The Superliga season gets back underway after its summer break and now that the meaningless friendlies are out of the way, Argentina’s top teams get back to serious business.
It has been more than a year since reigning champions Boca Juniors were knocked off top spot and Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side resume as the team to beat. Another window of recruitment has seen a formidable squad assembled at La Bombonera and one which will take some stopping.
However, with fifteen rounds of action remaining there is plenty of time for twists and turns in the title race. Just as there is in the race for cup qualification and at the foot of the descenso table. The Superliga’s 28 clubs will become 26 for next season and so the action kicks off this week with a number of sides desperate to avoid the bottom four.
Since the temperature in Argentina began to rise in December and the nation’s football took a break, every club has been doing business.
Here is a quick look at the Superliga’s 28 clubs, what they’ve been up to and what to expect…
Argentinos Juniors Superliga Position: 11th Descenso Position: 13th
Opening 2018 fixture: San Martín (Home)
Argentinos Juniors had something of a mixed bag of results as was probably expected on their return to the top flight but a run of four straight wins during October provided reason for optimism. It also pushed Los Bichos well clear of the relegation zone and it will be from this relatively safe position that Alfredo Berti will look to build on.
Transfers: The big story and the real boost to the entire club was the return of Paraguayan international Lucas Barrios. The 34-year-old had just lifted the Copa Libertadores but opted to come back to La Paternal after starting his professional career there in 2002. That signing helped make up for the sale of leading scorer Braian Romero to Independiente and defender Joaquín Laso to Vélez but there should be a couple more incomings. Gastón Bojanich looks to bolster the back line from Tigre and exciting Peruvian youngster Beto Da Silva could arrive on loan. Alfredo Berti will hope to still have Gonzalo Piovi at the club but Racing have made a late effort to complete a deal. Friendlies: A 2-1 defeat to San Lorenzo in the Nuevo Gasómetro, a 1-1 draw with Flandria and a 7-2 thrashing of Comunicaciones ensured that preseason finished on a high. Key Player: Lucas Barrios – the veteran will be tasked with scoring the goals and should do that if he clicks with talented youngster Nicolás González.
Prediction: Safe from relegation, Los Bichos should maintain their mid table position and prepare for another fight next season.
Arsenal de Sarandí Superliga Position: 28th
Descenso Position: 27th Opening 2018 fixture: Newell’s Old Boys (away)
One solitary win in the first half of the season and only six goals scored have Arsenal restart the Superliga at the bottom of the table and in need of a miracle. Even Humbertito Grondona’s family ties to the club couldn’t keep him on as manager and so Sergio Rondina has returned tasked with mission impossible (but actually impossible not like in the movies).
Transfers: Not the usual overhaul that Arsenal usually seem to do in the window and so only midfielder Gabriel Alanís and forward Facundo Quintana come in to try and add something to the beleaguered squad. Ramiro Carrera and Maxi Calzada leave and even if the club close the possible deals for Rodrigo Bollero and Gonzalo González, they look doomed. Friendlies: 1-1 with Estudiantes, two further draws against San Telmo and Brown de Adrogue before a 1-0 win over Atlético Tucumán. Key Player: Rodrigo Contreras – Someone has to score goals and at least the 22-year-old has managed that in preseason. Managed only one in the first half of the season, mind. Prediction: Plenty more defeats, some lousy football before eventual and thoroughly deserved relegation
2017 ultimately ended in defeat as Atlético Tucumán lost to River Plate in the Copa Argentina final but it does mean that 2018 brings a second consecutive Copa Libertadores adventure. El Decano don’t really have the resources to balance cup commitments and the Superliga and their patchy domestic form is evidence of that. However, safe from relegation for this season, Ricardo Zielinski’s side will likely carry on as they are.
Transfers: Little in the way of business but young goalkeeper Augusto Batalla arriving on loan from River Plate could prove astute, Nery Leyes returning from Newell’s is a useful addition to the midfield and defender Andrés Lamas gives another option. Leandro Díaz and Javier Toledo are two attacking alternatives that El Decano may still complete. Friendlies: Preseason began with a 4-3 penalty win over Talleres following a goalless draw but since then defeats to Sport Recife, Gimnasia and Arsenal have done little to stoke the flames of optimism. Key Player: Luis Rodríguez – El Pulga might not be much to look at but remains the heartbeat of this side and the likeliest goal scorer. Prediction: Dangerous at home and pretty poor on the road. Atleti will be hoping to cause upsets in the Libertadores and will remain bobbing around mid table in the Superliga.
