Weekend Primera preview: 2016-17 round 12

Welcome back to my humble blog, everyone! Budget tightening at The Bubble means that I’ll be writing for them less frequently for a few months, and the main victim of that decision is my weekly Friday article in which I give a quick preview of the main things to watch for in the weekend’s Primera action. So, to keep in practice, I thought I’d keep writing it each week and stick it up here on HEGS instead. Let’s see what we’ve got in store this weekend.

Oh, one thing before we begin: all kick off times are in Argentine time. Add three hours for Greenwich Mean Time, or take two off for Eastern Standard Time in the States. I assume everyone will be able to work out their own time zones from there.

What’s the weekend’s biggest game?

That’s a hard one to narrow down, frankly. For starters because there are no ‘true’ clásicos, then because there are two ‘secondary’ clásicos in which members of the Big Five play each other (these are referred to as clásicos in the media, but aren’t as heated as matches between primary rivals). And finally, because there are a couple of other interesting matches as well. But let’s start at La Bombonera, where Boca Juniors host Racing (Sunday, 18:45).

After seeming to stumble into a good run of results as much by luck as by judgement early in the season, Boca have started impressing a little more recently. They finally ended an almost nine-month run without an away win in the league, and have now won twice in a row away. This game, of course, is at home, where they were held by Rosario Central two weeks ago, but their form is promising. That being said, so is Racing’s. Functionality has been the order of the day since Ricardo Zielinski took charge, but last weekend they cut loose for the first time and thrashed Independiente 3-0 in the clásico de Avellaneda. It felt like the kind of result – and performance – that could cement Zielinski into the club, so it’ll be fascinating to see how they follow it up here.

The other all-Big Five clash is Independiente v River Plate (Sunday, 20:00). This one has the prime time spot but looks less enticing. For one thing, Independiente are seriously underwhelming lately – initially they were solid but dull under Gabriel Milito, now they’re not even sold any more, with five goals conceded in their last two games – and for another River have just (on Thursday night) qualified for the Copa Argentina final. That will be on either the 15th or 16th of this month, but given that it represents their last remaining chance of Copa Libertadores qualification, don’t be too surprised if Marcelo Gallardo rotates the team somewhat to keep his starters fresh. In short, if I were a neutral and lived in Europe, I wouldn’t bother staying up late for this one.

And those other interesting matches?

There are two that stand out from the remaining games. The first is Newell’s Old Boys v Banfield (Saturday, 18:00). As recently as this week on Hand Of Pod we were asked where Newell’s transformation had come from, and it’s certainly been remarkable. They were dreadful during the transitional championship but have looked very good so far this season and are second in the table; a win here would take them top, at least overnight. And why is it that they’re so close to league leaders Estudiantes? Well, it’s because Estudiantes suffered their first league defeat of the season last weekend. And who beat them? Banfield!

If anyone tells you they saw Banfield’s win coming, they’re a liar. Julio César Falcioni’s team had been struggling for consistency before last week and while they’d won their previous game 3-1, that game was against Arsenal de Sarandí, who are really spectacularly bad. Walter Erviti put in the individual performance of the weekend though, and they beat Estudiantes 3-2 in a very entertaining game. Having beaten the leaders, can they get a win here against the team in second? It could be fun finding out.

The other match I’ll be looking out for is Estudiantes v Talleres (Sunday, 17:00). Estudiantes are still the league leaders, but this game should be a test of their mettle because Talleres are in fine form, six games unbeaten and high on confidence. It might or might not turn out to be a close match, but either way Estudiantes’ response to last week’s defeat could tell us a lot about whether their current title challenge could go the distance.

What about the rest of the fixtures?

With so many of the title hopefuls playing each other, a lot of the other fixtures look less inspiring this week. Patronato v Vélez Sarsfield (Sunday, 18:00) could equate to something like a relegation scrap, but neither team are in particularly deep trouble right now. Belgrano v Temperley has serious potential to be the worst match of the weekend (it’s on Sunday at 19:15, if you want to make other plans).

Oh, and every club in the league this weekend will carry a homage to Chapecoense on their shirts following Monday night’s tragic plane crash. Even so, the moment most likely to bring a tear to the eye or a lump to the throat is easy to predict: according to Sebastián Blanco, San Lorenzo will be taking to the pitch for their match away to Olimpo (Saturday, 20:00) wearing the shirts Chapecoense’s players swapped them after the second leg of their Copa Sudamericana semi-final a couple of weeks ago.

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