The last ‘short championship’ (as we currently know them at least) of the era is now eleven matches in in Argentina, and with eight games to go I thought it was time to try and get back to posting something – anything – here. So ahead of the twelfth round of games, which kicks off in a few hours’ time with Gimnasia v Olimpo, I’m going to go through and give a quick rundown of the season so far for each of the sides. We’ll start with league leaders River Plate, and work our way down the table.
1. River Plate (record so far: won 7, drawn 4, lost 0; goals scored 23, goals conceded 6 – 25 points) – the defending champions lost manager Ramón Díaz after the end of last season, and have taken the opportunity to place an educated bet on a younger boss. Marcelo Gallardo has responded by extending the club’s unbeaten run (started by Díaz) to 25 matches. He’s only the second boss in River history to get through his first 17 matches (in all competitions) unbeaten, and those goals for and against stats speak for themselves. River have been the best side to watch, and the team to beat so far. Out of the Copa Argentina after defeat to Rosario Central on penalties following a 0-0 draw, they won their Copa Sudamericana last 16 first leg 3-1 away to Libertad last night, and have a four point advantage at the top of the league. If there’s a worry, it’s their relatively small squad – can they compete on two fronts?
2. Lanús (W6 D3 L2; GS 17 GC 11 – 21 points) – Not having a bad campaign themselves, Lanús lost two of their first four games but haven’t been beaten since; their unbeaten home record now stretches to 14 league games. They did lose 2-1 away to Cerro Porteño in the Copa Sudamericana on Tuesday, but their away goal gives them some hope of turning that one around.
3. Independiente (W6 D2 L3; GS 19 GC 17 – 20 points) – Enjoying their first season back in the top flight after the agony of life in the B last term. Given what a struggle it was for them to get back up – they needed a tie-breaker against Huracán – it’s a little surprising to see them doing so well now, but after losing two of their first three they’ve stabilised since, scored plenty, and the only side to beat them since the third round were a rampant River. A young side are far better going forward than defending, but they’re having fun again, at least.
4. Racing (W6 D1 L4; GS 19 GC 15 – 19 points) – Given that they’ve been as up and down as Racing always are, it’s a bit surprising to find them in fourth, but they have Diego Milito to thank, by and large – when he plays, they do well, when he doesn’t… rather less so. They’ve beaten San Lorenzo, Boca and thrashed Estudiantes 4-0 last weekend, but lost by that same scoreline to Tigre early in the season, and have been beaten in their own stadium by Lanús and Atlético de Rafaela, as well as losing to Independiente away in the clásico.
5. Atlético de Rafaela (W5 D3 L3; GS 14 GC 12 – 18 points) – Currently on a six-game unbeaten run, Atlético are continuing the good work done in recent seasons – but are slowly starting to look better in defence than previously, too. They conceded three goals on three separate occasions in the first five games, but then embarked on a 5-match run without letting in a goal, allowing goalkeeper Esteban Conde to set a new club record. That came to an end during last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Banfield, but they look well set all the same.
6. Vélez Sarsfield (W5 D2 L4; GS 15 GC 11 – 17 points) – Haven’t managed the consistency they normally aspire to, but with a young side (especially in midfield) that’s perhaps not entirely surprising. When they’re good – as in the 4-0 thrashing of Independiente in the third round and last weekend’s 4-1 tonking of Olimpo – they look very good. The problem has been that prior to that win over Olimpo, they went six games without a win. Given they’d started the season with four wins out of four, they’ll be frustrated at their current standing.
7. Newell’s Old Boys (W4 D5 L2; GS 12 GC 12 – 17 points) – They’ve been tough to beat as ever, until recently – their two defeats have come in their last two home games, an eye-popping 3-0 against Banfield, and last weekend’s narrower 1-0 against River. Hamstrung by key attackers, including Ignacio Scocco and Maxi Rodríguez, picking up injuries, but they’ll be hopeful that if the pack ahead of them drop any points, they can rejoin the title race. A tough task up next, though; they’re away to Central in the clásico rosarino on Sunday.
8. Boca Juniors (W5 D2 L4; GS 12 GC 13 – 17 points) – It’s been a tale of two managers so far this term for Boca. Under Carlos Bianchi they continued to be awful, disorganised at the back and lacking ideas going forward. Under Rodolfo Arruabarrena they’ve looked… well, at times not much better, frankly (although certainly much better in defence). But the players seem to think they’ve got something to play for again, and the game plan doesn’t seem to revolve around winning as many set pieces as possible for Juan Román Riquelme to take (which was something that confused me about Bianchi’s tactics at the start of the season, considering Riquelme moved to Argentinos Juniors in August). Under Bianchi, Boca had one win and three defeats. Since Arruabarrena came in, they’ve got four wins, two draws and one defeat in the league – though they did lose 1-0 at home to Paraguayan side Capiatá (founded in 2008) on Wednesday in the Copa Sudamericana.
9. Tigre (W5 D1 L5; GS 17 GC 12 – 16 points) – Another side for whom a change of manager has worked wonders. Under Fabián Alegre they always looked solid defensively, but had severe problems going forward, especially given the talent at their disposal. A 0-0 draw with Quilmes gave them a record of one win (a 4-0 over Racing during which they had just five attempts on goal), one draw and three defeats. A 2-0 loss to River under caretaker Fabián Castro followed, before Gustavo Alfaro came in and the side promptly won their next four matches. That run was cut short by a quite ridiculous 4-3 defeat away to Godoy Cruz on Wednesday in a match postponed from the eighth round of games, but all the same, things look a lot better for Tigre now.
