There is no doubt that the game of the weekend in round 25 takes place at La Bombonera, where top-of-the-league Boca Juniors host Newell’s Old Boys. Both sides are going into the game following a defeat, both losing 3-1 at home to their greatest rivals during the Clásico Weekend.
Newell’s were defeated by Rosario Central, who took a 2-0 lead into half-time with goals from Federico Carrizo and Marco Rubén. Former Blackburn Rovers man Mauro Fórmica gave Newell’s hope after 89 mins although Central immediately restored their two-goal cushion and sealed the victory through Germán Herrera. The natives were understandably restless and some rather strange objects were thrown from the stands, including a couple of flag poles and what looked like an empty tin of paint. Newell’s manager Diego Osella selflessly took the blame for the defeat in an attempt to shield his players from the anticipated criticism from press and fans alike.
Later that evening Boca hosted in-form River Plate and it was clear from the off that the visitors were in the mood. River broke at will, exploiting large gaps in between Boca’s defence and midfield. The cliché that derby matches are like cup ties looked apparent here, as it was end-to-end almost immediately, yet River looked more organised at the back and more ruthless going forward. River took the lead after 15 minutes when a cross from Sebastian Driussi from the right hand side was met by a superb volley from Pity Martinez. Nine minutes later River doubled their lead through Lucas Alario, this time with Martinez turning provider. Boca were given a life line with the last kick of the first half when a lofted free-kick from Fernando Gago was woefully misjudged by River ‘keeper Augusto Batalla. Batalla would make amends in the second half though with a superb save to deny Boca an equaliser, and River soon re-established their dominance, sealing victory with a goal from Driussi. Alario and Driussi now have 27 goals between them in the last 12 games, a phenomenal record.
Since the defeat former Boca player, and now coach, Gustavo Barros Schelotto has come in for some criticism, accused of making strange selection decisions, being too rigid tactically, and lacking creativity in his approach. There are whispers that he will be fired if Boca fail to win the league. Boca icon Juan Román Riquelme has criticised the team on several occasions during the campaign, and was actually derided for having the temerity to do so earlier in the season when the ride was a little smoother. Now people are coming to terms with the fact that he may have been right all along.
Boca will have to face Newell’s at the weekend without Ricky Centurión and Rodrigo Bentancur. Centurión, who hasn’t had much luck with injuries this season, was replaced 15 minutes into the River game after damaging his right hamstring. He could be out for three weeks and will definitely miss the next two games. Bentancur, due to join Juventus in July for £8 million, may have played his last game for the club. The Uruguayan midfielder has joined up with his international team mates for the Under 20 World Cup in South Korea. He may be back for the last couple of games but many fans aren’t fussed either way, as his recent form has been far from great. On a positive note the industrious Colombian midfielder Wilmar Barrios should come into the side, with many bemused that he wasn’t given more game time last weekend against River.
The Boca-Newell’s tie should have big repercussions on where the Argentine title ends up. Boca are three points clear as things stand so mathematically a defeat wouldn’t be the end of the world for them. However, a reverse may do untold psychological damage and the Bombonera faithful will demand victory in the wake of last weekend’s events. If Boca avoid defeat then their remaining fixtures – barring a tricky home tie with away specialists and fellow grande Independiente – look fairly easy on paper and you’d expect them to limp over the finishing line.
Newell’s, on the other hand, must win. A defeat would leave them seven points from the summit with five games to go. A win, and Newell’s would be one point behind – in the classic six-pointer tradition – with a relatively easy run in. Form favours Newell’s, who have won their last three away games without conceding a goal. Boca, meanwhile, have only won two of their last five home games and have six points from the last five matches.
The Argentine league is extremely competitive this year, and there’ll be seven other teams watching events at La Bombonera unfold with baited breath. Only eight points separate Boca in first and Independiente down in ninth and with six games to go anything is possible!
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