Julio César Falcioni guided Banfield back into the Copa Libertadores and the playoff against Independiente del Valle awaits at the end of January. That will be the immediate priority and if El Taladro can reach the group stages , expect Superliga form to remain poor. Banfield ended 2017 badly with three straight defeats and only one win in the last eight. Huge improvements are needed but Falcioni’s squad is paper-thin.
Transfers: Still in the market for reinforcements, as it stands only defender Danilo Ortiz and (not yet confirmed) Enzo Kalinski have come in. Luciano Civelli retired amid his injury problems and Mauricio Sperduti may return to Newell’s. Friendlies: A 1-0 defeat to Huracán in Mar del Plata, a goalless draw with Godoy Cruz and a defeat to Newell’s on penalties after a 1-1 draw suggest scoring goal may remain a problem. Key Player: Darío Cvitanich – when the veteran striker missed matches in the first half of the season, Banfield struggled to score and generally lost. They need him fit. Prediction: Much will depend on Copa Libertadores progression as Banfield can’t cope with the schedule. However, relegation isn’t a worry so the drill will likely just hover around mid table.
Belgrano may not have been one of the most entertaining sides to watch but Pablo Lavallén got El Pirata well organised and very tough to beat. Only two losses and one of the best defensive records in the league, if Belgrano could score more they would be even higher than their impressive ninth place. With the solid foundation to build on, that will certainly be Lavallén’s aim for 2018.
Transfers: One player who may help with that is centre forward Mauro Guevgeozian, who has come in from Newell’s. Jonas Aguirre and Maxi Lugo arrive from Central and Temperley respectively and add a little depth as Tobias Figueroa has been the only departure from the Estadio María Kempes. Friendlies: A 1-1 draw with Newell’s thanks to a Juan Quiroga equaliser and another draw in the preseason Clásico de Cordobés after Erik Godoy levelled late on. Key Player: Cristian Lema – The centre back has been a major factor behind the side keeping eight clean sheets from twelve matches.
Prediction: Difficult to imagine much more from the current crop of players but if Belgrano can continue defending they were they have been, then a place in the 2019 Copa Sudamericana should be easily achievable.
Despite already strengthening the squad enormously, Boca Juniors are likely not done yet in the transfer market after a disappointing preseason which culminated in defeat to River Plate in Mar del Plata. The thought of a side, who are reigning champions and have sat at the top of the table for over a year, starting the season in another other than good shape is curious but the atmosphere isn’t as positive as it should be. An ugly off-field incident has the Colombian trio of Edwin Cardona, Wilmar Barrios and Frank Fabra on leave and Boca are still without the injured duo of Fernando Gago and Darío Benedetto. However, Daniel Angelici has already delivered several high-quality new additions to the squad and given the resources available, Guillermo Barros Schelotto will have few excuses if Boca do not make serious challenges (or even win) the Superliga and the Copa Libertadores.
Transfers: Without losing anyone, Boca would have begun 2018 with an incredibly strong base but ahead of the Copa Libertadores, Daniel Angelici hasn’t been afraid to invest. Carlos Tevez completed the worst kept secret in football after his year-long ‘holiday’ in China but joining him were Wanchope Abila,Julio Buffarini and Emmanuel Mas. All of whom bring quality and experience to the squad. However, it didn’t stop there with a complicated deal for talented, young midfielder Emanuel Reynoso completed from under the nose of Independiente and Boca still holding hopes of a breakthrough with AC Milan for defender Gustavo Gómez. Friendlies: A woeful 1-0 defeat to River ended a pretty disappointing preseason, even if several starters were absent. A 3-2 defeat to Godoy Cruz kicked off friendly season in Mendoza and even against Nacional B side Aldosivi, Boca drew 2-2 before losing on penalties. Key Player: Carlos Tevez – deserved question marks after his year off in China but Barros Schelotto will likely build his team around the returning star. Prediction: Boca now have to juggle the Copa Libertadores but Guillermo Barros Schelotto has the squad to do it so anyone other than the Xeneizes lifting the title would be a surprise – Champions.
Chacarita should probably make the most of their stint in the Superliga because it doesn’t look like it’s going to last. Two wins during the first half resulted in Walter Coyette resigning and so Sebastián Pena takes over, aiming for a miraculous survival bid. The problem is that the squad is still of Nacional B quality and there simply aren’t the players to score the goals on a regular basis and secure safety (probably).
