The midweek fixtures were brutal for Argentine clubs, as Tuesday and Wednesday saw Huracán, River Plate and Racing all exit the Copa Libertadores — Rosario Central and Boca Juniors are left flying the flag on the continental stage after their victories last night. But the weekend means a return to domestic action, with the eliminated teams perhaps feeling they have something to prove, and the title frontrunners hoping to edge a little closer to the final…
When’s Messi Playing?
Barcelona could win La Liga this weekend, though given the form of the two teams chasing them it seems unlikely. If Barça wins its city derby with Espanyol, Atlético de Madrid loses away to Levante and Real Madrid drops points at home to Valencia (all three results need to combine), Barcelona would be three points clear of its nearest pursuer with one game left, and a superior head-to-head record would guarantee it the title. All La Liga matches this weekend kick off at 12 noon Argentine time on Sunday; Barcelona is on ESPN2 (the two Madrid clubs are shown on DirecTV channels, in case you’re wondering).
And What About The Argentine Title Race?
This could be a decisive weekend down here as well — at least in Group 2, which Lanús is running away with. There are two rounds of matches left after this weekend, but Lanús is already seven points clear at the top of Group 2, meaning it would guarantee a place in the final with a win this weekend. Standing in its way will be Aldosivi (Sunday, 4:15 PM), which has flattered to deceive after starting the year in promising fashion with victories in its opening two matches. The interest in this game will be all about watching arguably the best team in the league (it’s hard to say definitively given Lanús has played a totally different set of opponents from those faced by the Group 1 teams) as it seeks to close in on its second ever Primera title.
Lanús fans will want to keep an eye on another fixture as well, though, because it might have its place in the final clinched before it even kicks off on Sunday. The only team which can catch Lanús in Group 2 is Estudiantes de La Plata, which plays Racing in Avellaneda at 8 PM on Saturday. A win for Racing in that match will put Lanús into the final regardless of what Lanús does; a draw in Avellaneda would leave Lanús needing only a point itself on Sunday to reach the finishing line. The double intrigue in this one, of course, is that after Libertadores elimination on Wednesday night Racing might want to give its fans something to cheer about this weekend, and that could make it a dangerous opponent. Manager Facundo Sava is expected to field a full-strength team.
Group 1 is considerably tighter, to the extent that it’s possible four teams could end this weekend still with a mathematical chance to reaching the final. Two of them will be hoping for slip-ups from the ones above, though, because Arsenal de Sarandí and Gimnasia La Plata are six points behind Godoy Cruz and San Lorenzo as things stand — if all four teams won their matches this weekend, the former two would be requiring two straight wins and for both of the latter two to lose both their remaining games as well as a big goal difference swing. So let’s deal quickly with Arsenal’s and Gimnasia’s chances first.
Arsenal is at home to Rosario Central (Sunday, 2 PM), and ought to be favorite given that Central has advanced in the Libertadores and will play its first leg at home to Atlético Nacional next week (that’s an extremely tasty-looking fixture, by the way, so make a date in your diary for next Thursday at 9:45 PM for the first leg). Given that upcoming fixture, the visitor is surely likely to field a rotated team, but this could be a decent match all the same.
Gimnasia hosts Independiente (Sunday, 8:45 PM), and again it seems unlikely to be a huge challenge; the visitor has scored only twice in its last five league matches, and managed to beat third division San Telmo by just one goal in the Copa Argentina on Wednesday night. A win might keep Independiente in the race, but it would require the two leaders to have both dropped points just to maintain a slim chance.
The Must-Watch Match Is On Saturday
The top two in Group 1 both play earlier in the weekend — in fact Godoy Cruz plays tonight. Its tremendously entertaining youngsters visit Quilmes at 9:45 PM, and after proving it can win even when not playing so well against Arsenal last weekend, this will be a big indicator of how real the challenge is; a win would be a real statement of intent, and would exert pressure on San Lorenzo to keep up the pace when it hosts River Plate (Saturday, 5:45 PM). River will be fielding a full strength team as it looks for a morale boost following Wednesday’s Libertadores exit, and if it plays like it did in that match it could be a very dangerous opponent. That this match is also a minor clásico makes it my pick for the weekend, although a lot depends on how determined River is to turn the page on its midweek disappointment.
Any To Avoid?
Atlético de Rafaela v Tigre (Sunday, 8 PM) looks unappealing, and Sarmiento v Patronato (Monday, 9:15 PM) is an unappetising relegation scrap. Monday’s other match is Olimpo v Banfield (7 PM), which doesn’t look bad, but there are better things to do — such as the Buenos Aires Pub Quiz at La Cigale in the Microcentro, say. Oh, and I haven’t forgotten Boca Juniors v Huracán (Sunday, 6:30 PM). I wouldn’t say it’s one to avoid by any means, but with Boca into the Libertadores quarter-finals (and therefore likely to field a weakened team here) and Huracán in poor recent league form, I don’t think it stands out especially either.