At long last, after a summer of transfer bore-stories and ridiculous friendly matches which are only 70 or 80 minutes long, real league football returns to the Argentine Republic on Friday night. Following the most closely-fought championship in short tournament history, the defending champions are a familiar name, but that’s no reason to assume it’ll be plain sailing for the big boys in the next semester. A refereeing innovation as well: spray-on foam will mark a line ten yards from the ball at free kicks, as has been the case in Brazil for a few years now. An A-Z (well, A-V) of the 20 clubs’ summer dealings and expectations, you say? Right this way.
Have lost manager Néstor Gorosito to River Plate, and he’s replaced by Claudio Vivas. Sergio Escudero was their only real summer transfer out, but they’ve had a disappointing pre-season, losing both matches on a tour of Colombia. They’ll be aiming to show the Apertura, during which they reached the semi-final of the Copa Sudamericana but finished down in 11th in the league, can be improved upon without a continental campaign to distract them.
Have been fairly quiet in pre-season, finishing third out of four teams behind Godoy Cruz and Quilmes in the Copa Ciudad de Tandil. They lose Javier Gandolfi, Carlos Báez and Alejandro Gómez, but are bringing in Mariano Uglessich and Federico Poggi. They were up in 6th in the Apertura, and will want to continue their directors’ aims of long-term progress.
The loss of Luciano Civelli to Ipswich Town in England’s Championship will hurt, especially since Banfield’s main aim in the Clausura will be to prove they’re better than 13th in the last campaign suggested. To help, manager Jorge Burruchaga has brought in Santiago Silva, the Uruguayan striker formerly of Vélez Sársfield, and the recovery of Santiago Raymonda from a several-months-long ligament injury might prove almost like signing a new player.
The defending champions will, as ever, be looking for trophies on both fronts, domestic and continental. A good pre-season saw them win the ‘Big Five’ Torneo de Verano as well as the Copa Ciudad de Mendoza against bitter rivals River. A generally young team are led, of course, by Juan Román Riquelme, and Roberto Abbondanzieri’s return between the posts could give some reassurance to the backline. Carlos Ischia will also be looking to Martín Palermo to provide on-pitch guidance. When Palermo recovers from his long-term injury, the first goal he scores will give him the outright record as Boca’s leading goalscorer of the professional era.
Will be playing the Clausura with one of (or both) their eyes on the relegation table, in which they’re less than 0.1 of a point-per-game off the playoff places. A number of players have been let go, with Omar Merlo, Alexis Ferrero and Daley Mena coming into Antonio Mohamed’s team. They finished 10th in the Apertura – given their circumstances they’d be delighted with a repeat.
Might benefit initially from already having played two proper, competitive games this year – they qualified on away goals for the Copa Libertadores group stage after a 2-2 aggregate draw with Sporting Cristal of Peru. Leonardo Astrada continues as manager, and will be looking to stage another championship challenge whilst getting the side into the knockout stages of the Copa. Anything more would be a bonus, but with current South American Footballer Of The Year Seba Verón directing the midfield, the sky’s the limit.
Gimnasia y Esgrima de Jujuy
Need a strong campaign to avoid relegation – they’re currently bottom of the Promedio – and will have to do it without frontman César Carranza, who seemed to score most of their goals. Former River midfielder René Lima will be looking to help, as will ex Boca player Matías Cahais.
Club de Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata
8th in the Apertura but third bottom of the relegation table, El Lobo will desperately be looking for another strong campaign. Their summer transfer policy consisted of keeping the players they’ve got – they conceded only 15 goals in the Apertura, the best defensive record in the league, so are hoping that with some work they can improve the attack themselves, having scored only 17 at the other end.
Godoy Cruz Antonio Tomba
Won the Copa Ciudad de Tandil on penalties after a 0-0 draw in the final against Quilmes, but more importantly they also won their last three games of the Apertura, giving themselves a bit of breathing space in the Promedio. They’ll be looking to carry that into an upward trend. Notable summer transfers in include Peruvian Roberto Jiménez and Uruguayan Sebastián Martínez.
