Is it that time of the week again already? The Primera División is back already, and this weekend the action gets off to a very exciting-looking start straight away. So step this way, and find out what the weekend has in store…
When’s Messi Playing?
Lionel Messi’s Barcelona lost to Real Madrid last weekend, before beating Atlético de Madrid in the first leg of its Champions League quarter-final. It still leads La Liga by six points, and aims to maintain that gap on Saturday, when it visits Real Sociedad (3:30 PM Argentine time). At the time of writing, the TV schedules were rather confused, but it looks like you’ll need DirecTV to watch this one.
And What About This Week’s Clásico?
It’s a tasty one. Down in the Zona Sur of Greater Buenos Aires, Banfield hosts Lanús (Sunday, 3:45 PM) in one of the country’s biggest new rivalries (or should that be one of the country’s newest big rivalries?). These two clubs, from neighboring suburbs in the south of the urban sprawl that is BA, were pretty friendly with one another until the 1980s, when both had an upturn in fortunes and started to look beyond their immediate neighbors. These days, this is as intense a rivalry between neighboring teams as any.
Banfield is lead by Uruguayan forward Santiago Silva, who’s played for both these clubs before, but in spite of his four goals in nine appearances, it has managed just one win so far in 2016. Lanús has been one of the surprise packages of the campaign, meanwhile, with seven wins, one draw and just one defeat to top Group 2. It’s been a drastic improvement from a frankly disappointing 2015 for the Granate.
If Lanús plays at its best, this is only going one way, but I’ve said that before about many clásicos, and it often doesn’t work out that way. Banfield has stepped things up for the derby before, and could do so again here.
What Else Looks Good To Watch?
When I sat down to write this piece this week, I was hoping there would be at least one match that stands out, and I certainly got my wish; one of the first two games of the weekend is over in Mendoza. Godoy Cruz v San Lorenzo (Friday, 9:15 PM) should be a lot of fun for the neutral. Godoy Cruz is playing wonderfully at present, demolishing Vélez Sarsfield 4-1 away last time out and topping Group 1 with 20 points. It’s unbeaten since a 1-0 defeat to Rosario Central on the opening weekend, and is the second-top scoring team in the top flight.
San Lorenzo isn’t enjoying such great form, sitting sixth in Group 1, but also likes to get forward, and last weekend’s win over Belgrano, in which it came back from 2-0 down to claim a rousing 3-2 victory, must have brought some confidence back into the team. Pablo Guede seems to be constantly on the verge of a fan revolt over his management, but it’s difficult for neutral fans to keep their eyes off the team too long, for better or for worse. Tell your friends you need to choose the TV channel if you’re meeting them for early drinks tonight – or that you’ll meet them after this one’s over.
Even in this league campaign, Racing’s recent results stand out; it’s conceded three goals in three of its last four league matches, but amazingly only dropped two points from those games, beating both Atlético de Rafaela and Unión by 6-3 scorelines, and drawing 3-3 with Tigre last weekend. On Thursday night, it beat a pretty poor Deportivo Cali side 4-2 in the Copa Libertadores. This is a team that can’t defend to save its life, but has the firepower up front to bail itself out. This weekend’s visit to Aldosivi (Sunday, 6 PM) should be a win, but Racing’s defense could end up turning it into more of a contest than it ought to be.
And The Rest Of The Big Five?
These ones look so-so, to me. River Plate hosts Sarmiento (Saturday, 5:45 PM) fresh from the confidence boost that was Wednesday evening’s 6-0 thrashing of The Strongest in the Copa Libertadores. Sarmiento is struggling and River should win this – but then, River should have won a lot of matches so far this year, and hasn’t done. Independiente is also at home, against Olimpo (Saturday, 8 PM), and again this one ought to be one-sided; Independiente have too much for Olimpo, and unlike River are actually winning most of the matches in which they’re the better team.
Boca Juniors plays on Sunday, away to Tigre (8:10 PM). Boca has put in two performances in the last week which were vastly improved on what went before; a 3-0 win over Atlético de Rafaela last weekend, and a 3-1 win over Bolívar in the Copa Libertadores on Thursday night. Two weeks to work with the team over the international break has clearly been a godsend for Guillermo Barros Schelotto, and the players look much more comfortable. Tigre has poor results so far, but has scored enough to at least give this one the look of a match with the potential to see goals from both teams.
Which Games Should I Avoid?
In such an entertaining campaign there’s always the danger of being proven wrong, but for God’s sake don’t whatever you do cancel anything to watch Argentinos Juniors v Newell’s Old Boys (Sunday, 5:45 PM). Argentinos is absolutely pathetic at present, the only team in either group which still hasn’t managed a win. I was at Newell’s game against Aldosivi last weekend and got a chance to see in person how frustrating the team is; even when playing better, it still can’t get the win at present. Both of these teams are letting down the fine reputations of their clubs at present.
On a brighter note, though, I’m going to call Defensa y Justicia v Temperley (Saturday, 5:45 PM) as a potential dark horse. This one could turn out to be a very open, competitive game indeed.