Rejoice, dear readers! The long, dark night of the football fan’s soul that is a football-free weekend due to the international break is behind us! In Argentina, this means most players have had a couple of weeks of relatively relaxed training (not that the attackers seemed to need much of a break, to judge from the rate at which goals have been flying in), and new managers have had a decent spell to work with their teams. Now it’s time to dive back into the helter skelter of the league. So what are this weekend’s highlights?
When’s Messi Playing?
I’m glad you ask, because he’s got a very big match coming up this weekend. at 3:30 PM on Saturday, Barcelona hosts its most hated rival, Real Madrid, in the Clásico, and the world seems to think that Lionel Messi’s looking for the 500th goal of his career (except that he’s actually already scored 510, because Barcelona’s B and C teams also play in the Spanish league system and he got 11 in total for them before debuting for the first team). It’s on both ESPN2 and ESPN3, for some reason.
What’s This Weekend’s Big Clásico In Argentina, Then?
There isn’t one. This weekend’s inter-group match – which is the slot created for the weekly derby game normally – is filled by the rather unglamorous Defensa y Justicia v Arsenal de Sarandí (Sunday, 5:45 PM). No offence meant to either of those clubs (oh okay, I do mean to offend Arsenal), but that’s not a real clásico. That doesn’t mean it won’t be an interesting match in its own right, though! Defensa is trying to position itself in the chasing pack in Group 2, six points behind leader Lanús, and Arsenal sits fourth in Group 1, just four behind Rosario Central. To add to that, Defensa has one of the top-scoring attacks in the league. Both are having far better campaigns than expected, in spite of both losing last time out.
If That’s Not The Highlight Of The Weekend, What Is?
Good question; there are a few candidates. The match I’m going for though, as a neutral, is Vélez Sarsfield v Godoy Cruz (Sunday, 7:30 PM). Vélez has come on leaps and bounds since last year’s very poor showing; it’s been inconsistent this year, it’s true (their sequence of games so far goes LWWLWLWL), but has looked a lively side and all of its defeats have been by a single goal. Godoy Cruz, meanwhile, has been arguably the revelation of the year so far. After a narrow opening weekend loss to Central, the Mendoza team has racked up five wins and two draws in its last seven matches.
Sebastián Méndez’s Godoy Cruz is an attack-minded team which is a lot of fun to watch and looks high on confidence, whilst Christian Bassedas’ Vélez is still finding its feet, but is rediscovering some of what gained the club a reputation for bringing through young talent in the process. This looks like an intriguing match.
And The Others?
Both Boca Juniors and River Plate play on Saturday this weekend, an unusual situation brought about by the fact they both have Copa Libertadores commitments next week so have asked to bring these games forward to allow them more time to prepare. River is away to Patronato de Paraná at 8 PM, with what might be a heavily rotated team considering nine players suffered from gastroenteritis during the week. In truth, though, with the title already gone and the club focussing on qualification for the knockout stage of the Libertadores, this isn’t such an interesting fixture.
Boca’s match at home to Atlético de Rafaela (Saturday, 5:45 PM) might be, though. It should be a nailed-on win for the Xeneize, but the instructive thing will be the performance. Boca continues to have injury problems, and the fact that Daniel Osvaldo will miss out here is unfortunate, but new manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto has had the last two weeks to work with his squad. That’s not a full pre-season, of course, but it’s far more time than he’s had in one stretch between games since taking over, so fans could expect to see some small glimpses of his ideas finally having a chance to sink in.
There’s the potential for goals at Racing v Tigre (Saturday, 3:30 PM), partly because Tigre are struggling defensively and partly because Racing’s attack is going through opposing defenses like a runaway train at the moment. If you can get down to Avellaneda on Saturday afternoon, this one could be a very enjoyable game to catch in the flesh.
Rounding out the Big Five, San Lorenzo hosts Belgrano (Sunday, 4:15 PM) and Independiente visits Sarmiento (Sunday, 8 PM) in what looks at first glance like a complete mismatch which should be an easy win for El Rojo. Sarmiento’s new manager, everyone’s favorite raving lunatic Ricardo Caruso Lombardi, has managed a 0-0 draw with Godoy Cruz and a very creditable 1-0 defeat to Central in his two games in charge so far, though, so there’s scope for Group 1’s bottom team to snatch a surprise point here.
Which Ones Should I Avoid?
If you’re asking this question I can only conclude you’ve not paid any attention to the season so far. There have been ridiculous goals flying in all over the place. You should watch all of them. But with that in mind, if you’ve got a hot date on Friday or Sunday, I wouldn’t call it off to stay in for Temperley v Estudiantes (Friday, 9:15 PM) or San Martín v Argentinos Juniors (Sunday, 5:15 PM).