Transfers: When Federico Vismara coming in from Racing is the big signing then you’re in trouble. Facundo Rodríguez and Rodrigo Hernán Petrik also come in but are they the difference needed? Javier Mendoza, Miguel Mellado and Sebastián Gorga lead the names heading out. Friendlies: Victory over Colegiales, a 1-1 draw with Deportivo Morón and defeat to Estudiantes suggest that Chacarita aren’t really a top flight outfit. Key Player: Mauro Matos – Chacarita don’t actually concede that many goals but scoring them is another matter. If Matos and co. don’t start finding the net, relegation is certain. Prediction: Difficult to see anything other than a swift return to the Nacional B.
Questions over whether Eduardo Dominguez would remain as manager dominated much of the break in Santa Fe but Colón will be pleased to be heading into 2018 with very few changes. Their talented manager has stayed on and importantly no players have left despite strong links away. El Sabalero aren’t the most entertaining side to watch but defend very well, counter effectively and pose a real threat from set-pieces. If the small squad doesn’t suffer any major injuries, Colón should be able to maintain their position in and around the top ten.
Transfers: Colón left their business until late but completed some outstanding deals that will really lift Domínguez’s squad. Attacking midfielder Alan Ruíz only left for Sporting CP in 2016 but returns to Colón, where his quality should shine through once more. Mariano González arrived at leaving Huracán and the additions of Javier Correa and Gonzalo Escobar further strengthen. With only Diego Morales leaving, El Sabalero start the year in seventh and with an improved squad. Friendlies: Cristian Bernardi and Cristian Guanca were on target in a 2-1 win over Patronato and the pair scored again in a 2-0 win against Atlético Paraná before a 1-0 defeat to Racing de Montevideo. Key Player: Germán Conti – close to a move to Atlético Mineiro before it collapsed, Colón managed to keep hold of the hugely impressive Conti. Prediction: Much of the same for El Sabalero – Copa Sudamericana qualification should be a realistic target.
Defensa y Justicia Superliga Position: 10th
Descenso Position: 14th Opening 2018 fixture: Vélez Sarsfield (Home)
A dreadful start to the season under Nelson Vivas got turned around once Defensa y Justicia appointed Juan Pablo Vojvoda and El Halcón will be hoping to keep that momentum going into 2018. No one more than 21-year-old Nicolás Fernández, who scored seven goals in only six starts partly during a run of four straight wins before the break.
Transfers: For much of the window things looked a little bleak for Defensa y Justicia as goalkeeper Gabriel Arias left for Chile, Hernán Fredes, Hugo Silva and Gonzalo Castellani also departed and IgnacioRivero joined Xolos. Only Argentina under-20 international Nahuel Molina had come in from Boca but the club were yet to do their best business. Christian Almeida, Nicolás Avellaneda, Fernando Elizari and Santiago Zurbriggen all arrived before the best of the lot – the return of Alexander Barboza, on loan from River. Friendlies: Preseason kicked off with defeat to San Lorenzo in Mar del Plata, Nico Fernández scored the only goal in a win over Instituto before a 1-0 defeat to Unión. Key Player: Nicolás Fernández – the breakthrough star of the first half of the season; if Uvita can keep it up, El Halcón should have a good 2018 before the big boys come calling. Prediction: Finishing any higher than their current position seems unlikely but if Defensa y Justicia can maintain that and qualify for the Copa Sudamericana it would be an achievement.
Woefully inconsistent in the first half of the season, you never really knew what to expect from Estudiantes. It’s still remains to be seen if Lucas Bernardi can find a regular goal scorer to resolve some of those problems but with the small squad now having to balance Copa Libertadores commitments, improving hugely in the Superliga will be tough.
Transfers: Veteran Israel Damonte being allowed to leave for Huracán was a slight surprise but Estudiantes have bought well with Gastón Giménez coming in from Godoy Cruz to add genuine quality to the midfield and Andrés Escobar and Jacob Murillo provide further options in attack. Defender Fabián Noguera arrived from Santos and midfielder Matías Laba coming in from Vancouver Whitecaps could be one to keep an eye on. Friendlies: Gastón Fernández earned Estudiantes a draw with Arsenal before victories over All Boys and Chacarita Juniors. Key Player: Mariano Andújar – The 34-year-old isn’t getting any younger but remains one of the Superliga’s best keepers and will be vital to Estudiantes. Prediction: With the Copa Libertadores to begin too, do Estudiantes have the squad to climb much above their current mid table position? Doubtful.
Facundo Sava has been unveiled as the man to turn around the club’s fortunes after a dreadful first half of the season under Mariano Soso. The worst defensive record in the top flight, El Lobo have woeful and this will be the first order of business for the new coach. Early signs in preseason have been promising but the test is yet to come. Sava himself has a lot to prove after his short stint in charge of Racing and will find his stock fall sharply if Gimnasia remain as poor.