The busiest team in the summer transfer market. Federico Nieto and Eduardo Domínguez return from loans; Uruguayan Leandro Medina is in, as is Mario Bolatti from Portuguese champions Porto. They finished 17th in the Apertura and whilst relegation worries aren’t an issue, they’ll want to improve their showing in their first full championship back in their own stadium.
After numerous spells as a caretaker, Pepe Santoro starts a championship as full-time boss of the club he loves at last. They were 18th in a disastrous Apertura, and after thrashing Racing to begin the Torneo de Verano, failed to win another match. They’ll want to put that to rights.
The winners of the 2007 Apertura and one of the surprise packages of the last few seasons, Lanús have played probably the division’s best football for the last couple of seasons and will be up for another crack at gatecrashing the title celebrations again, after missing out so narrowly on the title-deciding three-way playoff in the Apertura. They’ve sold no-one and bought no-one: stability is the key.
Newell’s Old Boys
The biggest change has been off the pitch, where Guillermo Llorente has replaced the much-loved (ahem) Eduardo López as president. On the pitch, Cristian Fabbiani won’t be playing for the side, even if his transfer to River falls through at the last minute (and the way that story’s gone all summer, don’t rule the possibility out), but Lucas Bernardi is back. They were 5th in the Apertura and will be looking for another strong showing after that campaign saw them climb a long way out of the relegation mire.
Like Newell’s, the main action was the change of presidency, out with the unpopular old and in with the tentatively promising new. After surviving a relegation playoff last year, they’ll be looking to improve results and get away from the same fate this term. A repeat of the Apertura’s 14th-place finish should do the trick, and any higher would seem unlikely for now, with manager Juan Manuel Llop not enjoying the best relationship with the squad. Without Maxi Moralez to provide an attacking threat, it could be a tough few months.
Bottom of the Apertura, bottom of the Torneo de Verano without winning a match, the River Plate of Néstor Gorosito look not unlike the River Plate of Diego Simeone’s latter days. Leonardo Ponzio, Sebastián Abreu and Eduardo Tuzzio are out, Marcelo Gallardo is welcomed back. Ariel Ortega won’t be returning just yet and there’s still time – this is River, after all – for them to cock up the signing of Fabbiani from Newell’s as well. After a last-place finish last term, anything should be seen as an improvement. But with River’s fans, Gorosito’s going to have to win the title if he’s going to get any love…
Finished 19th in the Apertura, and are currently in the relegation playoff places, so need a good campaign to avoid a hairy end. Gonzalo Choy González, Pablo Álvarez, Matías Escobar and Pablo Lima are the incoming transfers. They won four and drew one during pre-season – all against lower division sides.
San Lorenzo de Almagro
Came so close to the title, but were squeezed out by Boca and Tigre in the playoff. Alejandro Gómez is in, and Jonathan Bottinelli returns from loan to strengthen a squad which is otherwise essentially unchanged from the very solid unit who led for much of the Apertura but didn’t quite have the legs to stay out in front towards the end. Failed to win in pre-season but will be looking to the Clausura for some joy, and hoping to finally break their Copa Libertadores duck into the bargain.
San Martín de Tucumán
16th in the Apertura, 19th in the Promedio, it’s clear where the side from the seat of Argentine independence have their priorities. They had a decent pre-season results-wise, and will be hoping to carry some of that form into the league campaign to come.
The squad which beat Boca not once but twice during the Apertura – one more goal in the final match would have seen the side from Victoria claim their first ever title – is still intact, Guillermo Suarez’s return the only change. Failure to take the title also meant they haven’t qualified for the Copa Libertadores (Estudiantes just edged them in the qualification table), and with all the title contenders (plus River) involved in the Copa, might Tigre take advantage? Challenging once, in 2007, could be luck – but twice is beginning to look eerily like a winning streak…
Pulled off probably the transfer coup of the season by snatching Maxi Moralez from under Racing’s noses, and also brought in Sebastián Domínguez from América de México; Domínguez captained Newell’s to the title in 2004 before leaving for Corinthians of Brazil as part of the same deal that took Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez there. Manager Hugo Tocalli is out; Ricardo Gareca replaces him. The Liniers side, 9th in the Apertura, haven’t challenged for a title for a few campaigns, but have the wherewithal to give it a go this time round.