The weekend is upon us, and while for most of you that means a couple of days off work, for those of us who write about football it means the busiest part of our week begins. Yes, pity me, dear reader, for I’m going to be spending the next couple of afternoons watching my favorite sport. It’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it — and it enables me to give you the lowdown on which matches are likely to be the most enjoyable in the next few days. This week, we’ll go through them in chronological order.
But first, you want to know when Messi is playing
The greatest footballer of the current century (at least) is in action for Barcelona at home to Granada this weekend. They play on Saturday, at 3:45 PM Argentine time, and in these parts the match is on ESPN.
Olimpo v Atlético Tucumán (7 PM) gets the weekend started. The visitor is way up the relegation table, with 30 points from the transitional championship and 10 already this season, but as always with relatively new teams in the division, it can’t afford to drop points, and Olimpo is very much a rival, fourth bottom in the relegation table and therefore in the drop zone. At this stage of the season, though, it’s unlikely to take on the air of a dogfight. Don’t cancel any hot dates to get home for this one. Afterward, Patronato v Banfield at 9:15 PM looks similarly thrilling (which is to say, not very). It’ll be interesting to see whether Patronato can claim a third win in a row, though.
Tomorrow’s action starts at 2 PM when Vélez Sarsfield hosts Talleres de Córdoba. Talleres played well at the start of the season without getting any wins, and has now started getting those wins. Vélez also has a couple of wins already, but is not a nice team to watch. I like Talleres, but it’s hard to get excited about this one.
Next, at 4 PM, there are two matches: Belgrano v Quilmes and Boca Juniors v Temperley. Belgrano is really not adapting well to life without Ricardo Zielinski in charge, and I’d expect Quilmes to grind out a result in that match. The other game is probably going to be worth a look. Boca isn’t a complete team yet, with some very obvious flaws, but its matches this season to tend to guarantee goals, whereas Temperley put up very spirited resistance against Independiente last weekend before succumbing 1-0 in stoppage time. That should make for an interesting clash in La Bombonera.
Independiente v Gimnasia (6 PM) is going to be… hmm. If I were you, assuming you’re not a supporter of one of these two clubs, I probably wouldn’t watch this one. Independiente has developed an admirable solidity so far this season but it’s not exactly the most entertaining team to watch in the league, and Gimnasia is pretty unconvincing. The alternative, Huracán v Rosario Central (6:15 PM), might prove a very open, slightly mad sort of game, but more likely it’ll be a bit of a waste of time.
So, to summarize: the weather forecast for Saturday looks really nice. Go and enjoy springtime (and maybe pop your head into a café for the Boca game).
In the evening, though, there’s a juicy-looking match which the AFA have clearly scheduled to reward me for having sat through the previous six hours. Estudiantes v Racing (8 PM). Estudiantes is top, unbeaten, and beat San Lorenzo — one of its closest challengers at this early stage — the Nuevo Gasómetro last week. Racing hasn’t had a flawless start under Zielinski, but has what it takes to make this one competitive. Just as long, that is, as it doesn’t repeat the horror show of two weeks ago when it went 1-0 down, 2-1 up and eventually lost 3-2 away to Atlético de Rafalea. If Racing decides to defend like that in La Plata, against this Estudiantes side, this might end up being worth watching purely to see how one-sided it ends up being.
On Sunday, the quality is at least a little more spread through the day. At 2 PM, league champion Lanús hosts Tigre. Now, Lanús hasn’t started well, and has alternated pretty decent showings with awful (by its standards) ones. But Tigre, after a poor start, has gained in confidence and has now scored seven goals in its last two matches. Sure, those were against Unión and Olimpo, whereas Lanús has one of the league’s tightest defenses, but I’m looking forward to seeing whether it can keep that run going.
Godoy Cruz v Aldosivi (3 PM) gets the tag of respectability mostly because it’s in Mendoza, and Godoy Cruz has been sort of all right at home, while Aldosivi’s most consistent performances — albeit mostly 0-0 draws — have come away from home. If this were Aldosivi at home to Godoy Cruz I’d say avoid it like the plague, but Godoy Cruz at home to Aldosivi sounds a bit — just a little bit — more enticing.
That’s not really relevant, though, because at 4 PM (and therefore following on from Lanús v Tigre) is Newell’s Old Boys v San Lorenzo, which is second place v fifth as of the start of the weekend. I don’t know where Newell’s has discovered its defensive ability (it conceded 21 goals in 16 matches during the transitional championship, and has let in two in seven so far this term), but it suddenly looks a much more cohesive team, and last Sunday’s last minute clásico win away to Rosario Central will have sent confidence soaring. San Lorenzo, meanwhile, is a lovely side to watch when in full flow.
At 6 PM is Atlético de Rafaela v Colón de Santa Fe. A couple of months ago I’d have expected this fixture to be perhaps the worst match of the entire season, and it’s testament to the stratospheric improvement in both teams (who have six wins between them so far) that it probably won’t be.
And at 8 PM, Arsenal de Sarandí hosts River Plate. This one should produce goals. It also should see all or nearly all of them being scored by River players, because River is very good going forward and Arsenal is almost unspeakably bad all over the pitch. But the way River has defended at times this season, it might well manage to make this match interesting in spite of itself. Mark this one down as one to watch whether or not you support either team.
With the greatest possible respect to all concerned, unless you support one of the teams, you’re probably not going to want to bother with either Defensa y Justicia v San Martín de San Juan (7 PM) nor Unión de Santa Fe v Sarmiento (9:15 PM).