Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Champions kick off Clausura

It's Clausura time once again and everyone's gearing up for another frenetic season. It's the last time we'll have the Apertura/Clausura system before it goes to a more traditional home and away, 38 game league. However, the Promedio system will be retained when the new structure takes hold and the end of this campaign will see three teams bow out.

Estudiantes held off Vélez Sarsfield to take the Apertura title, but they were dealt a major blow when coach Alex Sabella, the former Sheffield United player, walked out on the club, apparently over a disagreement regarding transfer policy. One thing that is obvious is that Sabella never saw eye-to-eye with on-field leader, talisman and all-round genius Juan Veron who will lead the side once again. La Brujita, now 35, continues to stroll around the midfield in that languid style like he owns the place. Which is fair enough, because he pretty well does. Eduardo Berizzo takes over at short notice, fresh from working alongside Marcelo Bielsa with the Chilean national side. Sabella or no Sabella, Los Pincharratas are still the side to beat and they kick off the new competition on Friday night against Newell's Old Boys at 22:00 GMT, a game you can see live in the UK with our good friends at Premier Sports. Newell's, coached by Roberto Sensini these days, have Claudio Bieler in on loan from Racing to provide some punch after their Apertura campaign rather petered out.

The other TV game this week is Boca Juniors v Godoy Cruz on Sunday at 22:10 GMT. Lots of movement at Boca over the off-season with Julio Cesar Falcioni taking the managerial reins after a couple of successful years with Banfield. Pablo Mouche was set to leave - to West Ham where he would be the new Marco Boogers - but work permit problems mean he's still around and doubts remain over Juan Riquelme's continued involvement with the club. The venerable Martín Palermo goes round again at the age of 37 alongside the more youthful, but equally slow Lucas Viatri. Godoy had a good Apertura, eventually finishing a respectable fifth. They've taken the exciting Ruben Ramirez on loan from Colón after he scored 14 goals over the last two competitions in the colours of Banfield.

At least Boca aren't in trouble on the Promedio, unlike bitter rivals River Plate. Finishing fourth in the Apertura means they have a little breathing space. They also managed to hang to Rogelio Funes Mori and begin against Tigre. Olimpo and Quilmes, both promoted last time around, find themselves bottom of the Promedio, but good campaigns this time around will really put the cat among the pigeons. Quilmes have a tough tip to Santa Fe to face Colón while Olimpo have an equally tough prospect at home to Banfield. Gimnasia are the other side that start in the bottom three on the table and they've really been on the slide over the last few seasons. Former River boss Angel Cappa comes in to try to arrest the slide, but decline looks terminal and they've a tough start against San Lorenzo who are a better side than their 14th placed Apertura finish suggests.

Vélez were runners-up last time and have the prolific Santiago Silva up front alongside Mexican star Guillermo Franco and they look to be the most likely challengers to Estudiantes's crown once again. They're away to Independiente first up, the side that finished dead last in the Apertura. They did, however, somehow manage to win the Copa Sudamericana and can't possibly be as bad again as last time around.

Of the sides promoted last time, All Boys were far and away the best and they've made a bit of a transfer scoop by nabbing Ariel Ortega after he was told he no longer featured in River Plate's plans. While staying in the top flight will still be the priority, if Ortega fires, they can mount a real tilt at the Sudamericana places and they have a winnable fixture first at home to Racing Club. Arsenal were good last season and begin away from home against Lanús while both Huracán and Argentinos Juniors will both be happy to keep their heads above water. They face each other this weekend, both eager to get a headstart on the other.

A reminder then that the two games televised this week in the UK on Premier Sports this week are Estudiantes v Newell's on Friday the 11th at 22:00 and Boca v Godoy Cruz on Sunday the 13th at 22:10. And we'll have a review of all the goings on after the final game in the wee hours of Tuesday morning UK time.
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