Transfers: Nicolás Ibáñez has gone, as has Nicolás Mazzola but Gimnasia have brought Facundo Pereyra back to the club and the well travelled Jerónimo Barrales in an effort to bolster the attack. Friendlies: Two Mar del Plata friendlies ended in penalties after draws – first a victory over Independiente and lastly a defeat to San Lorenzo. In between was a 1-0 win over Atlético Tucumán. Key Player: Brahian Aléman – creator and goal scorer, the Uruguayan is at the centre of anything good that Gimnasia do. Prediction: Difficult to see how Gimnasia could be much worse. If Sava can improve them defensively then El Lobo should pick up a few more points.
Mauricio Larriera became yet another of the Superliga managers to resign before the end of the year and so Diego Dabove will be in the dugout when Godoy Cruz get back to business. What the new coach must address is how El Tomba are like two different teams whether at home or away from Mendoza. Preseason has been positive, albeit largely on their own turf, and it would perhaps be unrealistic to expect overnight changes by Dabove.
Transfers: Keeping hold of Santiago García has been crucial amid plenty of interest but there have been other departures. Gastón Giménez going to Estudiantes is a blow and Danilo Ortiz has joined Banfield while Uruguayan forward Diego Riolfo and Jalil Elias from Newell’s have been the only reinforcements. Friendlies: García has been in the goals during preseason and scored in an impressive 3-2 win over Boca and also a 2-1 win against Quilmes. In between, El Tomba drew 0-0 with Banfield. Key Player: Santiago García – still the side’s main threat and his goals are so important. Prediction: Strong in Mendoza and less so on the road so safely in mid table for Godoy Cruz.
An outstanding first half of the season has Huracán all the way up in fifth and has eased any relegation fears. However, joint leading scorer Wanchope Ábila has joined Boca and aside from his goals the big number nine provided a focal point to the attack that will be difficult to replace. Gustavo Alfaro has done an outstanding job and El Globo have been solid defensively but maintaining that level will be tough.
Transfers: Wanchope completing his loan to join Boca is a massive blow but Alejandro Romero Gamarra moving to the MLS is also a loss. Ezequiel Garré and Germán Lesman have also left the club but coming the other way have been forward Norberto Briasco, the experienced Israel Damonte and the pacy Andrés Chávez. Friendlies: Recent signing Briasco has been among the goals as Huracán have enjoyed friendly wins over Banfield, San Lorenzo in Mar del Plata and Almirante Brown. Key Player: Ignacio Pussetto – without Ramón Ábila, even greater pressure falls on Pussetto to score. Prediction: Safe from relegation but expect Huracán to drop in the Superliga standings.
What a 2017 it was for Independiente. Ariel Holan transformed the club and it ended with his side lifting the Copa Sudamericana at the end of the year. Things could have quickly turned for the worse but after initially resigning, Holan remains in charge. El Rey de Copas is back in the Copa Libertadores this year and that will continue to make use of the squad but Holan’s youngsters stepped up last season. There is no doubting that Tagliafico and Barco will be missed but should president Moyano provide some quality replacements, El Rojo should still be a real contender.
Transfers: While the departures of Walter Erviti, Nery Domínguez and Hernán Pellerano won’t be missed the sales of Nicolás Tagliafico and Ezequiel Barco left a huge hole. The early moves for Braian Romero and Emanuel Britez were decent squad additions but El Rojo left it late to the majority of their business. Talented Ecuadorian midfielder Fernando Gaibor eventually arrived from Emelec and despite missing out on Emanuel Reynoso, Independiente did add Talleres’ Jonathan Menéndez. Forwards Silvio Romero and Gonzalo Verón may yet complete moves. Friendlies: After a 3-2 win over Dock Sud, El Rojo travelled to the coast and after a goalless draw against Gimnasia resulted in a penalty defeat, a 2-2 clásico draw ended in victory. Key Player: Maxi Meza – with Barco gone, even greater pressure falls on Meza as the side’s creator-in-chief. Prediction: Unable to make up the ground on Boca, El Rojo may have to make do with a 2019 Copa Libertadores qualification spot.
After reaching the Copa Libertadores final, Lanús are a great example of how quickly things change in South America as just two months later, El Granate are under new management and half the team has been dismantled. Money is tight so reinforcements haven’t been brought in and after coming within touching distance of the continent’s biggest prize, the club seem willing to slip back down the pecking order. Jorge Almirón has taken a couple of players with him to Colombia and now new manager Ezequiel Carboni must galvanise the squad that is left behind to climb back up the Superliga table.
