Last week’s matches threw up no shortage of surprises, most notably no fewer than four previously unbeaten teams all losing, and two teams claiming their first wins at last (and one match involved both of those things happening: Patronato v River Plate, which was both the host’s first win of the season and River’s first defeat). Also, one of the games I suggested probably wasn’t going to be worth watching — Olimpo v Tigre — ended in a 4-1 win for the away side. Take this as proof that even I can’t predict everything, and football can be surprising sometimes.
When’s Messi playing?
Fresh from his midweek hat trick against Manchester City in the Champions League, little Lionel and friends will be making the short trip down the coast from Barcelona to take on Valencia. the game is at 11:15 AM on Saturday (Argentine time), and in these parts it’ll be on DirecTV.
The top-of-the-table clash
Normally, I’d use this first spot to talk a bit about the weekend’s upcoming clásico, but not this week. That’s because clásicos are often pretty turgid, while my match to watch this weekend is second-placed San Lorenzo at home to league leader Estudiantes (Sunday, 6 PM). In case you’ve been living on Mars, or maybe just not paying any attention to football for the last few weeks, San Lorenzo is in extremely good form right now. Just last night it barely got out of first gear but still beat Chilean club Palestino 2-0 in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana quarter-finals. With Fernando “John” Belluschi (not his real nickname, I just made it up) in stonking form in midfield and Nicolás Blandi and Martín Cauteruccio taking it in turns to score up front, it’s beginning to look unstoppable.
But if anyone can stop San Lorenzo, Estudiantes can. The La Plata side has only failed to win one league match so far this season — the 0-0 draw in the derby against Gimnasia a couple of rounds ago — and although it conceded for the first time(s) this season against Rosario Central last weekend, it went right back up the other end of the pitch and outscored the visitor in a wonderfully entertaining 3-2 win. Estudiantes has scored twelve league goals so far this season from eight different players, which is a sign of a very healthy team indeed. Reserve the TV for this one — and if you’ve got a San Lorenzo-supporting friend who offers you a ticket, accept!
The clásico rosarino
Okay, as I said above this will most likely be somewhat dull, but we can’t have a weekend football preview and not give the big derby match (Sunday, 4 PM) a proper billing, can we? And it’s not like there’s no interest, because this looks like one of the most evenly-matched Rosario derbies for a while. Which is a polite way of saying Newell’s Old Boys has improved quite a lot since last season, and Central is undergoing a bit of a dip in form. Central hasn’t lost any of the last 10 competitive clásicos these two great rivals have played — it’s managed five draws and five wins since Newell’s last beat it, back in November 2008.
It’s not always been so one-sided: Central has stretched its advantage with this recent run, but in 2008 the head-to-head between the teams was more even. Today, in competitive matches, Central has 87 wins and Newell’s has 74, with 99 draws. This is the oldest surviving clásico in Argentine football (the first one was played in 1905, and ended 1-0 to Newell’s). Right now, Newell’s is unbeaten in the league and level on points with San Lorenzo, while Central is down in twelfth, after an iffy start. It feels like Newell’s won’t get a better chance to cut short that poor recent run in the fixture… but Central is at home an isn’t totally awful, so we’ll have to wait and see. Wow, I’ve talked myself round to quite looking forward to it, now.
The Big Five
Apart from San Lorenzo (which is hosting Estudiantes, remember? You remember that, it was just four paragraphs ago), the rest of the Big Five have fixtures that look relatively kind… but then, remember last weekend, when River, Racing and Independiente all lost, and remember that Boca Juniors has serious problems away from home, and well… it looks a little less clear.
Independiente is first up (of this group), away to Temperley on Saturday (4 PM). Temperley was poor in its opening fixtures and has had a harder run since (playing Estudiantes and Newell’s back to back before last week’s win over Huracán), so it’s a little hard to judge, but this isn’t likely to be a great one for neutrals, I’d say. Next up is Racing, which hosts Arsenal de Sarandí (Saturday, 6 PM). Racing’s attacking instincts don’t seem to be sitting too well with Ricardo Zielinski’s management style, and it exited the Copa Argentina to Gimnasia on Wednesday, but it knows how to turn things on still and Arsenal is having a terrible season. This one could get one-sided, if Racing lets loose.
River Plate is at home to Atlético de Rafaela (Saturday, 8 PM), the team that thrillingly beat Racing 3-2 to record its first win of the season last weekend. River matches this season are more entertaining for the neutral than they are for River fans — in classic 1980s hairstyle terms, River is business at the front, party at the back. It has scored more goals than anyone else, but is showing the kind of attitude to defending that at times makes you want to hide behind the sofa while watching. Atlético, as I just said, are coming from a 3-2 win, so I’d say this one should be worth catching.
And Boca Juniors is visiting Atlético Tucumán on Sunday night (8 PM). Regular readers know the drill by now: it doesn’t matter how good Boca looked last week in La Bombonera, its away form is woeful. It’s gone eleven away games in all competitions without a win. As if that wasn’t discouraging enough, Atlético Tucumán actually leads the head-to-head in this fixture, six wins to five (with one draw). If you’re a fan of one of the other four grandes and your team loses earlier in the weekend, maybe you could tune into this one in the hope of brightening your mood a bit?
Some thoughts on some of the rest, quickly!
I’m going on a bit, so very briefly: Banfield v Vélez Sarsfield (Sunday, 4 PM) might be quite good or might be bloody awful, Colón v Patronato (Saturday, 5:30 PM) has potential if Patronato can repeat the level of their performance against River last weekend, and for God’s sake don’t watch Sarmiento v Olimpo (tonight, 7 PM) or Aldosivi v San Martín (Monday, 9 PM) while operating heavy machinery. Both matches might very well send you to sleep.