This article courtesy of GOLAZO ARGENTINO
Friday night sees the start of the Torneo Inicial as Godoy Cruz host Argentinos Juniors in the early kickoff in Mendoza. With the Torneo Final champions, Newell’s considerably weakened by the departures of Tata Martino and Nacho Scocco there are a number of sides with an eye on the prize. Bianchi has overhauled Boca and despite a frustrating window, Ramon Diaz has brought in some fresh faces to River. Juan Veron has returned to Estudiantes and San Lorenzo look to continue their fine form from the second half of last season. Plus we have the 3 newly promoted sides and some feisty clasicos as a result: Rosario Central, Gimnasia La Plata and Olimpo will be hoping for a strong return to the top flight. Golazo previews the Torneo Inicial here!
The Torneo Final now a distant memory it has been an eventful few weeks as Argentinian sides have been gearing up for the Torneo Inicial. Last time out witnessed the fall of one of Argentina’s biggest clubs, as Independiente slid into the Nacional B, depriving the Primera of one of the great clasicos for this season. Newell’s Old Boys showed just why they were the best team in Argentina as they claimed the Torneo Final in impressive fashion and were unfortunate to exit the Copa Libertadores to, eventual winners, Atletico Miniero on penalties. Following their elimination there have been some major changes in Rosario, so can Newell’s come again and claim back to back titles?
Frankly it will be tough. Since exiting the Copa Libertadores, Gerardo Martino waved goodbye to Rosario and promptly landed the Barcelona job. Losing a manager of his calibre is always going to be a blow but in quite Barcelona-esque fashion Newell’s swiftly promoted Alfredo Berti from the reserves to the first team. Berti knows the squad better than anyone and will look to continue Martino’s work. On the pitch, the big loss was that of top scorer, Ignacio Scocco, who signed for Brasilian side, Internacional. His goals and industry leading the line will be missed but the signing of David Trezeguet, from River will hopefully take some of the burden. Perhaps more importantly, youngster Maxi Urruti can take the opportunity to step up from impact sub to first team regular. After last season’s triumph and the deserved adulation they received, back-to-back titles may be too much to ask. They will be up there but I see them falling short this time round.
The Torneo Final was certainly one to forget for Boca Juniors as they broke club records for winless streaks and were generally dismal. As expected Manager, Carlos Bianchi has rung the changes in an effort to overhaul his ageing squad and prepare for a title challenge. After all, if they are to qualify for the Copa Libertadores 2014 this is their last shot. A vast array of players were shown the exit door from La Bombonera but Bianchi has brought in 3 signings that could have a profound impact on the team. A central spine of Daniel Diaz, the centre half signed from Atletico Madrid, Fernando Gago and last season’s top goal scorer, Emmanuel Gigliotti, if integrated quickly could make Boca genuine contenders. Without the distractions of midweek Libertadores games we should see a very different Boca side to the one in the Torneo Final but perhaps the title is a step too far.
Across Buenos Aires, Boca’s arch-rivals, River Plate have had a somewhat frustrating window at times but seem to have brought in their top targets and improved the squad in the process. Colombian sensation, Eder Alvarez Balanta, despite strong links away has stayed and another very promising youngster, German Pezzella has returned from the knee injury that ruled him out of last season. In terms of acquisitions, Ramon Diaz will be thrilled to see further Colombian reinforcements, namely Carlos Carbonero and striker, Teo Gutierrez. Carbonero was one of Arsenal’s key performers and scorer of spectacular long range strikes while Gutierrez will hopefully provide the goal threat that River’s other collection of misfiring strikers lacked last term. In addition, Paraguayan playmaker, Jonathan Fabbro and the returning, Osmar Ferreyra will add some real quality to the midfield. After finishing runners up in the Torneo Final, this could be River’s time. Another championship for River and Diaz is a distinct possibility.
One of the major stories is the return to action of Juan Sebastian Veron. Having retired a year ago ‘La Brujita’ decided enough was enough after watching his beloved Estudiantes labour throughout the Torneo Final. He has returned in preseason and was instrumental in the friendly victory over Atletico Madrid. The midfield will certainly have a lot more structure under Veron’s leadership and his superb range of passing will be influential in starting moves and hopefully supplying Colombian front man, Duvan Zapata. Zapata was reportedly close to a move to West Ham but work permit issues have meant he will be staying in La Plata, at least for now. A stronger performance will be expected in the Torneo Inicial but perhaps a top half finish is more realistic.
One of the Buenos Aires ‘Big 5′ who may perhaps have a closer eye on the trophy are San Lorenzo. Over the second half of the Torneo Final, San Lorenzo were unstoppable, a 6 game winning streak and 10 unbeaten shot them up the table to finish in fourth. This close season they have strengthened considerably and could be real dark horses for the title. Quilmes pair, Martin Cauteruccio and Fernando Elizari could prove to be inspired signings as could the return of Nestor Ortigoza. With their already impressive batch of youngsters added by Union starlet, Juan Ignacio Cavallero, the future looks bright for San Lorenzo. Manager, Juan Antonio Pizzi has tried to downplay his sides chances but don’t be surprised to see them in the mix come December.
So who else could be in with a shout? In truth it could be a pretty open title race so there could be any number of candidates. Racing’s young side has been kept relatively intact, only Luis Fariña’s move to Benfica having any real sort of impact. A fit again Ricardo Centurion and the always dangerous, Luciano Vietto now supported by new signing, Mario Regueiro could surprise a few people. The Torneo Final’s ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ side, Lanus may still threaten despite losing key players, notably Regueiro, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and Guido Pizarro but have bought wisely so they will be hoping to recapture their form of the first half of the Torneo Final rather than their wretched run in the second half. Elsewhere, Velez Sarsfield managed to claim one of the highest profile transfers by bringing home, Mauro Zarate from Lazio. This in theory should more than make up for the sale of Facundo Ferreyra and if Zarate could really hit the ground running then who knows what impact that could have on the division.
Undoubtedly, the story of the Torneo Final was the historic relegation of Independiente, as they slumped to the second tier of Argentine football accompanied by San Martin and Union. There loss was the gain of the 3 newly promoted sides: Rosario Central, Gimnasia La Plata and Olimpo. All 3 have been busy in the window and time will tell if the stop up to the Primera Division will be an easy transition.
Where relegation has deprived us of the Avellaneda clasico, these promoted sides bring their own derby fixtures. Rosario Central’s clash with Newell’s and Gimnasia against Estudiantes will be two of the most fiercely fought, no doubt adding to the considerable head ache the AFA and the police are having in the aftermath of the crowd trouble which blighted the Torneo Final. The numerous incidents led to an away supporters ban which continues into the new season and the AFA have also just announced that for the first 2 rounds of matches in the Torneo Inicial that tickets will be only for members of the home side. Time will tell what action will be taken to try and prevent any more violence, history suggests that a few arbitrary changes and lots of finger pointing will actually result in not much. However, with the ever increasingly volatile situation within La Doce, Boca Juniors’ Barra Brava, could force more meaningful action, if the recent scenes before their friendly with San Lorenzo, which left 2 people dead are anything to go by.
There are a great number of uncertainties surrounding the Torneo Inicial but as always it is certain that it will be packed full of news worthy stories, whether on the pitch or not. Going out on a limb I will go for San Lorenzo to win the title and Velez signing, Mauro Zarate to claim the golden boot. No doubt time will prove me completely wrong.
*The transfer window had not yet closed at the time of writing
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