Transfers: Gonzalo Di Renzo returns to the club but all the action has been at the exit door – José Sand made a messy departure to to Deportivo Cali, Diego Braghieri and Fernando Monetti joined former boss Jorge Almirón at Atlético Nacional and Maxi Velázquez, Nicolás Aguirre and Ignacio Canuto have all been moved on. Supporters are just praying that the likes of Iván Marcone don’t follow them out. Friendlies: A reserve side kicked off preseason with a draw against Villa Dalmine; a 1-1 draw against Rosario Central ended in a penalty defeat and Lanús wrapped things up with a third draw against Vélez. Key Player: Lautaro Acosta – one of the few players of genuine class to remain. More than ever, Lanús need the Argentina international. Prediction: Hugely disappointing after the highs of 2017 but then what do the club expect after getting rid of important players and not replacing.
Newell’s Old Boys Superliga Position: 24th
Descenso Position: 18th Opening 2018 fixture: Arsenal (Home)
Juan Llop has been trying to steer Newell’s Old Boys through what have been choppy waters over the last six months or so and is still far from in the clear. The club remains in trouble, lacking funds and with the barras lurking in the shadows while on the pitch, there is little resemblance to the quality La Lepra possessed while challenging for the title only a few years ago. Three wins all season and a real lack of goals mean Luis Leal really needs to keep up the form that he showed for about 45 minutes against River.
Transfers: The signings of Mauro Guevgeozian and Nery Leyes didn’t work out so both have left the club and Newell’s will be hoping for better luck from the new recruits. Hernán Bernardello arrived from Montreal Impact, Fabricio Fontanini came in from O’Higgins and Denis Rodriguez returned after his injury-hit spell with River. While Lautaro Rinaldi, Fernando Evangelista and Nazareno Solís may yet join the club. Friendlies: Three draws have at least demonstrated some attacking improvements but they also don’t provide an enormous amount of optimism. 1-1 with Belgrano, 1-1 against Banfield before winning on penalties and a 2-2 draw with Atlético de Rafaela. Key Player: Brian Sarmiento – Newell’s badly need a creative spark on a regular basis and they haven’t really got that since signing Sarmiento. Prediction: Difficult to see much changing at Newell’s given the lack of quality in the squad and trouble at the club remains.
Last season, the Caballuci-Coniglio partnership just about fired Olimpo to safety. This year, Caballuci is yet to return from a long injury lay-off (but is close) and Coniglio is playing for relegation rivals Huracán. Two wins meant the season’s second manager Rubén Forestello left and now the Aurinegro are onto their third in the form of ex-Newcastle midfielder Cristian Bassedas. Can he pull off another miraculous escape? The outlook isn’t bright given Olimpo are one of the Superliga’s lowest scorers and they’re even worse outside Bahia Blanca.
Transfers: Quite a few –Gabriel Lugo, Jonatan Blanco, Cristian Nasuti, Tomás Costa and Adrián Gabbarini have all gone and so Bassedas has had to bring in Uruguayan Gonzalo Porras, young defender Renzo Ramírez, Daniel Ibáñez and goalkeeper Jorge Carranza. Friendlies: A goalless draw with Instituto followed by a goalless draw against Aldosivi suggests Bassedas hasn’t solved the scoring problem yet. Key Player: Rodrigo Caballuci – injury has ruled the winger out all season but he was vital in the survival effort last time round. Prediction: Can Olimpo pull off another great escape? I fear not this time, and so the Nacional B beckons.
Barring a three-match winning streak at the start of the season, Patronato have been in freefall and creep increasingly closer to the drop zone. The only saving grace is that they four teams currently occupying those spots don’t look like turning things around any time soon and so the boys from Paraná should get at least another season out of their top flight adventure.
Transfers: Gonzalo di Renzo made little impression so his return to Lanús won’t hurt too much but Patronato have made a couple of signings that could boost their chances. Gastón Gil Romero was considered a real prospect before Santiago Ascacibar arrived on the scene at Estudiantes but the midfielder is now back in Argentina and eager to impress while Maximiliano Núñez has been around the block but is a decent player on his day. Friendlies: A 2-1 defeat to Colón was followed by two draws with Atlético de Rafaela and Juventud Unida. Now, I’m not saying they might have found their level but… Key Player: Sebastián Ribas – his six goals in the first half of the season were a decent return and Patronato need more of the same. Prediction: Still pretty lousy with the odd decent result in Paraná, just enough to keep them up for another season.
