After an international break that was harder to sit through than most given Argentina’s dismal performances the Primera División is back this weekend, and here’s some advice on which games you should try to make a point of watching.
When’s Messi playing?
It’s not absolutely definite that he will be doing so, but rumors out of the Barcelona camp suggest little Lionel is back to full fitness and ready to turn out at Camp Nou when Barcelona hosts Deportivo de La Coruña at 11:15 AM Argentine time on Saturday. In Argentina, it’ll be on ESPN2.
Any games to avoid?
Let’s get these out of the way first this week. So, first things first: Olimpo v Tigre (Sunday, 2 PM) seems extremely unlikely to be any good. These teams have managed one win and seven goals between them so far this term. San Martín v Talleres (Saturday, 6:15 PM) meanwhile, is a game between two teams that haven’t managed to win any games between them yet. Talleres keeps on giving the impression that bad start is going to come to an end any game now, and then coming up short. And besides, there’s a much more attractive match on at almost the same time…
Estudiantes v Rosario Central (Saturday, 6 PM). Estudiantes leads the league after the first five matches, is unbeaten and has yet to concede a goal. It’s true it hasn’t yet played any seriously difficult opponents (although two weeks ago it was away to Gimnasia is the La Plata derby, which counts for something), but the balance of the team is impressive and it’s clear a title challenge is a very realistic expectation. Central started the season slowly but jolted abruptly into form before the international break, cutting loose and thrashing Arsenal de Sarandí 5-0. Estudiantes’ poise against Central’s capacity to let rip should make for a fascinating encounter.
What about the Big Five?
On the face of it, all of the Grandes will be expecting three points from this weekend, although there are a couple of wrinkles in the form book. Racing visits Atlético de Rafaela (Saturday, 4 PM), which has improved a bit (from a very low base) so far this season — but Racing has done better away than at home so far this season. Independiente is at home to Atlético Tucumán (Saturday, 8 PM), an opponent which has lost three games in a row, and Boca Juniors — which for all its problems in away games has found a very good rhythm in La Bombonera — hosts Sarmiento (Sunday, 4 PM). Sarmiento hasn’t conceded many goals so far, but it’s scored even fewer, and Boca should expect three points from this one.
The remaining two of the Big Five are both away from home, but also have “accessible” opponents. San Lorenzo, enjoying the plaudits after a very impressive 3-1 win over Godoy Cruz in the Copa Argentina in midweek, visits Arsenal (Sunday, 6 PM), which is smarting from that 5-0 defeat to Central two weeks ago and has a tough run of fixtures coming up. River Plate is away to Patronato de Paraná (Sunday, 8 PM) in a match that pits the worst team in the league against one of the best.
That’s not to say those five are matches to avoid, necessarily — they just don’t look like five of the most evenly-matched encounters on this weekend’s fixture list.
Any other potential talking points?
It’ll be interesting to see how Colón gets on. The Santa Fe club has looked much, much better than last season — especially in defense, where it has yet to concede a goal — and after several very difficult years institutionally this is looking like the campaign that could see it get back on track, at least on the pitch. It’s had a relatively kind fixture list so far and that continues this week as it visits Vélez Sarsfield (Saturday, 2 PM), which admittedly has had rather trickier fixtures, but has frequently put players on the pitch who give the appearance of not having been introduced to each other before kick off. Can Vélez improve now that very difficult opening run of fixtures is over, or has Colón got momentum and confidence on its side after a fine start? It could be fun finding out.
Elsewhere, Lanús v Godoy Cruz (Sunday, 2 PM) pits the reigning champion against one of the losing semi-finalists from the last championship. The interesting thing is that both have struggled to replicate that form so far this season. Godoy Cruz has been especially poor away, and was well outplayed by San Lorenzo on Wednesday in the Copa Argentina, but that game was in the Lanús stadium so the Mendoza side have at least had the benefit of having been in Buenos Aires for a few days ahead of this match, meaning travel time might be less of an issue here. Lanús meanwhile hasn’t won since it’s 1-0 victory over Boca on the opening weekend. For both teams, this match represents a fine chance to try and announce a return to form.
Whichever matches you watch over the weekend, enjoy them! And if you don’t fancy staying in for Unión v Quilmes on Monday night (9 PM), why not come and say hello to me as I emcee the Buenos Aires Pub Quiz instead? I promise you it’ll be much more fun. Well, probably.