While sides in the Nacional B still duke it out to see who will be joining the Argentinian top flight, the 2016/17 Primera season drew to a close last week with Boca Juniors ultimately getting their hands on a 32nd title. Having already reviewed Boca’s championship winning campaign and the events of the past year, this recognises the best the Primera had to offer as we give you, the Golazos 2016/17.
Player of the season
While there were a number of outstanding individual performances over the past year there were perhaps none that directly aided their respective clubs to success more than Boca Juniors’ number nine Darío Benedetto. After a relatively slow start which had already seen Boca suffer a shock Copa Libertadores semi final defeat to Independiente del Valle and lose to Lanús on the opening day, supporters were already wondering whether Pipa was going to be a costly flop.
Scoring an impressive hat-trick in the win over Quilmes was the only time Benedetto got on the scoresheet during the opening eight rounds as Carlos Tevez remained the focal point of Boca’s attack. However, the 27-year-old gradually found his form and it was after Tevez departed for China that Benedetto really assumed the mantle of match winner.
21 goals from only 24 league starts saw the former Arsenal and Club América striker take the golden boot and crucially see Boca through a shaky patch of form during the run-in. Seven goals in the last six matches fired Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side to the title and understandably alerted a number of European clubs. Boca are understood to want in excess of €20 million for Benedetto but given the 27-year-old’s ability to score all manner of goals, that could still prove to be decent business for the right club.
Manager of the season
Guillermo Barros Schelotto deserves enormous praise for leading Boca to the title, while Sebastián Beccacece and Ariel Holan at Defensa y Justicia and Independiente respectively oversaw swift improvements during the second half of the season but there was no coach that exceeded expectation more than Julio César Falcioni at Banfield.
Falcioni could do little to sully his name with the club after leading James Rodríguez and co to the Primera title in 2009 but when the 60-year-old returned to the Estadio Florencio Sola towards the back-end of the 2016 Transición, his task this season looked more likely to be staving off relegation. El Taladro had won only twice in that Transición and finished 26th in the 30-team Primera (if the two zones that were used were amalgamated) so little was expected.
However, through organisation, structure and a formidable home record, Banfield ended up being the last team standing before Boca were crowned champions. Defeat to Racing in the final fixture almost cost El Taladro a place in the Copa Libertadores but results elsewhere meant Falcioni had guided his beloved Banfield back into the continent’s biggest competition.
Team of the season
Rodrigo Rey || Godoy Cruz
Godoy Cruz’s focus was clearly on the Copa Libertadores which explained El Tomba’s somewhat erratic league form but one player who performed consistently was captain Rodrigo Rey. The 26-year-old’s displays look to earn him a move to Greek side PAOK and replacing him will be a real job for Lucas Bernardi.
Germán Conti || Colón
Only two sides conceded less than Colón and although El Sabalero’s goal scoring wasn’t enough to snatch a Copa Sudamericana spot, Germán Conti’s performances in central defence caught the eye. The lanky 23-year-old was a key factor in the side keeping clean sheets in half their games and it’s little surprise to see the likes of Lazio, Sampdoria and Inter keeping tabs.
Alexander Barboza || Defensa y Justicia
The future of Alexander Barboza remains unclear but what is certain is that Defensa y Justicia will badly miss the powerful centre back. The 22-year-old has returned to River Plate after an outstanding loan spell in which El Halcón qualified for the Copa Sudamericana and Barboza notched an impressive five goals. Marcelo Gallardo will do well to find better in his squad and Deportivo La Coruña are hovering with intent.
Nicolás Tagliafico || Independiente
Already rewarded with a call-up to Jorge Sampaoli’s Argentina squad, Nicolás Tagliafico has been the heart and soul of Independiente almost since the day he arrived in Avellaneda. Strong, committed and a good reader of the play, El Capitán is idolised by El Rojo supporters and after establishing himself as one of the Primera’s best full-backs, switched with ease into the centre this season to marshal the best defence in the top flight.
Nacho Fernández || River Plate
Not all of River Plate’s transfers have been successes in the past couple of years but the arrival of Ignacio Fernández from Gimnasia has proved a masterstroke. Jorge Sampaoli took a closer look against Singapore recently but anyone who has watched River this season will know all about the qualities of the 27-year-old. A fine passer of the ball and an industrious ball winner, Nacho has proved an ideal partner to the more defensive Leonardo Ponzio and pushed further forward this season only highlighted his dynamism.
Fernando Belluschi || San Lorenzo
Given the disappointing end to San Lorenzo’s season it is easy to forget how good Fernando Belluschi was over the course of the whole season. The 33-year-old has been sensational since his return to Argentine football and his six goals and six assists were one of the main reasons behind Los Cuervos’ title challenge earlier in the campaign. Inconsistent results when the Copa Libertadores took priority saw Diego Aguirre’s side slip but Belluschi remains one of the top midfielders in the league.
Marcos Acuña || Racing Club
Now almost a regular in the Argentina set-up, Racing look almost certain to be bidding farewell to Marcos Acuña in this window. The 25-year-old has admitted that the club promised he could leave for Europe at the end of the season and is ready for the next step in his career. Few who have watched El Huevo over the past 18 months would argue otherwise; with nine goals and thirteen assists, the left-footed magician looks destined for bigger things.
Emiliano Rigoni || Independiente
If Independiente had had the number nine to match the exploits of winger Emiliano Rigoni, El Rojo would certainly have been celebrating a return to the Copa Libertadores and maybe even have challenged Boca Juniors for the title. The 24-year-old is understandably attracting interest from Europe after scoring eleven league goals but his searing pace was the main weapon for Ariel Holan’s in-form side.