Racing Club Superliga Position: 14th
Descenso Position: 5th Opening 2018 fixture: Unión (Away)
2018 is something of a fresh start for Racing after some poor managerial appointments saw La Academia go back to title winning coach Diego Cocca, only to discover things aren’t always as good the second time. Cocca swiftly departed for Xolos with his conservative tactics not impressing the locals, results in the league suffering and elimination from the Copa Sudamericana. President Victor Blanco took his time and now has Eduardo Coudet in place, armed with an exciting group of players. The Copa Libertadores will take priority given any title aspirations in the Superliga are already gone but the prospect of Licha López, Lautaro Martínez and Ricky Centurión should get supporters on their feet.
Transfers: Eduardo Coudet cleared out what wasn’t wanted, namely Marco Torsiglieri, Andrés Ibargüen, Federico Vismara and Santiago Rosales to make way for some outstanding additions. The return of the brilliant but troubled Ricardo Centurión, undoubtedly the biggest potentially but Neri Cardozo and Nery Domínguez add further quality. Alejandro Donatti and Leonardo Sigali should improve the defence no end and La Academia still retain interest in Gonzalo Piovi, Cristian Romero and Rafael Delgado. Friendlies: Almost all of Racing’s friendlies were before any new signings were available so there isn’t much to read into the 1-0 defeat to Temperley. The potential was more evident in the 2-2 draw with Independiente regardless of the penalty defeat. Key Player: Lautaro Martinez – keeping the young striker for at least another six months and increasing his clause was tremendous business. Prediction: Massive improvements. More attacking coach and some really exciting players mean Racing will shoot up the table to challenge for the Libertadores spots.
One win in the last nine Superliga fixtures and an embarrassing defeat to Lanús in the Copa Libertadores semi final cannot be forgotten by lifting the Copa Argentina at the end of 2017. Huge improvements are needed and with Marcelo Gallardo agreeing a lengthy extension and the club going big in the transfer market, River are looking to make a statement. Seeing Boca sat at the top as firm favourites to defend the league title must sting and Rodolfo D’onofrio has backed Gallardo with cash. What has already come in through the door at the Monumental already raises the starting eleven but ahead of another Copa Libertadores challenge, don’t be surprised to see more arrive in the next week or so.
Transfers: It’s been quality over quantity for River after spending a club-record €11 million on centre forward Lucas Pratto and another €4 million on goalkeeper Franco Armani. Neither came cheap but both are outstanding additions who immediately improve Gallardo’s first eleven. Talented Colombian Juan Fernando Quintero has also arrived with plenty to prove and late on former Racing midfielder Bruno Zuculini came in to add more quality in central midfield. Lucas Martinez Quarta is available again and with only Augusto Batalla and Tomás Andrade leaving, River are already far stronger. Friendlies: Out in Florida, River thrashed Miami United before losing to Independiente Santa Fe but returned to Argentina to win the Superclásico in Mar del Plata so Gallardo’s boys go into the season on a high. Key Player: Lucas Pratto – when the club breaks the transfer record you have to deliver but this looks certain to produce goals. Prediction: The title is gone but expect River to be an entirely different creature in 2018. Copa Libertadores spots the target.
Absolutely woeful under Paolo Montero, Central hadn’t won a league game until Leonardo Fernández took over in the ninth round. El Canalla then rattled off three straight 1-0 wins and the caretaker boss became permanent. The hope is to keep that momentum going but the tests lie ahead given the squad remains largely the same. Montero badly underperformed as there is some talent available – Central defend well and have potentially a very good attack so it will be interesting to see where Fernández can take them.
Transfers: Gustavo Colman, Santiago Romero, José Leguizamón and Diego Rodríguez all left but shouldn’t be missed too much so the big story was the arrival of Néstor Ortigoza. If the Paraguayan can stay fit, he will be an asset in midfield. Young, Colombian defender Oscar Cabezas also joins. Friendlies: A 1-1 draw with Argentino de Rosario was followed up by another 1-1 draw against Lanús, before Central won on penalties. Key Player: Fernando Zampedri – amid rumours that he could be off, the former Atlético Tucumán striker remains and may yet form a potent pairing with Marco Ruben. Prediction: Despite improving under Fernández, how far can he take this team? Certainly better but if they can reach the Sudamericana spots it would be a job well done.
