Survival in the Primera: who needs what, and how relegation works

With two matches remaining of the 2011 Torneo Clausura, there are six clubs currently fighting to avoid the upper of the two relegation playoff spots in the notorious Promedio, Argentina’s three-season-long, points-average table which is used to decide which sides are relegated. Quilmes, Huracán and Gimnasia La Plata are the clubs battling between themselves to decide which two will go straight down and which will have the prize of the bottom playoff spot – where they’ll fight for survival against the third-placed team from this season’s B Nacional – but six more, including two of the ‘Big Five’, River Plate and Independiente are hoping to avoid the final playoff place. All of those six bar Olimpo could confirm their safety this weekend, with the right combination of results. An explanation of Argentina’s ridiculous system, and the results needed by each side to stay up this weekend, is right here.

Relegation in Argentina is decided not over one season, but over three. This system is designed, in essence, to prevent big clubs being punished for a single bad season, although the same system is used to decide the relegated teams in every tier of the Argentine pyramid. The number of points a team won in their current division during the last three seasons is divided by the number of games they’ve played in that time. If they’ve been in the Primera for the whole of that period, 114 matches will have been played at the end of the season; if it’s two seasons (either consecutively, or with a season in B Nacional, the second division, in between) it’ll be 76; if a side were only promoted last season they’ll have played 38 by season’s end.

The bottom two sides in this points-per-game table, known in Argentina as the Promedio (‘average’), are relegated automatically to the division below, to be be replaced by the top two from that flight. Note: that’s the top two from the current season, not the top two from the other division’s equivalent Promedio. The next two teams from the bottom have to play off against the third- and fourth-placed teams from the division below; 18th plays 3rd, 17th plays 4th. These playoffs are two-legged, and the side from the lower division have to earn an aggregate victory; a draw results in the side from the higher division keeping their place.

With two rounds remaining of the Clausura, a dramatic season has seen more attention than ever paid to the workings of the Promedio, thanks to the plight of River Plate – the club the Promedio was reintroduced, in the 1980s, in order to save. After several bad seasons River needed to mount title challenges in order to rescue themselves this time round, and although they’ve severely struggled for goals due to an underwhelming strikeforce, they were doing fine until a recent slump in form which has seen them no longer depending solely on their own results to avoid the playoff (or Promoción). River are in a Copa Sudamericana qualification spot, but if they also finish in the Promoción position, they won’t be allowed to enter the Sudamericana whether or not they stay in the top flight.

River’s cause at the moment is complicated by the good campaign being enjoyed by Club Olimpo, of Bahía Blanca. As Olimpo have only been in the top flight for the current season during the last three, each win they get sees the three points earned divided by fewer matches – and thus those points are worth more in the Promedio. That’s why although Olimpo currently occupy the remaining playoff place, it’s not actually in River’s hands. If River win their remaining two games and Olimpo do the same, Olimpo will leapfrog them, and River will be facing a tie against the fourth-placed side from B Nacional. Olimpo’s final two games are considerably easier than River’s. Olimpo play at home to Newell’s Old Boys tomorrow night, and end the campaign away to Quilmes – who may very well already be relegated automatically by that point. River, meanwhile, are in worse form, and have a visit to Estudiantes on Sunday. Estudiantes have had a poor campaign, but River haven’t looked confident at all lately, and they finish the season at home to Lanús, who if results go to form this weekend will be battling for the Torneo Clausura title.

River can, however, survive this weekend with the right results, as can four of the other five sides in the battle. With Olimpo’s losses hurting them more than other side’s losses – in the same way that their wins are worth more than other teams’ – the bahienses are the only team who know they’ll still be fighting for survival on the last weekend whatever happens this weekend. Here’s a complete rundown of all the possibilities for survival this weekend.

Independiente and Tigre play each other on Saturday night, with the latter at home. A point will be enough to ensure survival for Independiente. Equally, if one of River or Olimpo fail to win their matches, Independiente would stay up even with a loss. Tigre’s situation is slightly more complicated; if Olimpo win tomorrow, Tigre will need to beat Independiente, and then hope River don’t win the following day. If on the other hand Olimpo lose on Friday night, Tigre (and, as already mentioned, Independiente) will be safe even before kicking a ball.

All Boys came up last year, like Olimpo, and enjoyed a brilliant Torneo Apertura which has seen them keep their heads above water even though their form has dropped off somewhat in the Clausura (especially in the first couple of months of 2011). Their situation is simple: if Olimpo lose, All Boys stay up. If Olimpo don’t lose, All Boys will play Gimnasia on Saturday evening needing a draw to stay up regardless of other sides’ results. If Olimpo win and All Boys lose, they’ll still stay up should River lose against Estudiantes on Sunday.

Arsenal de Sarandí play Colón away on Saturday, and like the others an Olimpo loss tomorrow would save them. If Olimpo don’t lose, there are other options for Arsenal: a draw would then be enough as long as Estudiantes beat River; or with a win Arsenal would stay up if either River fail to beat Estudiantes, or Tigre lose against Independiente.

River Plate can only confirm their safety this weekend by beating Estudiantes, and then only if Olimpo have already lost to Newell’s. Any other combination of results from those two games will see the fight go to the last weekend.

Olimpo know that their fate can only be decided one way this weekend: if they lose and River win, Olimpo will be condemned to the Promoción. A draw or a win against Newell’s, and they’ll have a chance of survival on the last weekend regardless of all the other results.

This post is adapted from this very useful one on La Nación’s sports website today.

You can follow the ins and outs during the 2011 Torneo Clausura, as well as the country’s vast foreign legion and the latest news from the selección during the 2010-2011 season direct from Buenos Aires with HEGS on Twitter. If you’ve not signed up yet you can do so here. You can also join the official HEGS Facebook group, to keep up to date with the latest posts on the blog and discuss things with other fans. You’ll find it here. Also remember to bookmark Hand Of Pod, our Argentine football podcast, or if you prefer you can subscribe to it on iTunes here.

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