Hopefully all HEGS readers had a good few days off for Christmas (those who had days off for it, at least). After a couple of days away from the keyboard myself (you only need a mouse to play Football Manager), I hope I’ve now got things straight enough to look back on what was a fantastically exciting short tournament. We’ll stick to matters on the pitch for now; there will be a full retrospective of 2008 off the pitch for your reading pleasure on New Year’s Eve (he types, hoping like hell he’ll have the time to do it…).
Over the moon:
Boca Juniors, obviously. Having claimed their first league title since the 2006 Apertura, they’ll be celebrating a 23rd professional title long and hard. Some relief will no doubt also come from the fact that they did it via a playoff – expunging some of the memories of that amazing capitulation at the end of the 2006 Clausura.
Newell’s Old Boys will also be delighted with a fifth-place finish which has seen them jump some way clear of a relegation struggle they looked, at the start of the season, to be in danger of getting dragged into – and they did it with a leading scorer, Christian Fabbiani, who scored just five goals. A proper team effort.
Tigre, once again, deserve an honourable mention. Taking San Lorenzo and Boca to a playoff – getting even closer than twelve months ago to claiming an historic first title – was an amazing feat, and they were unbeaten (four wins, one draw) against the ‘Big Five’. Criminally, thanks to the Copa Libertadores qualification rules, they just missed out on a continental campaign. Will Diego Cagna stay anyway?
Under the weather:
River Plate. What can be said? After four years of frustration, they ended their title drought just six months ago in the Clausura – and followed it up with their worst ever league campaign in the Apertura, finishing bottom. The loss of Juan Pablo Carrizo was expected to hurt but Ariel Ortega’s exile was imposed by the club (more specifically, by Diego Simeone) and the remaining players couldn’t muster enough. With Néstor Gorosito now in to replace Simeone, 2009 can only get better for River. Can’t it?
Independiente only finished two positions – and four points – better off than River, and will hardly be delighted with that after qualifying, at the end of the Clausura, for continental competition again at long last and immediately going out of the Copa Sudamericana to Estudiantes. Lanús might also wonder what might have been. If they hadn’t conceded quite so often in the first half of the campaign – in particular, draws with Gimnasia La Plata and Colón stand out – they’d have probably had the points required to have claimed another title. Wins instead of draws in those two matches would have put them two points ahead of the three eventually tied at the top, rather than two behind.
Slightly fewer goals this time…
470 goals from 190 matches (not counting the title triangular) give us 2.473684 goals per game, down from the 2.5 or above of the last three short tournaments. This in spite of three seven-goal matches (Gimnasia de Jujuy 4-3 Huracán in the fifth round; Lanús 4-3 Godoy Cruz in the eleventh,and Colón 5-2 Argentinos in the twelfth) and a number of high-scoring draws. There were fifteen 0-0 draws, but five 3-3s and four matches that ended 2-2.
If it’s goals you wanted from your club membership, you were best off forking out for a Lanús carnet. Their matches featured a total of 59 goals (34 scored, 23 conceded). Like the Apertura as a whole, that’s down on the leading entertainers from the Clausura, when Banfield scored 36 and conceded as many. The lowest scorers were Gimnasia La Plata, who got just 17 goals and let in only 15. San Martín de Tucumán were hot on their heels with 15 scored and 18 conceded.
There are a couple of contenders. Eduardo Salvio, for Lanús, has been the best player on the pitch a few times in his first campaign in the first team, and is already apparently attracting interest from Italy, where Roma are interested and reportedly preparing to table an €8 million bid to get in ahead of Serie A rivals Napoli and Juventus. He’s unlikely to go because Lanús’s directors want to stick to their stated policy of not selling young prospects until they’ve played at least a year or two in the first team.
More likely move to Italy in the immediate future is Racing’s Franco Zuculini, who like Salvio is just eighteen years old, and like Salvio has scored some important goals for his team in the past few months. As well as Roma, Juventus are also interested in the central midfielder, and he’s one of several players in the Racing squad whose exit is expected to give his team a significantly tougher start to 2009 than they’ve got a right to hope for after a pretty good Apertura.
The winner for me, though, is Lucas Viatri (pictured at the top of the page). Not because he’s been stunning – he hasn’t (he’s been very good, though). And not because he looks like the best hot young prospect in the league at the moment – he doesn’t (quite). But because he’s done a sterling job in the hardest circumstances you could imagine for a young player coming in at a top club. Stepping up to replace a first-team player sold to Europe is one thing. Coming in to fill Martín Palermo’s boots at Boca Juniors, another entirely. But Viatri bagged eight goals in the Apertura – including the only goal of the superclásico – to help Boca to another league title. Palermo will surely come straight back in when he’s fit again, to finally break that goalscoring record. But in the meantime: very well done, Lucas.
Player of the Apertura:
Again, a number of players deserve mention here. Sebastián Battaglia was voted Boca’s Player Of The Season after doing the messy work and helping drive his team to the Apertura title, José Sand finished top scorer with fifteen goals for Lanús to keep us baffled as to why he’s not yet played in Europe, and Colón’s striking duo of Esteban Fuertes and Rubén Ramírez finished third and fourth respectively in the goalscoring charts. It’s the man sandwiched between those two and Sand, second in the scoring table, who gets the nod this time though.
When Tigre finished second in last year’s Apertura, Leandro Lázzaro was the sensation for them. This time they’ve welcomed him back with open arms, but it’s been Martín Morel who’s really stepped up when the minnows have had their backs to the walls. Scorer of thirteen goals and donator of numerous assists to his team-mates, Morel’s been superb as #10 for Tigre this term. Not only the importance of his goals – a number have put Tigre ahead or drawn them level in matches – but also the quality of them. With the agonising manner in which they didn’t quite win by enough in the final playoff match, he was denied a title. But if he and Lázzaro stay together, and Cagna is still manager next year… who knows?
Goals of the Apertura:
A trickier task than normal to pick these out, because there are no individual goal videos in the ‘goals of the week’ articles to remind myself of this time round. There have been some great strikes, though: Maxi Moralez’s stunner for Racing against Gimnasia; Raúl Saavedra’s 35-yarder against Boca (second in this vid); Pablo Barrientos’ second in the 3-3 draw between Newell’s and San Lorenzo (the second goal here, when it eventually gets to it); Nico Cabrera for Vélez in La Bombonera…
That’s only going back through the last five rounds, too. But the best of the lot was always going to be a Lanús goal, wasn’t it? Just as when they won the title last year, they really got going, beautiful-play-wise, towards the end of the season.
Seba Blanco scored a lovely one against Arsenal (apologies for the quality):
And the last of these against San Lorenzo was rather lovely too:
And finally, the Shirt Of The Season…
The new Vélez third shirt. I mean, it really is beautiful isn’t it? Just look at it (and no, I don’t mean the girl; this was the only downloadable photo I could find of it).