Drunk fans, dreadful pitches & U2 - it's the clásico of the clásicos

Huge, beautiful, brand-spanking new stadium? Check. Ageing club legend with a point to prove? Check, twice. Figure of one team’s hate sitting in the dugout? Check. Possibility of a historic defeat? Again, check.

However, despite ticking all the right boxes, there is a slight sinking feeling about the La Plata derby. It might not quite be the spectacle everyone – at least everyone with vaguely neutral tendencies – is hoping for.

The Estadio Unico is a fantastic stadium. Built as the centrepiece for the Copa America, it was unveiled recently to much fanfare. With an capacity of approximately 53,000, it is one of the only South American stadiums with a retractable roof and, unlike most of its Argentine cousins, it is not possible to find a piece of crumbling rock when you feel like launching a projectile.

There are two problems to it hosting the local clásico, however.

First is that given the febrile nature of the derby, the authorities have taken the no-nonsense approach to dealing with problems created when you mix in together tens of thousands of foaming-at-the-mouth, intoxicated supporters who sing songs about killing the ones at the other end of the stadium. The home side gets to take their fans. The away side doesn ’t.

So while the Estadio Unico is brand new, it will be half empty for the city’s number one club football match. Gimnasia fans will be there. Estudiantes’ won’t. U2, on the other hand, will pack the place out next month.

The other problem is the pitch. ‘It is in a dreadful state,’ complained Gimnasia keeper Gastón Sessa this week, ‘which is a real shame for all the people who worked so hard to finish this wonderful stadium. But the pitch doesn’t help our style of play.’ Wembley, anybody?

With Gimnasia staving off relegation, you’d be forgiven for incorrectly expecting them to employ a kick-and-rush game plan to eek out results, but you’d be wrong.

The club brought in Ángel Cappa, the last of the Mohicans when it comes to preserving faith in patient passing football and practising what he preaches. The pitch won’t favour his side. And comments from Cappa about Estudiantes traditionally brusque and route uno football when he was in charge at River didn’t go down too well, particularly with Juan Sebastián Verón. Fortunately for Cappa, there will be no Estudiantes supporters to hurl abuse at him.

There may even be no Verón to growl at him from afar. Having twisted his ankle in training Verón is in this weekend’s squad, but is said to be doubtful to feature in the derby. Gimnasia aren’t believing a word of it and fully expect the Little Witch to run out with the captain’s armband.

If he does not, it will deprive the clásico of one further element – the duel of the legends.

The Verón dynasty is well-known at Estudiantes and has featured in this blog several times before.

This season there is also the Barros Schelotto Factor at Gimnasia. After forming part of the most successful Boca sides in history, Guillermo head off to the US to end his career. Returning from MLS with a fist full of stats (57 assists in 118 games!) he fully expected to retire and think about coaching.

With the club he started out at facing relegation however, he was persuaded to give it six more months. The financial situation at the club is so dire that he is playing for free. He himself claims he is there as much to help out behind the scenes, but he has played all three games so far this season and is vital for the side up front.

More than any game this season, Barros Schelotto will want to win the clásico. Verón always takes more pleasure from beating the city rivals than River, Boca or Vélez.

And while Gimnasia will fancy their chances – and it would be a historic win if they beat Estudiantes – for the away side the 7-0 win under Diego Simeone is still fresh enough in the memory to be the centre of most jokes.

FIXTURES Friday All Boys v San Lorenzo Saturday Gimnasia v Estudiantes, Newell’s v Huracán, Racing v Olimpo Sunday Godoy Cruz v Colón, Banfield v Lanús, River v Argentinos, Quilmes-Tigre, Vélez v Boca Monday Arsenal v Independiente.

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