With only two rounds of fixtures remaining and 8 teams still in with a shout of lifting the Torneo Inicial trophy, it’s anyone’s guess who will be champions. Golazo takes a look at the candidates and their remaining fixtures in an effort to clear things up….
5 points currently separate the top 8 making the final matches of this Torneo Inicial incredibly exciting as over the next 2 weekends many of those vying for the title will go head-to-head. Last season’s Torneo Final was fairly predictably claimed by Newell’s Old Boys and although the Rosario outfit were favourites to repeat their success they have tailed off badly allowing for a thrilling race. Here is the look at the sides in their positions in the league as it stands….
1. San Lorenzo – 31 points
Rather pleasingly I predicted San Lorenzo to win the title in my preview back in August so I am not too surprised to find them in this position. However, when leading scorer Martin Cauteruccio was injured just a few games in with a cruciate knee injury I was less confident and had lined up my excuses well in advance.
My worries were misplaced as El Ciclon have out-scored every other side helped by Juan Antonio Pizzi’s system not being too reliant on a centre-forward.
Ignacio Piatti has been superb and instrumental in San Lorenzo’s lofty position. The midfielder has been involved in more goals than any other player in the league with 8 goals and 5 assists.
Their remaining fixtures are a home game against Estudiantes and then a short trip to Liniers to face Velez Sarsfield. Both of these sides stand a chance of winning the title themselves so it will not be easy. Estudiantes’ chances are very slim and San Lorenzo should win this in El Nuevo Gasometro but the match with Velez on the final day will be difficult.
Vs Estudiantes (home)
Vs Velez Sarsfield (away)
2. Newell’s Old Boys – 30 points
The loss of Tata Martino and leading scorer, Ignacio Scocco was always going to be a blow but for a while it appeared as though it was business as usual in Rosario. New coach, Alfredo Berti stayed true to the system that made them so successful and Maxi Rodriguez was imperious.
However, since losing in the clasico to rivals, Rosario Central, Newell’s have been on the kind of run that is associated with sides dropping out of the league rather than winning it. Without a win in 6, the run has seen them fall from championship shoe-ins to chokers in a quick space of time.
Newell’s are only a point off the lead but need to address this slump fast if they are going to regain the lead. An away game at All Boys on Saturday will not be straight-forward following their confidence boosting win in La Bombonera and a home match against Lanus on the final day will be a real test. Realistically Newell’s probably need to win both and in current form that is not too likely.
Vs All Boys (away)
Vs Lanus (home)
3. Lanus – 29 points
Perhaps the form side in the title race and only 2 points behind San Lorenzo, Lanus could be on the verge of a historic league and Copa Sudamericana double. Having not lost since a 1-0 defeat to Godoy Cruz on October 14th, Lanus have been looking in very good shape.
Important wins over title rivals, Arsenal and San Lorenzo have put them right in the mix and with them also on the brink of the Copa Sudamericana Final, Lanus just might be on the verge of the best season in the club’s history.
Of course, involvement in the Copa Sudamericana could prove to be a huge distraction at this crucial stage but their solid back-line, marshalled by goalkeeper, Agustin Marchesin and attacking line-up led by Santiago Silva make them a match for anyone on their day.
Either way, Lanus will have a huge say on the title race based on their remaining fixtures. Hosting Boca Juniors at the weekend will end one of the sides title hopes and on the final day a daunting trip to Rosario to face Newell’s, 6 points from this and Lanus would probably deserve the trophy.
Vs Boca Juniors (away)
Vs Newell’s Old Boys (home)
4. Arsenal de Sarandi – 29 points
Arsenal have been in the mix all season and the small blip at the end of October where they didn’t win in 4 may end up costing them dearly. Still only 2 points off the pace but the 2 home draws against Gimnasia and All Boys dented their hopes of adding another trophy to their rapidly expanding cabinet.
Having already won the Copa Argentina this season with the 3-0 demolition of San Lorenzo in the Final, this season is already a success but a league-cup double would something very special indeed.
