The Argentinian Apertura 2011 is drawing to a close with only 5 games left to play and only one question remains to be solved: Can Boca Juniors really lose the title now?
Undefeated Boca Juniors will on Sunday host the Primera Divisón’s other undefeated side Racing Club at La Bombonera knowing that a win will almost certainly mean that Boca Juniors will pick up their first league title since the Apertura of 2008.
Having two undefeated clubs after 14 games is surprising but perhaps more crucial is the points gap between them, with Boca Juniors 8 points clear of La Academia. Boca have played won 9 and drew 5 of their games where as Diego Simeone’s Racing Club have won 5 and drew 9 – it’s those small margins between a win and a draw that have almost decided the title.
Racing Club’s story this season has been one firmly based around the idea of building from the back. In the 2011 Clausura Racing finished a lowly 15th position making this season’s current position even more impressive.
Perhaps the thing that make it extraordinary is that so far Racing Club have scored only 11 goals in 14 games with 6 goalless draws in the process. Indeed, only 17th place Newell’s Old Boys and last place Banfield have managed to score fewer goals so far. Racing have in fact only scored more than 1 goal in a game once – a 3-0 win over Godoy Cruz back in August.
Unlike Boca Juniors, currently Racing Club are in a precarious position in the league. Although they stand 2nd place currently they are only 4 points clear of 11th place side Arsenal di Sarandí.
Boca Juniors are having the dream season so far with River Plate relegated it seemed like the perfect time for Julio César Falcioni’s men to really rub their rivals faces in it.
Although Racing may certainly be goal-shy that doesn’t mean Boca Juniors have been an attacking force. Their current goals tally of 17 is wholly average for a team at the top of the league and they too have made the majority of their points based on defence contributions – they are the only team to concede less than Racing so far; 3 goals to Racing’s 4.
It means Sunday’s tie will be important, intriguing and perhaps a great occasion for those wit ha Boca-allegiance but probably not a goal-fest. That won’t Boca Juniors who would take a 0-0 knowing that 2 wins in their last 4 games would secure them the title regardless of what the distant runners can produce.
Elsewhere there are more surprises in the league table – Atlético de Rafaela’s promotion season has been wholly impressive and the Santa Fe club currently sit 4th in the Apertura table. Manager Carlos Trullet will know they still have work to do to continue to be in the Primera División and that a tricky Clausura campaign could seem them sent back down to Nacional B.
Speaking of Nacional B – it’s the kind of thing the bosses of Estudiantes will begin to be worried about. Although the club are currently 2nd place in the Relegation table (an average points system based on the past three seasons) but this campaign has been so bad for the La Plata club they will know the next couple of campaigns must see dramatic improvement.
It’s a huge fall of grace for Los Pincharratas (that delightfully translates to The Rat Stabbers) just back in 2009 they were the champions of South America with a 2-1 aggregate win over Cruzeiro in the Copa Libertadores finals. The club followed that up by securing the 2010 Apertura but 2011 has been a bad year.
First they went from winners in the 2010 Apertura to 13th in the Clausura of 2011. A congestive fixture list (a problem we will encounter later with Vélez Sársfield) could well have been the sole reason but when manager Alejandro Sabella left to take over the national team after their disastrous Copa América campaign it meant things were going from bad to worse. Miguel Ángel Russo was the man to take over from Alejandro Sabella but his reign came to an end after just 5 months when Russo resigned as manager in his second Estudiantes stint. Not to mention, despite his best efforts Juan Sebastián Verón is finally aging.
Then there’s Vélez Sársfield the 2011 Clausura Champions whose Apertura campaign has been a struggle after losing several key players as well as fighting for the Copa Sudamericana. Ricardo Gareca has had to cope with departures of Maximiliano Moralez, Santiago Silva and Ricardo Álvarez to Italian Serie A clubs and these factors have taken their toll on Vélez’s campaign.
Juan Manuel Martínez is still a shining ray of light but the exciting forward has had to shoulder more responsibility of being the most creative player on the teams with a foil like Moralez or Álvarez to rely on. They need to rebuild but they do have promise in their ranks with Jonathan Ramírez and Ezequiel Resaldani aged 20 and 19 respectively – but have still yet to replace the players lost. It’s a catch-22 for many South American clubs – be successful and your best players are taken away by Europe’s big clubs. Perhaps now Neymar and Santos can give Argentine clubs hope to retain their best talent.
It’s been a close and tight 2011 Apertura but for Boca Juniors it couldn’t have gone better should they finish what they’ve started – and beating Racing Club this weekend would almost certainly ensure t hat they do. Whilst River Plate looks on it’s Boca Juniors returning to the summit of Argentinian football.