It’s Avellaneda clásico weekend! Argentina’s second biggest derby (probably) takes place on Sunday night, but it’s far from the only Primera match this weekend, and plenty of the others are also pretty tasty-looking (arguably more so, in fact). So step this way for your weekly preview of what to watch and what not to watch.
When’s Messi playing?
Barcelona travels to the Basque city of San Sebastián/Donostia to take on Real Sociedad on Sunday (4:45 PM Argentine time). In Argentina, the match will be shown on DirecTV channel 610/1610.
The big local league attraction
The clásico de Avellaneda is the headline act of this weekend’s Primera action, as two of the Big Five split Avellaneda – and a fair bit of the rest of Gran Buenos Aires, it must be said – in two. For some reason the security forces are just fine with this one being the 8 PM kick off on Sunday, which is rather unusual for a clásico (in the last few years, this same fixture has had to kick off before noon at least once at the request of police, albeit when away fans were present), meaning it gets prime time billing.
Racing, the home side this weekend, was founded in 1903 in Avellaneda, and was one of the most successful clubs of Argentina’s amateur (pre-1931) era, in particular during the 1910s when it became the first club to win five consecutive league titles, and went on to take that run to seven (to this day, no club since has even managed four straight championships). Racing had a drier spell in the professional era, but still became the first Argentine football team (club or national team) to be able to call itself world champion when it beat Celtic in the Intercontinental Cup in 1967.
Independiente was founded in the City of Buenos Aires – in fact if you head to the corner of Perú and Hipólito Yrigoyen in the Microcentro, you’ll see a metal plaque on the outside wall of a stationery shop, which is dedicated to the founders of the club – in 1904 (though its official foundation date is January 1, 1905). Independiente has less success in the league than Racing (16 titles to 17), but was the first Argentine club to win the Copa Libertadores, and is the club with more Copas Libertadores than any other, not just in Argentina but in the whole of South America, having been champion of South America on seven occasions.
In short, these are two big clubs… but don’t get too excited. This, after all, is an Argentine derby, and that means there’s a very good chance indeed that it’ll be attritional and involve as many arguments as moments of skill. Both teams had frustrations last weekend – Racing drew away to Huracán while Independiente was beaten at home by a San Lorenzo reserve side – which just adds to tension for this already finely-balanced fixture. Some football might break out at points, but it’s the atmosphere you want to catch this one for, really.
So, what are the other highlights?
League leader Estudiantes visits Banfield on Saturday at 6:30 PM. Banfield got a win over Arsenal de Sarandí last week which sent it to 15 points, meaning that in the first ten games of this season it’s already equalled its total from all sixteen games of the last campaign. It’s done that largely by beating poor teams and drawing with slightly better ones, though, so this game might be a bridge too far because Estudiantes is very, very good, as you’d expect from a team at the top of the league. The leader is twenty-one league games unbeaten, and its record so far this season is eight wins and two draws. Banfield’s confidence might help it make a game of this one all the same, though.
Colón v Newell’s Old Boys (Saturday, 5 PM) should be good as well. Both teams are significantly overperforming compared with expectations, and while Newell’s is the team in better form (it’s level with second-placed San Lorenzo on 21 points), Colón’s home advantage acts as an interesting leveller.
And San Lorenzo v Boca Juniors (Sunday, 6:30 PM) is the other all Big Five clásico of the weekend. San Lorenzo is the only team to have played Boca a large number of times and still have a winning record against it, and with its Copa Sudamericana campaign now over following Wednesday night’s exit to Chapecoense, it has no reason not to go all in for the league title challenge now. Boca, though, starts the weekend in fourth, and could leapfrog San Lorenzo (and perhaps Newell’s if the latter loses or draws on Saturday) with a win here.
And further down the list?
We’re now reaching the point where the relegation battle is taking shape, meaning some intrigue gets introduced into some hitherto unattractive-seeming fixtures. Aldosivi v Vélez Sarsfield (Sunday, 5 PM) stands out as one of those. Both teams are outside the relegation zone at present, but both are showing the sort of form that could easily see them slip down if they can’t pick up their games. Aldosivi has one win all season and is without a win in five; Vélez picked up just its third win of the term last week, and has lost all its other matches. This one’s a dogfight.
Defensa y Justicia v Patronato (Monday, 5 PM) is another fixture between two sides who’ll consider one another direct rivals in the struggle against the drop, and thus might be worth a look. Most of the other fixtures pit a team in serious relegation trouble against one which is pretty comfortable, thus lack much real interest for neutral observers.
Two exceptions to that statement are River Plate v Huracán (Sunday, 5 PM), where River is very comfortable but in need of a big performance after a poor show against Newell’s last week (that being said, it will be a mixed or reserve team here ahead of the Copa Argentina semi-final in midweek), and Talleres v Arsenal (Friday, 9:15 PM), with Arsenal among my favourites for relegation but Talleres – newly promoted this season – on a phenomenal run of five straight wins. If the Córdoba side can also win this one it will go to twenty points from just eleven matches; bearing in mind that a little more than one point per game will likely be enough to secure survival at the end of the season, it could be a huge match for the home team.