Impressive displays from Boca Juniors and River Plate last weekend were followed by drama in the Copa Sudamericana round of 32 in the three all-Argentine ties in midweek, and no sooner is that all over than we’re getting ready to go again with the third round of league action. This week I’ll consider some of the main questions I’m hoping will be answered in this weekend’s fixtures.
When’s Messi playing?
Okay, that one’s not a question I have myself, but one I’m going to give you the answer to: Barcelona visits Leganés at 8 AM Argentine time tomorrow (Saturday). If you have access to ESPN, you can watch it. Because that’s the channel it’s being broadcast on.
Is Vélez Sarsfield good again?
This is a question I’ve been wondering about all week. When Defensa y Justicia got a 0-0 draw away to Rosario Central on the opening weekend, it looked like a great result born of defensive resiliance. But then last weekend Central came to Buenos Aires and was well beaten by Vélez, 2-0. That shifted my thinking. What if Central was no longer a good team who’d been held by a brilliant showing on the first weekend, but had in fact turned into a bit of a crap team during the winter break? Or then agains — perhaps even more intriguinglys — what if Vélez is actually getting good again?
On Saturday we should find out a little more, because Vélez visits San Lorenzo in a big grudge match (8 PM). This one isn’t a clásico as suchs — that would be Huracán for San Lorenzo, and Nueva Chicago for Vélezs — but these teams have taken quite a strong dislike to one another in recent years all the same, which makes it an intriguing clash. San Lorenzo improved last weekend in beating Defensa y Justicia 2-0 away, and then thrashed Banfield 4-1 on Tuesday night to overturn a 2-0 first leg deficit against Banfield in the Copa Sudamericana.
Both teams have got encouraging recent performances to fall back on, then, and this will be a tough test of Vélez’s seeming resurgence. That should make this one of the most interesting match-ups of the weekend.
Can Talleres start getting points on the board?
Talleres de Córdoba was the only team promoted this winter, and immediately threw a lot of money at the squad to improve the playing staff and try to ensure it won’t be one of the four to be relegated at the end of this season. Its start has seen it gather only one point from two matchess — but those two matches were away to Racing and at home to River Plate, in two of the toughest fixtures Talleres will face all season. There were creditable performances in both, and if the team can maintain the same intensity when the “easier” fixtures come around, it should be well placed.
One of those “easier” fixtures is now. Colón hosts Talleres in Santa Fe tonight at 9:15 PM. Colón has started well, with a 2-0 win over Aldosivi and a 0-0 draw with Banfield, and will be looking forward to this, its first home match of the season… but it’s fair to say that Colón isn’t on the same level as River or Racing. This might be an away game, but with its squad and those encouraging first two performances, Talleres has to be hoping for at least a draw from this match, and if it can get a win then some momentum might begin to build which could cause the other teams in the relegation scrap real problems.
How will Boca replace Carlos Tevez?
Boca Juniors star Carlos Tevez got himself sent off last weekend, just minutes after opening the scoring against Belgrano, for insulting the referee, and as such he’s suspended for the next three matches. Manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto has given few clues as to whether he’ll try and continue with the same formation and tacticss — in which case he’ll have to find a direct replacement for Tevezs — or whether he’ll rejig things altogether. Ricardo Centurión and Fernando Zuqui seem to be the two favourites should the formation remain the same, which would both be interesting choices. Centurión’s best role is out wide, so whether he can be as effective in the middle is a big question, while Zuqui is a more deep-lying midfielder normally; pushing him into Tevez’s role looks a lot like Edgardo Bauza playing Éver Banega as a No. 10 against Venezuela a couple of weeks ago, which didn’t work well at all.
Boca visits Godoy Cruz at 4 PM on Sunday.
Is Central ever going to click?
One of the best attacking teams in the league over the last year and a half, Rosario Central has failed to score in two matches so far this seasons — a 0-0 draw at home to Defensa y Justicia on the opening weekend, and a 2-0 defeat away to Vélez last week. Both were teams Central would have expected to beat last term, and this is the first real dip in form that the side has experienced since Eduardo Coudet took over a couple of years ago. Can the young manager steer his charges through this slump?
In an attempt to do just that, he’s wheeling out the big guns: Paulo Ferrari and Teo Gutiérrez (yes, that “big guns” comment was intentional. I just can’t help myself with Teo) are among the players expected to come in following last weekend’s disappointment against Vélez. If Central can get over this slow start it could still be one of the title challengers, but right now the home match against Patronato at 4 PM tomorrow has never looked more like a must-win game for Coudet.
Avoid these games
Tigre v Huracán (Monday, 7 PM) doesn’t look like a thriller based on their performances so far, and Temperley v Arsenal de Sarandí (Sunday, 2 PM) could get rather stodgy. Aldosivi v Banfield (Saturday, 5 PM) is another one for which you’ve surely got better things to do.