Next up is a home game against Belgrano, which you would expect Arsenal to win but their final day fixture is a little more complicated. Atletico Rafaela are the surprise package in this race and only Newell’s have travelled to Santa Fe and come away with 3 points. Winning there will not be easy especially if Rafaela are chasing their first ever league championship.
Vs Belgrano (home)
Vs Atletico Rafaela (away)
5. Velez Sarsfield – 27 points
Velez have been almost impossible to predict this season and had they been slightly more consistent we could have been looking at another title for Ricardo Gareca’s side.
At times, Velez have looked superb, for example their 3-0 win over Newell’s in September, but as is typical of their season, they followed this with a dreadful defeat by the same scoreline against Belgrano.
Big-name signing, Mauro Zarate has missed much of the season through injury which has no doubt hindered their attack. Lucas Pratto has performed admirably but in the games where he has an off day so too do Velez it appears.
The Copa Sudamericana appeared to be their most likely route to silverware this term but the surprise elimination at the hands of Ponte Preta ended that.
Velez travel to Colon this weekend, where a win would be expected given the state that Colon are in at present and host San Lorenzo on the final day, in what could be an epic title decider.
Vs Colon (away)
Vs San Lorenzo (home)
6. Boca Juniors – 27 points
Boca probably saw their chances go up in smoke last week with the damaging defeat in La Bombonera to All Boys. The narrow 3-2 defeat in Sarandi, the week before against Arsenal leave Carlos Bianchi’s side needing a miracle to lift the trophy.
Juan Roman Riquelme limped off against All Boys and will miss the run-in and in his absence, Boca often look devoid of creativity. The return of Fernando Gago is a boost but his injury problems have also hampered Boca’s title hopes.
Emanuel Gigliotti has proved a good signing and his goals, including one in the Super clasico victory over River, have provided Boca with a focal point to their attacks but a fragile defence and injury prone midfield look to have cost them.
Defeat away to Lanus on Sunday will end any hopes but should they win, a match against Gimnasia in the La Bombonera on the final day is ideal.
Vs Lanus (away)
Vs Gimnasia (home)
7. Estudiantes – 26 points
Mathematically, Estudiantes can still win the championship but realistically….no.
Boosted by the return of Juan Sebastian Veron, Estudiantes have built this season on their superb home form. No side has left La Plata this season with a victory and despite being one of the lowest scorers, they boast the best defence in the league, aided by the wonderful signing of Santiago Vergini from Newell’s in the close season.
Goals have been the problem for Estudiantes, only 3 times have they scored twice in a game this season and never anymore.
After their pre-season victory over Atletico Madrid, it is interesting to think how might this side have fared had they been able to keep hold of Colombian, Duvan Zapata? The young centre-forward has not had a great deal of playing time at Napoli and may just have provided the goals to change so many of those draws to wins.
This weekend, they visit San Lorenzo in what will have a huge impact on the title either way and finally Tigre visit La Plata. A side unbeaten at home against a side who haven’t won away all season, surely that is about as certain as Argentine football gets?
Vs San Lorenzo (away)
Vs Tigre (home)
8. Atletico Rafaela – 25 points (3 games to play)
Without question the smallest side in this list, possibly in the league, Atletico Rafaela are realistic contenders given that with the extra game, they would be just 3 points behind the leaders.
Only Newell’s have travelled to Rafaela and won and it is this impressive home form that sees Rafaela mixing it with the big boys.
In addition to this the strike force of Diego Vera and Lucas Albertengo has proved fruitful with the duo scoring over half the teams goals.
Their game in hand comes courtesy of the game that was postponed after Colon’s players went on strike. In theory, Rafaela should have been given the points but AFA being AFA changed their minds and decided that they should replay. Either way, Rafaela are expected win this putting them firmly in with a shot.
A trip to Victoria to face Tigre on Saturday will provide a stern test. As bad as Tigre have been away, they have been very good at home, losing only twice so 3 points from this will be a tough ask. On the final day, Rafaela will host Arsenal in another potential title decider and you wouldn’t bet against La Crema at home if they were playing for the championship.
Vs Tigre (away)
Vs Arsenal (home)