Gonzalo Martínez || River Plate
The frustration for River Plate supporters for so long was that the talent of Gonzalo Martínez was clear, the application and consistency was lacking. However, everything seemed to click into place this season and Pity’s pace, skill and wand-like left foot made him one of the Primera’s most dangerous forwards. Seven goals and six assists, including a thumping Superclásico volley, quickly won around River fans and now Sporting Lisbon ponder a summer move.
Darío Benedetto || Boca Juniors
There were many who questioned whether Darío Benedetto was the man to fill the Boca Juniors number nine shirt when the 27-year-old first arrived from Club América but one year on and Pipa has cemented himself as the best that La Bombonera has seen since Martín Palermo and at the centre of intense interest from Europe. 21 goals from 24 starts not only made Pipa comfortably the league’s leading marksman but suggests that the centre-forward could be ready to take that form overseas.
Sebastián Driussi || River Plate
Zenit St Petersburg appear to have all but sealed a €20 million move for Sebastián Driussi and even at that price it could prove to be a steal after an unbelievable season that saw the 21-year-old score 17 times. After spending his first couple of seasons with the senior squad as a flexible, stand-in winger, Marcelo Gallardo had the academy product study tapes of Luis Suárez, pushed him centrally alongside Lucas Alario, and the results were devastating.
There were a number of players who announced themselves to Argentine football during the season but two of the countries most exciting talents really left their mark on senior football after sensational campaigns and look destined for bigger things. Anyone who has watched Argentina’s youth sides or Racing Club closely already knew all about Lautaro Martínez but with injury keeping Gustavo Bou and Lisandro López out at various points during La Academia’s campaign it was the 19-year-old who shone. A well-rounded striker, Martínez scored nine times as Racing secured Copa Libertadores football for the second consecutive year and it seems only a matter of time before the latest graduate is off to Europe.
Just a couple of hundred yards away in Avellaneda, another youngster emerged and while Ezequiel Barco’s season ended in the heartache of a penalty miss on the final day, the 18-year-old established himself as a key member of Independiente’s starting eleven. An incisive passer of the ball and superb dribbler, Barco is always looking for the ball into his feet and his instinct to drive forward and look for through balls made El Rojo such a threat on the counter under Ariel Holan. Despite only turning 18 in the last few months, European scouts are already circling.
There is no doubting that the signing of Facundo Quignón for Newell’s Old Boys or Talleres’ Leonardo Gil were great successes and over the course of the year, both midfielders made significant contributions to their respective sides’ league finishes; Rodrigo Cabalucci arguably kept Olimpo in the top flight with a string of superb performances in their run-in and Darío Cvitanich provided Banfield with the goals in 2017 to claim a Copa Libertadores spot but Boca Juniors’ somewhat unheralded transfer of Wilmar Barrios proved vital.
The 23-year-old arrived from Deportes Tolima in August for $3 million and while Barrios didn’t make an instant impact on Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s first team, the combative midfielder emerged as a integral part of the side that held off the contenders during the second half of the season. A ferocious ball winner, the Colombian provided protection and a base for Boca’s attack and freed Fernando Gago and Pablo Pérez to operate in slightly more advanced positions. It may have taken Rodrigo Bentancur leaving for the under-20 World Cup for Barrios to become a regular starter but it improved Boca immeasurably as a result.
Spending big on experienced, proven stars is no guarantee of success and there have been countless examples this season of players to arrive at new clubs with hefty reputations only to barely make a mark on the first team. Belgrano bringing back former Belgian player of the year Matías Suárez promised so much but delivered very little as El Pirata endured a horrendous campaign of few goals. The 29-year-old had little help but with only three goals, supporters perhaps would’ve expected more.
San Lorenzo got even less from Fabricio Coloccini’s return with the former Newcastle captain making only ten league appearances, Boca Juniors signed Fernando Zuqui after a wonderful season with Godoy Cruz only for the 25-year-old to virtually go missing at La Bombonera while Racing attempted to solve their goalkeeping problem with Agustin Orión, only for the veteran to make one too many blunders before being binned with weeks remaining in the season.
However, River Plate’s transfer business in the last year perhaps held the team back from a more serious title challenge. Marcelo Gallardo needed options to contend with the busy schedule of Copa Libertadores football and while the additions of Luciano Lollo and Marcelo Larrondo looked good on paper, the injury prone pair barely made it on the pitch. With five starts between them, neither was able to show anywhere near the level that they did earlier in their careers with Racing and Rosario Central respectively.
Match of the season
Like it or loathe it, there is no bigger match in Argentina than the Superclásico and while more often than not in recent memory, the historic derby has failed to live up to expectation, this season delivered two exciting contests. River exacted revenge in La Bombonera to open up the title race in May but the match of the season took place earlier in the season when Boca Juniors really flashed their credentials with a Carlos Tevez inspired 4-2 win in the Monumental.
After only two goals in the previous five competitive meetings, expectations were low for December’s meeting but Walter Bou’s early opener for the visitors kicked into life an enthralling clásico that will live long in the memories of Boca fans. Sebastián Driussi and Lucas Alario put River back in front at the back but Carlos Tevez produced a precious parting gift with two goals in the second half before Ricardo Centurión wrapped up the points.
Goal of the season
a) Darío Benedetto – Boca Juniors v Quilmes
b) Carlos Tevez – River Plate v Boca Juniors
c) Cristian Pavón – San Martín v Boca Juniors
d) Bautista Merlini – Tigre v San Lorenzo
e) Emiliano Rigoni – Patronato v Independiente
f) Diego González – Racing Club v Atlético Tucumán