It’s Friday already, which means it’s time for another weekend football preview, with one particularly big attraction this weekend. We’ll get to that, but first…
When’s Messi Playing?
I’ll be answering this question each week from now on. It seems a bit daft to not mention when you can watch an all-time great doing his thing, after all. Having scored a hat trick yesterday against Rayo Vallecano (the 35th of his career), Little Lionel’s next match will be on Sunday at 12 noon Argentina time, as Barcelona visits Eibar. The match will be televised live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.
The Weekend’s Main Domestic Highlight
…is also on Sunday, when River Plate hosts Boca Juniors in the superclásico (5 PM). There are some other decent match-ups this weekend (see below), but this one, among the biggest derbies in world football, dwarfs them in terms of interest. River seems to be coming into the game in slightly better shape; neither team has started the year perfectly, but River has been more settled, has kept clean sheets in its last two matches and continues to look very threatening going forward. River has a few injury worries, but the defense looks like it’s starting to find its feet in Éder Álvarez Balanta’s absence, and there’s a chance Andrés D’Alessandro could return in time for the match.
Boca of course has had less time to focus on this match, because it played Racing in the Copa Libertadores on Thursday evening, just a day after appointing Guillermo Barros Schelotto as its new manager. An inauspicious start to the league season (like River, Boca has seven points from five matches) has combined with an underwhelming first two Copa Libertadores games (two draws to start the group stage) to mean that suddenly, every game is vital. This is a baptism of fire for Barros Schelotto, who has a star player who looks a shadow of himself (Carlos Tevez has some mobility issues due to an injury he’s carrying in his left knee). Boca looked better at first and just as bad later on against Racing on Thursday, but the manager had only had one training session with the team prior to that match, and will only have had another two at most before Sunday’s game. The superclásico doesn’t allow any margin for error, and the nerves on both sides often act as a great leveller on occasions like this when one team seems to have a big advantage, but even so River look better prepared.
If you’re going to be winning control of the remote on Sunday to watch it, you have a lot of channels to choose from; the match will be live on América 2, Telefé and Canal Trece. If you’ve found this page from abroad (or indeed from inside Argentina) because you’re looking for a stream, head over to my Twitter profile where I’ll tweet links to the official live streams of all three channels a few minutes before kick off. Fingers crossed at least one of them isn’t geo-blocked. Foreign kick off times for the game are 8 PM in the UK, 3 PM on the east coast of the United States and hopefully everyone else can work theirs out from one of those.
The super is the biggest match of the weekend, but it’s far from the only tasty-looking one. First up, right after River v Boca (which will probably be a fiesta of bad-tempered kicking and stodgy play, for all the must-not-miss craziness of it) we’ll have the chance to enjoy the best footballing team in Argentina right now, Rosario Central. A “mixed” Central side lost 2-0 away to Palmeiras in the Copa Libertadores last night – with Palmeiras’ second coming moments from the end as the visitors pushed high in search of an equalizer they really deserved. The team will be close to full strength again on Sunday though, when it hosts Banfield (7:15 PM) looking to extend Chacho Coudet’s unbeaten home run since taking over as manager to 20 matches. The truth is that Banfield’s current form doesn’t suggest this will be a huge challenge for Central, but all the same. It’s Rosario Central! Just look at the first two goals from its match last weekend.
Why would you not want to hang around post-River v Boca to watch this team?
Independiente v Colón (Saturday, 9:30 PM) looks intriguing too. Both teams have struggled for form in recent matches – Colón has lost two in a row, after starting the year with three consecutive wins, while Independiente won on the opening weekend and has since drawn two and lost two. Both teams need a good result, and for Independiente in particular I’ll be interested to see this one because it looks like their most difficult run of fixtures is now over – in those four winless games they’ve visited Godoy Cruz and River and hosted Central and their bitter local rival Racing. The team is bound to have had its confidence affected by not winning any of those, but should be able to pick itself up.
The other match to watch is another Group 1 game, between Godoy Cruz and Patronato (Monday, 9:15 PM). Godoy Cruz has had a fine run in recent weeks, winning three games in a row. Patronato started slowly but respectably – drawing three of its first four matches – before finally recording its first win last time out at home to Belgrano. With the visitor thus newly energised and having found some confidence, and the host flying in attack and likely to concede at least once if its defensive record so far is anything to go by, I can see goals in this game.
Ones To Avoid?
The only match that stands out to me for looking really unattractive is Atlético de Rafaela v San Martín (Saturday, 5 PM). Both are winless in four, with the home team having lost four in a row. But then, last weekend I told you not to bother staying in for Banfield v Godoy Cruz on Friday evening, and that ended 3-2 with a flurry of late goals. So what do I know?