a lot of responsibility on such young shoulders, but Martínez Quarta has so far looked up to the challenge.
Superliga asado ingredient: Bife de chorizo. Not quite as expensive as lomo but still a very solid upper-end cut.
Prediction: The lack of transfer activity at the Monumental might be troubling for River fans, but the club will be disappointed by anything less than Copa Libertadores qualification.
Coach: Edgardo Bauza.
Last year: 20th.
Key signings: Miguel Barbieri (Racing), Matias Caruzzo (San Lorenzo), Gonzalo Bettini (Banfield)
Key departures: Paulo Ferrari (retired), Mauricio Martinez (Racing), Fernando Tobio (Palmeiras), Pablo Becker (Antofogasta).
Player to watch: Andrés Lioi.
Superliga asado ingredient: Provoleta. Great in limited doses, although too much can soon become greasy and sickly.
Prediction: Boosted by the return of Canalla idol Bauza on the bench, Central must hope for a better season. A top 10 finish is possible after a series of intelligent deals during the winter, too.
Coach: Claudio Biaggio.
Last year: 3rd.
Key signings: Ariel Rojas (River), Pablo Mouche (Lanús).
Key departures: Juan Mercier (Atlético Tucumán), Matías Caruzzo (Central), Marcos Angeleri (Nacional), Leandro Romagnoli (retired).
Player to watch: Nicolás Blandi. The ungainly forward is not much to look at, but nobody can argue with his effectiveness in front of goal. With goals in short supply around Bajo Flores the ex-Boca man will be more important than ever.
Superliga asado ingredient: Chinchulines. Great on paper, often rubbery and a soggy disappointment in practice. Prediction: The Cuervo are infuriatingly difficult to analyse, with solid performances invariably followed by shocking plateaus of indifferent form. A Copa Sudamericana spot, however, is the least Biaggio’s men should aim for.
SAN MARTÍN DE SAN JUAN
Coach: Walter Coyette.
Last year: 18th.
Key signings: Nazareno Solís, Franco Cristaldo (Boca), Gonzalo Castillejos (Apollon Smyrnis), Diego Cardozo (Atlante).
Key departures: Matias Escudero, Leandro Vega, Joaquín Molina
Player to watch: Nazareno Solís.
Superliga asado ingredient: Chicken al verdeo. Slightly more exciting than plain chicken, but still nothing to get the heart racing.
Prediction: Starting in one of the four relegation spots, it would take a brave man to bet against the drop.
SAN MARTÍN DE TUCUMÁN
Coach: Rubén Forestello.
Last year: 3rd in Primera B Nacional (promoted via play-off).
Key signings: Álvaro Fernández (San Martín SJ), Rodrigo Moreira (Independiente), Matías Cahais (Olimpo).
Key departures: Ismael Benegas (Guaraní), Juan Galeano (Aldosivi), Walter Busse Player to watch: Claudio Bieler. Superliga asado ingredient: Lemon. Offers little on its own, but could prove to be a great companion in the Superliga – particularly with a classic Tucumán empanada.
Prediction: San Martín’s first Primera campaign since 2009 promises to be extremely difficult, with survival the only priority.
Coach: Juan Pablo Vovojda.
Last year: 5th.
Key signings: Gonzalo Maroni, Tomás Pochettino (Boca), Brian Montenegro (Olimpia), Andrés Cubas (Defensa y Justicia).
Key departures: Santiago Silva (Gimnasia), Matías Pisano, Lucas Olaza (Boca)
Player to watch: Pablo Guiñazú.
Superliga asado ingredient: Fernet. Improves an asado tenfold with its mere presence, and a Córdoba classic. Prediction: Another Libertadores finish would be a shock, but Talleres must aspire to at least the top 10.
Coach: Cristian Ledesma.
Last year: 24th.
Key signings: Diego Vera (Colón), Lucas Rodríguez (Veracruz), Jorge Ortiz (Belgrano).
Key departures: Claudio Spinelli (Genoa), Denis Stracqualursi, Erik Godoy (Colón). Player to watch: Diego Morales.
Superliga asado ingredient: Coca Cola. Always on the table, barely raises an eyebrow – until it’s gone.
Prediction: Another tough season in store, with a relegation battle on the cards.
Coach: Leonardo Madelón.
Last year: 10th.
Key signings: Nelson Acevedo (Racing), Matías García (San Lorenzo), Claudio Corvalán (Arsenal).
Key departures: Leonardo Sánchez (Aldosivi).
Player to watch: Franco Soldano.
Superliga asado ingredient: Asado. One of the most humble cuts on the table, but one of the most effective performers overall.
Prediction: Hard-pressed to emulate last year’s success, but a top-half finish is feasible.
Coach: Gabriel Heinze.
Last year: 14th.
Key signings: Alexander Domínguez (Colón), Jonathan Ramis (Belgrano), Gastón Giménez (Estudiantes).
Key departures: Mauro Zárate (Boca), Santiago Cáseres (Villarreal), Jonathan Cristaldo (Racing).
Player to watch: Matías Vargas.
Superliga asado ingredient: Morcilla. Definitely an acquired taste, not unlike Vélez’s abrasive trainer.
Prediction: Mid-table at best.