The month of April has been a busy one for Argentine football with the Torneo Transición rapidly nearing an end and the Copa Libertadores getting very serious for the five remaining Primera clubs. One month on and the difficult to predict title races have become much clearer, with one of the finalists almost certain but all four of the Libertadores qualification spots looking pretty settled. As always we take a quick look back and decide on the manager, player, team and goal of the month.
With three games left in the regular season, Lanús would require the mother of all bottle jobs to not be crowned the Zone Two champions after a flawless April and a six-game winning streak has opened up a seven-point lead over Estudiantes in second. El Granate have undoubtedly been the best side of the season so far and would ordinarily be celebrating a league title if it weren’t for the unique nature of this Transición, and the overall winners being the side that emerges triumphantly from a final between both zone champions. Nelson Vivas’ Estudiantes have seen their challenge fall away but remain ahead of third and strong favourites for the other Copa Libertadores spot.
In Zone One, the opponents for Lanús are still unknown but two clubs have distanced themselves from the pack and while qualification for the Libertadores is a decent enough prize, the two are locked on the same points in the battle to top the league. San Lorenzo and Godoy Cruz now have three games to wrestle the number one spot and that will likely go to the final day.
San Lorenzo, and Pablo Guede in particular, needed this after their Copa Libertadores exit and while their league form has benefitted, the five remaining sides in the competition have certainly allowed the Primera to take the back seat. Champions River Plate are certainly in the most precarious position after slumping to a 2-0 defeat in Quito against Independiente del Valle but Racing and Huracán face testing trips away after goalless draws on home soil to Atlético Mineiro and Atlético Nacional respectively. Boca Juniors and Rosario Central still have work to do but after winning on the road are expected to finish the job this week and progress to the quarter final without too much drama.
Aside from that important stuff on the pitch, April also brought us a mind-numbingly poor weekend of clásicos, which I won’t go into any further detail about but frankly given the lack of goals or action, it would be difficult to say more anyway. However, Argieball did also give us Dario Roa, the 13-year-old who broke Sergio Agüero’s old record for the being the youngest player at senior level football, and the debut of Agüero’s younger brother for Independiente. And it wouldn’t be Argentine football without the underlying threat of violence and so besides incidents involving Boca Juniors supporters in Paraguay, Colón’s barra bravas took the biscuit this month after Alan Ruiz was assaulted at the club’s training ground prompting him to quit the club ahead of his summer move to Sporting Clube de Portugal.
Manager of the Month
It would be absurd not to mention Jorge Almirón here as Lanús close on the Zone Two title in impressive fashion but another Primera manager has really caught the eye in April and probably saved his job in the process. Pablo Guede was standing over the trapdoor after his San Lorenzo side were eliminated from the Copa Libertadores in the group stage. Any new ideas seemingly being lost saw Los Cuervos leak goals and there was no indication that things would improve ahead of a daunting set of fixtures in April. However, since coming from two-down to defeat Belgrano in Bajo Flores at the start of the month there has been an incredible turnaround. Victories over Godoy Cruz, Rosario Central, Huracán in the clásico and Independiente could scarcely have been more difficult but El Ciclón chalked up four wins and conceded just once in that time. Still playing the attractive football that the club craved but with a new found defensive stability that is making San Lorenzo very tough to beat and perhaps favourites for the title. Considering where they were, just five weeks ago, the transformation is remarkable.
Team of the Month
Player of the Month
Godoy Cruz’s surprising 2016 form looks to at the very least have earned them a place in the Copa Libertadores but it may yet bring them a first ever Primera title. The strikeforce of Santiago García and Jaime Ayoví has been central to their success but during April the Ecuadorian really came to the fore. Two goals in the win against Vélez maintained El Tomba’s challenge but when they were beaten at home for the first time of the year by San Lorenzo and García was sent off, it could so easily have begun to fall apart. In spite of his absence, Ayoví scored a vital equaliser away to Gimnasia and this weekend broke the deadlock against a stubborn Arsenal defence. The Ecuadorian has shown glimpses of his quality since arriving in Mendoza but there has been a consistency to his play this season and so it’s no surprise that admiring glances are coming his way from the Primera’s big sides.
An honourable mention goes to Estudiantes’ Santiago Ascacibar, who could have been named player of the month in virtually any of this season. The 19-year-old has been an ever-present in the Pincha midfield and leads the league’s stats in tackles. A wonderful ball winner, Ascacibar has played just a handful of senior matches but already looks destined for Europe.
Goal of the month
As much as I would like to edit together a goal of the month video, Youtube often delete them so I won’t bother. Instead, here are SIX to choose from….
A) Franco Mussis – SAN LORENZO v Rosario Central
B) Santiago García – GODOY CRUZ v San Martín
C) Víctor Ayala – LANÚS v Banfield
D) Nicolás Bertocchi – PATRONATO v Atlético Rafaela
E) Nicolás Blandi – Independiente v SAN LORENZO
F) Jaime Ayovi – GODOY CRUZ v Arsenal
And this month’s blooper must go to Boca full-back Jonathan Silva for his own goal against Tigre….