Argentina Primera Division – End of Season Review Part One

For the 32nd time in their history Boca Juniors have been crowned champions of Argentina. Los Xeneize were dealt a blow halfway through their campaign when influential captain Carlos Tevez upped sticks and joined Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League for a reported £600,00 per week. Boca coped well initially, winning 4 of the first 5 games AC (After Carlitos), but then the slump hit and only two wins from seven followed. Juan Román Riquelme’s criticism of the flailing team was lauded and decried in equal measure, and Tevez even recently responded from the comfort of his Chinese sofa, criticising the icon for not supporting the team. However a solid finish to the season, no doubt aided by the freshness from no continental competition, saw Boca cross the finish line.

Tevez’s departure was offset by the goals of the prolific Dario Benedetto who scored 21 in 25 league games, including 13 crucial first goals. Rumours were abound that at 27, and at the peak of his powers, the striker would head to Europe but he has assured the club that he wishes to remain and fight for next season’s Copa Libertadores. Colombian duo Wilmar Barrios and Frank Fabra impressed this season, along with Cristian Pavón, who is set to join Zenit for €18 million. Another departee is young Uruguayan midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur, who caught the eye of Juventus earlier in the season and will join the Turin in July. Boca have been criticised by many this season for an apparent dull style of football yet the fact remains: Boca finished seven points clear of second place River Plate, outgunning their rivals by 11 goals.

Nine points in their last three games earned Estudiantes third place and another crack at the Copa Libertadores. Their continental journey didn’t quite go to plan this season as they finished third in their group, dropping into the Copa Sudamericana. (They’ve been drawn against Bolivian side Nacional and will have to travel to the altitude of Potosí in the round of 32.) Club president Juan Sebastián Verón even came out of retirement to participate in the Copa Libertadores, showing that although he still retains bags of ability, his 42-year-old legs have ultimately failed him. Proving that men can multi-task after all, Verón also took up a role with the Argentine Football Association, overseeing all youth football within the federation. Tenacious midfielder Santiago Ascacibar, who received eight yellow cards in 24 matches this season, impressed for both club and his country’s under-20 side at the World Cup in South Korea and could be on the move in the not-to-distant-future.

Banfield’s loss away to San Lorenzo in the penultimate fixture of the season is what handed the title to Boca as El Taladro were the last team in with a mathematical chance of stopping the men from La Bombonera. Banfield, managed by former Boca Director Técnico Julio César Falcioni, were unlikely candidates given their form after the resumption following the summer break where they lost four in six. A charge of eight wins in nine, halted by the San Lorenzo defeat, gave Banfield an outside chance of pipping Boca and claiming only the second title in their history. Veteran striker Dario Cvitanich, 33, was their top scorer with nine but Banfield were the lowest scorers of the top five teams. Defeat on the final day to Racing was another blow to Banfield, consigning them to fifth place and meaning they’ll have to navigate the qualifying rounds if they are to join Estudiantes and champions Boca in next season’s Copa Libertadores.

Defensa y Justicia and Colón finished 10th and 11th respectively, nabbing the last two Copa Sudamericana spots in the process. Colón, from Santa Fé, were at one point the division’s form team, winning an incredible seven successive games. However their fall from grace was as dramatic as their rise, as they managed only one win in the last eight games. Defensa y Justicia’s success was built on a mean defence: conceding only 23 goals in 30 games making them the league’s joint-tightest back line. Their problem was at the other end and had they scored more than a measly 31 goals they may have been able to finish higher up the table. Defensa y Justicia are still standing in this season’s Copa Sudamericana and will face Brazilian side Chapecoense – who suffered that tragic plane crash in 2016 – in the last 32.

Aldosivi and Atlético Rafaela will both be playing football in the second tier next season after finishing in the bottom four of the promedios table, which calculates a teams’ points average over a three year period. Aldosivi finished rock-bottom of the regular table and deserve to go down after scoring a pitiful 15 goals all season. Rafaela, on the other hand, will feel slightly aggrieved after finishing 17th in the regular table.

Arsenal and Belgrano had terrible seasons, finishing 27th and 28th respectively yet avoiding relegation due to their reasonably comfortable positions in the promedios. However if the league continues to reduce in size, as expected, both will have to improve next season. Belgrano have been the picture of consistency since they were promoted in 2011 after famously relegating River Plate in the relegation/promotion play-off. However, poor leadership and recruitment decisions recently have cost the club dearly, and the tragic death of fan Emanuel Balbo during the Clásico Cordobés topped off what has been a miserable campaign for Los Piratas.

Atlético Tucumán were underwhelming in their league campaign, finishing 21st, which is perhaps understandable given their efforts and concentration was on their Copa Libertadores campaign. Former Belgrano manager Ricardo Zielinski has been installed as the new boss so the tucumanos will be hoping for a better season next time around. As with Estudiantes, Atlético Tucumán finished third in their group and will therefore drop into the Copa Sudamericana, where they’ll face Oriente Petrolero of Bolivia.

Defensa y Justicia, Belgrano, Colon, Atlético Tucumán, Aldosivi, Rafaela, and Banfield are still standing in the last 16 of the Copa Argentina. Boca Juniors are yet to play their round-of-32 tie but will be expected to progress.