By Tom Nash.
A new Argentine top-flight season begins this weekend, and fortunately for readers, the format is not very difficult to follow this time.
The country is famed for weird and wacky formats with odd numbers of teams, but this time things are pretty simple — the 28 teams in the Liga Profesional will all face each other once, leading to one team being crowned champions in October.
The season will be played at an extraordinary pace in order to finish in time for the World Cup.
Let’s take a look at the runners and riders.
River Plate are holders and many people’s favourites to secure back-to-back league titles. They won the 2021 Liga with three matches to spare, but things are not likely to be so easy this time.
Their previous title charge was powered by the goalscoring exploits of Julian Álvarez, who will set off for a new life at Manchester City just six games into this campaign in July. Pep Guardiola’s side signed him in January then agreed to loan him back to River for six months.
On top of that, star midfielder Enzo Fernandez also looks set for a big-money move to Europe after attracting interest from some massive clubs. Both would be almost impossible to replace for the budget River would have.
The Copa Libertadores tends to distract manager Marcelo Gallardo, so River’s chances of winning are in direct proportion to how far they progress continentally. The longer they prioritize other competitions, the more their chances in the league will wane.
Boca are fresh from securing a Copa de la Liga title in May after beating Tigre 3-0 in the final.
Their manager Sebastian Battaglia was questioned for large periods of the campaign but came good once the tournament reached the quarter-final stage, delivering the title emphatically without conceding a goal in the final three matches.
Boca have some exciting youngsters who many fans and neutrals would like to see more of moving forward.
Fernando Gago turned to management recently after persistent injuries in recent years and his career in a suit and tie has gone pretty well so far.
In the group phase of the recent Copa de la Liga, his side amassed more points than anyone else in the competition, winning River Plate’s group. They then suffered agony in a penalty shootout with Boca Juniors in the semi-finals.
More impressive than the points tally was the style of football itself — sophisticated high-speed high-press was implemented seamlessly with Racing simply overpowering most opponents. They set a club record of eight consecutive wins at one point.
Rarely in recent decades has the club gone into a season with expectations so high.
The three sides mentioned are definitely the clear favourites. San Lorenzo and Independiente, the other members of Argentina’s “big five”, are in such a state both on and off the field that neither can truly be considered a candidate to live up to their illustrious past.
One side that has impressed recently is Estudiantes. Veteran coach ‘El Ruso’ Zielinski has them playing some great football which led to them sweeping to the top of their Copa de la Liga and Copa Libertadores groups with ease in May.
Vélez Sarsfield underperformed in the Copa de la Liga, so more will be expected from them. Most sides outside of that will be seen as a long shot.
The action kicks off this weekend and concludes on October 23rd.