After a series of eye-catching arrivals and with just 15 games left of the Superliga the competition is wide open. League-leaders Boca will have to pick themselves up right from the off if they wish to defend the title.
The midsummer sun may still be beating down on the streets of Buenos Aires, but there is no more rest for Argentina’s footballers. The Primera División is back in action, part of a hectic six months for football that will culminate in the entire country nervously watching events in Russia as the Albiceleste compete for the World Cup.
That competition has forced the Primera to cut short its habitual summer break in order to complete the second half of the Superliga. Boca Juniors, River Plate and the rest of the league’s big-hitters, however, have been far from idle over the holidays, wheeling and dealing in the transfer market and fighting, with differing fortunes, in the traditional summer friendly tournaments. Now, with all the country’s top clubs back in action this weekend in the first Superliga round of 2018, the Times takes a look at what the holidays have meant for each of the main challengers.
TOP OF THE TABLE
Boca, top of the table going into the recess, have had perhaps the toughest summer of all Argentina’s major clubs. The return of Carlos Tevez after the striker’s awful 12-month “holiday” (as he himself dubbed it) in China and a host of other notable transfers have been overshadowed by extremely disappointing friendly results, capped by a 1-0 defeat to River in Sunday’s Superclásico clash in Mar del Plata. Worse, three Xeneize players have faced accusations of sexual assault and threatening behaviour following an incident in Buenos Aires’ swanky Hotel Faena.
The charges against Colombian duo Edwin Cardona and Wilmer Barrios appear to have been dropped in exchange for a hefty pay-off, but it is a black mark against the club nonetheless and has created an atmosphere of uncertainty at odds with their three point lead at the Superliga summit.
Following closely behind, San Lorenzo’s summer has been comparatively plain sailing. With no big deals in or out of Bajo Flores coach Claudio Biaggio is betting on the same group of players that made such a strong finish to 2017, winning six out of their last seven Superliga outings to give Boca pause for thought.
As the only member of the big five unencumbered by Copa Libertadores commitments the Cuervo will be able to go all-out for domestic success while their rivals juggle a packed calendar.
Not, of course, that the other giants are not prepared for such an eventuality. Racing and River may not be challenging for the title this season, lying respectively 13 and 15 points behind Boca – but both sides have spent big in the summer in order to heighten their chances.
Racing pulled off perhaps the biggest transfer coup of the break by landing Ricardo Centurión from under the noses of Boca. The wayward winger comes with hefty baggage, not least domestic abuse charges filed last year and later dropped and a host of other disciplinary transgressions; but he is an outrageous talent who grew up in the Avellaneda club and promises to form a lethal trident with Lautaro Martínez and Lisandro López.
River, too, have struck big with the signing of Atletico Nacional’s goalkeeping hero Franco Armani, while in Lucas Pratto and Juan Fernando Quintero the Millonarios have finally recruited real quality in the final third to replace Lucas Alario.
The mood is more sombre at Copa Sudamericana winners Independiente, who returned to action earlier than the rest of the Superliga with Wednesday’s 1-1 draw against Rosario Central. Ariel Holan has been hit with the exits of key players Ezequiel Barco and Nicolás Tagliafico, with few names linked the other way. Holan has performed miracles in bringing peace and stability (at least on the pitch) to the always turbulent Rojo, but the methodical coach will have to raise his game to keep Independiente competitive in both the Copa Libertadores and the Superliga.
Libertadores finalists Lanús are in an even worse state after seeing a flood of talent leave the club in the wake of defeat to Gremio, while the likes of Unión, Huracán and Talleres make up a chasing pack of dark horses behind San Lorenzo that could just make life uncomfortable for Boca if the Xeneize start to drop more points at the start of 2018. With 15 games left of the Superliga the competition is wide open, and Boca will have to pick themselves up right from the off if they wish to defend the title going into this June’s main event in Russia.