San Lorenzo Superliga Position: 2nd
Descenso Position: 2nd Opening 2018 fixture: Talleres (Away)
Another of the interim manager’s to earn the full-time job, Claudio Biaggio now has it all to prove. The one defeat he suffered in nine Superliga matches was impressive and fired San Lorenzo only three points off Boca at the top. However, carrying that through into 2018 and challenging for the title is another matter. El Pampa hasn’t been helped in the transfer market and so will still be relying on Nicolás Blandi’s goals, Fernando Belluschi’s creativity and a defence marshalled by Caruzzo, Rodriguez and Diaz.
Transfers: San Lorenzo have concentrated on just not losing any players, which on the one hand is good but Los Cuervos look a little light. The only business that looks to be concluded is Ezequiel Cerutti’s $7 million move to Al-Hilal with the talented Valentín Viola arriving to possibly replace. Friendlies: The wins over Defensa y Justicia and Argentinos Juniors were dampened by the defeat to Huracán in Mar del Plata but either way, Biaggio didn’t field his strongest side. Belluschi and Blandi combined for the goal in the final 1-1 draw with Gimnasia before winning on penalties. Key Player: Fernando Belluschi – Independiente were desperate to sign him but San Lorenzo held on. Just as well because even at 34, everything goes through the midfielder. Prediction: San Lorenzo might resume the season as Boca’s closest rivals but toppling them is another question. With no new faces, El Ciclón don’t have enough to go the next level. Libertadores spots.
San Martin Superliga Position: 8th
Descenso Position: 20th Opening 2018 fixture: Argentinos Juniors (Away)
Few would have predicted San Martín would sit in eighth when the Superliga took its annual summer leave but Néstor Gorosito’s side have impressively won five of their seven matches in San Juan and are there on merit. Staying there will be difficult and although the Verdinegro have the same squad still together with no additions and those around them strengthening it seems only likely that there will be a drop down the table.
Transfers: Mauricio Casierra’s contract was rescinded and in addition looks to the loan signing of Elias Gómez from Rosario Central, El Verdinegro still hope to bring in Camilo Cándido, Zacarías Morán Correa andAndrés Romero. Friendlies: San Martín’s preseason victories came against lower league opposition as Gorosito’s side beat Alvarado de Mar del Plata and Ramón Santamarina; Unión, the only Superliga match-up ended goalless. Key Player: Matías Escudero – An ever-present in the San Martín defence, the 29-year-old has been impressive. Prediction: A drop down the table but provided San Martín keep up their impressive home form, a top half finish is achievable.
Talleres Superliga Position: 4th
Descenso Position: 10th Opening 2018 fixture: San Lorenzo (Home)
Talleres continue to impress in the top flight and Frank Kudelka’s young side finished the year up in fourth. The core of that side remains (for now) and with the continuity that Kudelka brings, La T should approach the Superliga in exactly the same way. However, with Palacios already gone and perhaps more to follow, Talleres might be considerably weakened by the time the window shuts. There will still be enough to remain competitive but clinging onto one of the 2019 Copa Libertadores spots could be a stretch.
Transfers: American-Argentine Joel Soñora coming in on loan from Stuttgart and 18-year-old Venezuelan forward Samuel Sosa are promising but the issues could be who Talleres miss in the second half of the season. Sebastián Palacios completed his move to Liga MX club Pachuca and Emanuel Reynoso has left for Boca. The young midfielder would be sorely missed and tough to replace. A possible signing of veteran Santiago Silva certainly doesn’t make up for that. Friendlies: Reynoso scored in the final friendly, a 2-0 victory over Sarmiento and prior to that there were two draws – the clásico with Belgrano ended 1-1 and a goalless draw against Atlético Tucumán that ended in a penalty defeat. Key Player: Guido Herrera – one of the top defences in the league and behind every good defence is a good keeper. Prediction: Unable to maintain their Copa Libertadores spot, La T might have to make do with Copa Sudamericana qualification.
With a huge amount of ground to make-up in only fifteen rounds of football, it is very difficult to make an argument for Temperley surviving relegation again. Gastón Esmerado is still unbeaten in charge with two wins and two draws since replacing Gustavo Alvarez but that is a record that doesn’t look likely to hold. If the new manager can keep them up, it would be one of the achievements of the season.
Transfers: Fernando Brandán returning from his stint in Australia is a boost, the club also signed Federico Fattori from Nueva Chicago and Matías Orihuela looks to be an upgrade defensively. Rodi Ferreira and Maximiliano Lugo leaving won’t be missed a great deal. Friendlies: A pretty positive preseason saw Temperley thrash Federal C club Ministerio de Obras Públicos before more impressively Fernando Brandán scored the only goal in a win over Racing Club. El Gasolero finished with a goalless draw against Chilean club Universidad de Concepción. Key Player: Adrián Arregui – in a team lacking any real quality, Arregui knuckles down, works hard and pops up with some important goals. Prediction: There will be no escape this time and Temperley will bid farewell to the Superliga.