10. Estudiantes (W5 D1 L5; GS 14 GC 15 – 16 points) – Good at home, rubbish away – at least until the last couple of matches, which have brought their first away win of the season, 2-1 against Olimpo, followed by their first home defeat, a 4-0 thrashing by Racing. Prior to that they had four wins and a draw at home, and four defeats away. Won 2-1 at home to Peñarol on Tuesday in their Copa Sudamericana first leg. The biggest news of their season so far is the election of Juan Sebastián Verón as club president.
11. San Lorenzo (W4 D2 L5; GS 12 GC 14 – 14 points) – It’s been quite a Copa Libertadores hangover for the champions of South America, with inconsistency the order of the day. They’ll look fine one match and dreadful the next; minds are clearly already set on Morocco, and the Club World Cup.
12. Arsenal (W4 D2 L5; GS 11 GC 14 – 14 points) – Arsenal have the second best home record (in terms of percentage of available points won) in the top flight; the only four points they’ve dropped at home were in a 1-1 draw against River, and a 0-0 against San Lorenzo. So why are they twelfth? An away record of played five, lost five, with three goals scored and twelve conceded (out of fourteen in total, remember!) tells you all you need to know. The most Jekyll and Hyde team in the Primera at present.
13. Gimnasia y Esgrima (W3 D4 L4; GS 9 GC 10 – 13 points) – I’m not really sure how to sum up Gimnasia’s season, to be honest. They’ve beaten no-one of note in the context of the current campaign (Godoy Cruz, San Lorenzo and Vélez, all 2-0), but haven’t lost to any of the favourites, either – 1-1 draws against River and Newell’s having started their campaign off. They still have to play Racing, Independiente and Lanús among others, though, so what’s left of the season might not be much fun for them.
14. Rosario Central (W4 D1 L6; GS 15 GC 18 – 13 points) – It was frustrating for Central at the start of the season, but could have been worse, as victories were alternated with defeats early on, with a sole draw spoiling an otherwise symmetrical pattern. Now, though, they’ve lost their last three in a row, to Independiente, Lanús and Boca. Sunday’s clásico looks like a chance for redemption – or could make the misery even deeper.
15. Godoy Cruz (W3 D4 L4; GS 17 GC 22 – 13 points) – Looking at those goals for and against numbers, you get a sense of what Godoy Cruz’s campaign has been like; business up front, party at the back. They’ve taken that philosophy to almost self-parodic new heights in their last three matches, drawing 2-2 with Independiente, then 3-3 with Lanús (scoring three in 13 second half minutes to come from 2-0 down to 3-2 up, only to let in an equaliser minutes later), and then Wednesday’s insane 4-3 stoppage time win over Tigre. They’ve actually not been easy to beat at home – only one of their defeats has come in Mendoza. If you want goals, and aren’t too bothered about which side is scoring them, it’s Godoy Cruz you want to tune in for.
16. Banfield (W3 D3 L5; GS 13 GC 14 – 12 points) – Results might not be too easy to come by, but Banfield are having fun, at least. It’s been an attacking campaign all round so far, and although they’ve not managed to score as many as most other sides, Banfield’s style has been just as positive – it’s their finishing that lets them down at times. Juan Cazares has been, predictably, one of the better playmakers in the division so far, and they’ve stabilised somewhat lately; they’re four games unbeaten, albeit with three of those ending in draws.
17. Defensa y Justicia (W3 D3 L5; GS 15 GC 20 – 12 points) – Picking up their first ever Primera win in only their second match (3-2 away to Banfield), Defensa have found the Primera about as hard to adapt to as anyone would have expected, but have enjoyed themselves so far all the same, with the awareness that there’s no relegation at the end of this season. They’ve only kept one clean sheet, but they’ve only been kept from scoring once as well. They’re two games unbeaten at present, but have to host Lanús this weekend…
18. Belgrano (W2 D4 L5; GS 12 GC 16 – 10 points) – Three of their five defeats have been by a single goal, whilst they’ve drawn four games. If Belgrano had just a bit more precision in attack, they might be quite a bit higher in the table. As it is, only a 3-0 win over Atlético really stands out in their season so far – a more recent 1-0 win at home to Vélez was less exciting stuff.
19. Quilmes (W1 D5 L5; GS 13 GC 19 – 8 points) – That one win was a 4-0 evisceration of an Arsenal side who at the time were looking pretty tight in defence. Aside from that, they’ve lost to the sides you’d expect them to have lost to (Central, San Lorenzo, Independiente, Lanús and Boca) and drawn with the ones you’d have given them a chance of drawing against – the exception, perhaps, being a 1-1 at home to Newell’s a couple of weeks ago.
20. Olimpo (W2 D2 L7; GS 7 GC 15 – 8 points) – If you’ve looked at each side’s record coming down this far, one number in Olimpo’s stats will have jumped out at you; they’re the only side who haven’t yet managed to get into double figures for goals scored. Indeed, the only other goals for/against record that’s still in single figures in this league table is River’s goals against column (six, to save you scrolling back up). That says it all – in this season’s Primera, if you can’t score goals you’ll struggle severely, whilst if you rarely concede them you’ll do well. Olimpo beat Tigre in their first game, and have just one win since. It’s just as well for them that there’s no relegation this season, because if there was they’d be sliding towards a dogfight that last season’s points total of 50 should have kept them clear of.