Clausura 2011 Preview: Riquelme's fitness the key for Boca

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It’s Friday. It’s February. There’s a Tory government in power and there’s a royal wedding just around the corner. Perhaps it is difficult to engross oneself in the delicious nuances of a far away league which is hours from kicking off, but that shouldn’t stop you...

The Argentine league is about to get under way with its usual array of greying legends and Juventus/Milan/Manchester United/Real Madrid/Barcelona–targeted wunderkids filling up the ranks. There’s even an Italian World Cup winner knocking about this season.

The 2011 Clausura - The Nestor Kirchner Clausura, to be precise - begins today with renewed faith and optimism in the local game, despite what was – and don’t just quote this blog on this one, nobody else does – a rather poor Apertura.

Title Race

The Copa Libertadores is already under way, raising the stakes for those in continental competition – step forward Estudiantes, Vélez, Argentinos Juniors, Godoy Cruz and Independiente. The drain of a serious challenge for the South American Champions League title (more 30 hour round trips and midweek action) may well hinder these clubs’ chances of domestic league glory.

In come Boca, who have appointed the most serious coach around, Julio Falcioni, and have bolstered their playing staff too, having brought in the midfield trio of Walter Erviti (Banfield), Leandro Somoza (Vélez) and Diego Rivero (San Lorenzo). More importantly, Riquelme is back from injury. If he stays fit, the title will end up at the Bombonera. Well, that is what the man himself promised the board.

Julio Falcioni - Boca's happy-go-lucky new coach

Relegation battle

Barring miracles, and judging by the Apertura there’s not one on the horizon, Olimpo and Quilmes will occupy the two direct relegation spots at the end of the campaign. Then it is up to Huracán and Gimnasia to claw their way out of the relegation playoff spots, needing to catch River or Tigre to do so.

If the presidenta’s team, Gimnasia, do escape, it will be one of the stories of the season. The Establishment’s hate figure, Ángel Cappa, is directing affairs from the dugout, and Guillermo Barros Schelotto is playing for free and playing well into his retirement years to try and save the club from the drop.

Eye Candy

David Ramírez is the best player in the country according to Riquelme, making that a good enough reference for this blog. Now, Ramírez joined Vélez in the close season, and should coach Richard ‘The Tiger’ Gareca so choose, he could form part of an attack that will make opposing defences tremble.

Imagine Ramírez pulling the strings from midfield, centre forward Santiago Silva growling at the centre backs, and Juan Manuel Martínez and Maxi Moralez scurrying around causing havoc… Sí señor.

With a Point to Prove

While Catania appear to be trying to buy every player who ever looked at Argentina on the map, let alone possesses an Argentine passport, they did let one go. Pablo Barrientos joined Estudiantes and after hardly setting Europe alight, so will be out to show just what the Sicilians missed out on.

The same goes for Franco Zuculini who returns to Argentina approximately 14 years too early. Spells at Hoffenheim and Genoa didn’t work out for the talented young midfielder, but a good season at Racing and no doubt he’ll be back in Europe soon.

Elsewhere, Matias Defederico will also be looking to put his career back on track at Independiente after a disappointing time in Brazil with Corinthians, but the real phoenix could well be the Little Donkey, Ariel Ortega. Booted out of River Plate, All Boys welcomed him with open arms – we’ll wait and see if he can deliver a final flourish to his career.

Poor Millionaires

The transfer market has been busy, but the millonarios have been the quietest of the lot. River Plate are broke. Actually, it’s far worse than that. They are on the brink – and not just with the banks. They brought in just one player on a free transfer, despite promises of several players from River’s more glorious recent past. They also jettisoned Ortega. All things considered, the Apertura was a good season, but failure to repeat those results could make for one of Argentine football’s biggest club stories in decades, come the end of the season.

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