Who would have thought that sticking Caruso Lombardi in charge and signing in excess of 20 players would have resulted in a colossal mess that yielded just a single win. Tigre, as a result, have been sucked dangerously close to the relegation zone and taken another risk in appointing Cristian Ledesma for his first managerial job. El Lobo has perhaps better players at his disposal than the four sides in the four relegation spots at present but needs to find a system and a best eleven quickly. Caruso failed to do this and the result was a leaky defence and a blunt attack – a repeat of the first half of the campaign and Tigre could drop.
Transfers: Yet another busy window through the sliding door that is Tigre’s transfer policy. A huge number of outgoings, some that only arrived six months ago in the Caruso sale but coming the other way to try and improve things areSebastián Prediger, Walter Montillo, Ignacio Canuto, Matías Pérez Acuña and Ezequiel Garré. All on paper look useful additions but then again so did some of Caruso’s. Friendlies: A 3-2 defeat to Primera B club Fenix, a 2-0 win over Villa Dálmine and a 1-1 draw with Deportivo Morón don’t fill you with confidence. Key Player: Lucas Janson – the forward show signs of recovery after months out and if he can regain his best form will be crucial. Prediction: Survival by the skin of their teeth and more due to the failings of those around them than anything else.
Unión Superliga Position: 3rd
Descenso Position: 17th Opening 2018 fixture: Racing Club (Home)
One of the surprise packages of 2017, Unión are up in third for a reason. Leonardo Madelón has his side well organised and not conceding many and in Franco Soldano and Lucas Gamba, El Tatangue have a front two to cause any defence problems. Teams will perhaps be a little more wise to them in the second half of the season and as the fight for those Copa Libertadores spots heats up, it will be interesting to see if Unión can hold off some of the bigger clubs, who have invested heavily.
Transfers: Unión have tried to keep what has done so well for them this season and with the exception of right-back Emanuel Britez heading to Independiente, they’ve done that. Rodrigo ‘Droopy’ Gómez arriving from Toluca is a good move and Ramiro Carrera is capable on his day. Friendlies: A goalless draw with San Martín and a defeat to Aldosivi were hardly the most impressive results but Franco Fragapane scored to end preseason with victory against Defensa y Justicia. Key Player: Franco Soldano – keeping the centre forward was one of Unión’s best bits of business. Prediction: Unlikely to hold their top three position and a drop into the Copa Sudamericana qualification spots looks more likely than claiming a Libertadores place.
Vélez Sarsfield Superliga Position: 19th
Descenso Position: 24th Opening 2018 fixture: Defensa y Justicia (Away)
The threat of relegation seems to have kicked Vélez into action and since the end of the season, the club have made a number of moves that dramatically improve their standing. Gabriel Heinze has been a young coach in demand since leading Argentinos Juniors back to the top flight and resigning but after rejecting several other approaches, Vélez got their man. The new coach may immediately have lost talented youngster Maxi Romero but the recruitment since has been excellent and Heinze has a squad that looks far too good to be hovering above relegation. Sitting just a place above Olimpo, they must not forget where they are but if El Gringo can get Vélez playing the kind of attacking, attractive football he managed with Argentinos Juniors, expect a far better 2018.
Transfers: An incredibly active window undoubtedly sees Vélez in a better position that they were at the end of the year. Maxi Romero was sold to PSV for good money and Leandro Desábato, Federico Andrada, Matías Pérez Acuña and Emiliano Amor all followed out the door but just look at what Heinze has managed to bring in. Mauro Zárate returned for a third spell, Agustín Bouzat and Rodrigo Salinas bolster the attack and Marco Torsiglieri, Guido Mainero, Joaquín Laso, Jesús Méndez and Luis Abram all improve the squad. Add in Yamil Asad’s return from Atlanta and the numerous talented young players and Vélez suddenly look in good shape. Friendlies: A 2-0 win over Almirante Brown, a 1-0 win over Universidad de Concepción, a despite losing that 100% record with a 1-1 draw against Lanús – Zárate got the goal. Key Player: Mauro Zárate – bringing Zárate back to the club when he could still be in Europe is a massive coup and should provide a huge lift. Prediction: Comfortably safe from relegation and after a positive second half of the season, looking ahead to next season.