Boca Juniors currently sit at the top of the 2011 Apertura in Argentina, level on points and goal difference with Lanús, and in River Plate’s absence from the Primera División Boca appear to be thriving.
The end of last season’s Clausura winners Vélez Sársfield excellent performances in the league and on the continent were over shadowed by the dramatic events that occurred when in the relegation playoffs, River Plate lost 2-1 on aggregate to Belgrano and the incredible riot scenes at the Monumental that followed.
One of the things that was also overshadowed that season was the distinctly average season that Boca Juniors had. Indeed, over both the 2011 Clausura and the previous 2010 Apertura, River Plate finished with more points than Boca Juniors, a strange result of the Primera División’s relegation co-efficient.
Had there been no River relegation than Boca’s fans wouldn’t have too much to cheer about. Indeed, the most significant event for the club itself was the retirement of the legendary Boca Juniors forward, Martin Palermo. It seems though that now, with no distractions to find from their Superclásico rivals, that Boca have found their feet once more.
Boca have failed to win a domestic league title since the Apertura of 2008, and that won by the slimmest of margins too. That season, Boca, Tigre and San Lorenzo all finished level on points, and although San Lorenzo had the greater goal difference, that was not a factor in deciding whom the title would go to. Instead the top 3 teams went to a Championship Playoff, each team playing each other once.
In a typically paradoxical Argentinian football way, this time Boca did win, on goal difference of all things. The 3-1 victory over San Lorenzo ensured Boca would return home as champions.
Since then Boca have failed to challenge for league silverware, indeed after their Apertura win in 2008, they finished a miserable 14th in place in the following Clausura.
One of the factors helping Boca Juniors so far this season is their lack of continental distraction. For example, last season, Vélez manager Ricardo Gareca had to become a master of rotation as his side fought in the league and to the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores. Vélez would end up playing 3 games a week almost on a regular basis – enough to wear even the best squads down.
Currently fellow Primera División rivals Vélez, Independiente, Godoy Cruz and Arsenal di Sarandí have progressed to the final stages of the Copa Sudamericana – meaning their sides will have to fight on two fronts and stretch squads, which unlike those in money-fuelled in Europe, are not of the strongest depth. Major rivals Lanús were knocked out of the tournament in the second stage, and that will only help secure themselves as one of the stand out favourites to win the Apertura this year.
Personnel-wise Boca have kept an important consistency. In a league in which players are frequently moving abroad to Europe – Boca have managed to keep their star players for now. Vélez’s star name’s departures in particular are a massive blow to their side, for example Ricky Álvarez’s move to Internazionale, Maximiliano Moralez’s move to Atalanta and Santiago Silva’s move to Fiorentina.
The great Juan Román Riquelme is still pivotal to the side, indeed, he very much is the pivot. Riquelme turned 33 in the summer and that has failed to affect him as a player – with his unique style meaning he was never a pacey player.
The retirement of Martin Palermo has increased the importance on Lucas Viatri to become the team’s new striker. They’re massive boots for any player to fill but fortunately in Boca’s opening games so far this season there has been an array of goals from all over the pitch. The likes of Riquelme, Pablo Mouche, Nicolás Colazo and new boy Darío Cvitanich have helped fuel the supply line of goals.
Boca’s next big test will come this weekend, Sunday night to be exact, against Lanús – the team that finished second behind Vélez in the last Clausura. Lanús may not have won a league title since the Apertura in 2007 but they have been consistently in and amongst the title scraps.
This year Lanús have come out of the traps flying, most recently overturning Argentinos Juniors away from home 4-0 in some style. World Cup winner Mauro Camoranesi is still going for Lanús and can still play good football in spite turning 35 in October and was excellent against Argentinos.
A win, and Boca Juniors could really rub salt into River Plate’s wounds. Winning the title as River scrap just to get back into the second league. Defeat though could mean that Boca lose their momentum and return back to their old ways of only being good in frustrating spats of inconsistency.
The Boca manager, Julio César Falcioni, must use Boca’s current stability (which may not last long should they prove to be successful) and the talented squad at their disposal to finally bring back a league title to La Bombonera and now might just be their best time to do it. The fans will no doubt miss the distraction of the Superclásico – but for the club it could be the best thing to happen to them.