Another Transición tournament chaotically organised by the AFA into two zones was not exactly what everyone wanted but it was a necessary step in the right direction and in spite of it’s flaws still served up an exciting four months of domestic football.
Despite the season coming down to a one-match final in the Monumental, justice prevailed and by far the best side over the course of the whole tournament lifted the title. Lanús were heads and shoulders above their rivals in zone two and claimed their place in the final with three games to spare after winning twelve of the opening fourteen fixtures.
Estudiantes eventually managed to take the second placed spot behind Lanús and went onto beat Godoy Cruz to a guaranteed place in the 2017 Copa Libertadores but minnows Atlético Tucumán almost provided the shock of the season when they went into the final weekend with qualification within their grasp. Having just come up from the Nacional B, El Decano representing Argentina in the continent’s biggest competition would have been remarkable.
If Zone Two proved to be a one-horse race, Zone One made up for it with San Lorenzo and Godoy Cruz battling it out neck-and-neck until the final day. El Tomba had their sights set on a first Primera title for much of the campaign with the goals of Santiago Garcia and Jaime Ayovi powering them to the top of the table. However, Pablo Guede’s side gradually reeled them in as they gathered momentum over the course of the season before pipping them at the final hurdle with a point against Banfield.
While the clamour of the 2017 Copa Libertadores dominated the fight for the top two places in both zones, the 2016 edition played havoc on the more established Argentine clubs.
San Lorenzo’s exit at the group stage undoubtedly allowed Pablo Guede’s boys to focus back on the league and probably saved the under-fire coach from the chop.
One thing the Primera didn’t need any more of were managerial changes. Over the course of the Transición, twelve of the thirty top flight clubs changed coaches and a further two have left their posts since the final day (Ricardo Zielinski from Belgrano and Sebastian Méndez from Godoy Cruz).
Without question the biggest of those was Boca’s decision early on to replace double-winning coach, Rodolfo Arruabarrena with former Lanús boss and ex-player, Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Boca were certainly one of those clubs who felt the impact of balancing the Copa Libertadores with the Primera but crucially president Daniel Angelici obviously didn’t have the confidence that El Vasco could bring home the ultimate prize in South American football.
His replacement has guided Boca to the semi-finals stage after a dramatic penalty shootout victory over Nacional but their league form understandably suffered.
Likewise for Rosario Central, who saw their early season league form falter as the Libertadores took it’s toll before they were left heartbroken by a late Atlético Nacional winner in Medellín.
Holders River Plate, Racing and Huracán all suffered early exits too and after missing out on qualification for 2017 via the league, all focus will now be on this year’s Copa Argentina which is still in it’s early stages.
Lanús made relatively light work of winning the title but in the relegation battle it went to the wire when an injury time Renzo Spinaci condemned Argentinos Juniors to the Nacional B. Los Bichos left their escape act too late and despite victory on the final day, Caruso Lombardi managed to steer Sarmiento to safety. The relegation survival expert has departed El Verde since but he did his job in keeping them in the top flight and so after just two seasons back up, Argentinos Juniors now face the prospect of at least one year in the lower leagues.
Manager of the season
There can really be only one winner after the manner of Lanús’ league title. Jorge Almirón has racked up a lot of experience for a 44-year-old coach but the Transición was his first top flight trophy after second tier triumphs in Chile and Mexico.
Almirón’s spell in charge of Independiente never really worked out and under the intense pressure of the supporters in Avellaneda, the former Godoy Cruz boss was forced out. Ahead of this Transición, replacing Guillermo Barros Schelotto at Lanús brought with it it’s own pressures as Mellizo had been in charge for close to four years and overseen a period of success for El Granate.
Prior to the tournament few would have tipped Lanús to lift the trophy but almost immediately Almirón’s side looked the team to beat. The addition of Jose Sand gave the attack a focal point and a ruthlessness that had been lacking but in addition players, who had previously shown only flashes of talent were now performing consistently at a high level.
And all of this dynamic attacking football was built on the best defence in the league – Fernando Monetti proved why he was considered one of the top goalkeepers in Argentina when Lanús signed him from Gimnasia, José Luis Gómez was an inspirational loan signing from Racing (and a huge blunder on their part) and the centre back partnership of Gustavo Gómez and Diego Braghieri looked unbreakable.
All of these things clicked into place but Almirón had to steer the ship in the right direction and Lanús were hands down the best team in Argentina.
Player of the season
Narrowing down a selection of one Lanús player is a difficult task when there were such outstanding performances from Jose Sand, Lautaro Acosta, Román Martínez, Jose Luis Gómez and Gustavo Gómez to name a few. However, one stood out, particularly in the final against San Lorenzo, and if anyone typifies just how things clicked for El Granate, it is Miguel Almirón.
After arriving at Lanús from Cerro Porteño in August 2015, the young Paraguayan had yet shown anything more than the odd glimpse of his talent during the second half of the 2015 Torneo.
This meant that at the start of this season, Almirón didn’t find himself immediately in Lanús’ starting eleven. However, when Jorge Almirón (no relation) gave him the opportunity, the 22-year-old took it both hands.
His direct, pacy running from central midfield provided El Granate with real vertical thrust and after netting his first goal for the club in the defeat away to Racing, there was no turning back.
Almirón continued to improve as the season progressed and his confidence grew. By the time, the youngster added a superb late lob in the clásico against Banfield, he had embedded himself as a vital part of Jorge Almirón’s side.
What would already have been a hugely successful season in Argentina was capped by his man of the match performance in the final against San Lorenzo. Immediately from kick off it was young Almirón bursting forward and creating danger and so it was little surprise when he picked the ball up close to halfway and scored Lanús’ second shortly after half time.
Paraguayan teammate Gustavo Gómez, another strong contender for player of the season, is likely to be off in this window but after such an impressive showing, Lanús will do well to keep hold of Miguel Almirón.