Clausura 2011 Argentina preview

The Néstor Kirchner Clausura 2011 tournament kicks off next week and the chances are that it will be another fascinating contest. Only an ardent supporter or a gambler could be drawn into making predictions on which specific team will win the tournament.

Over the last four and a half years the Primera División has been the most competitive league in the world with eight different winners in the last eight tournaments. To put this into perspective you have to rewind 30 years to find eight different winners in the English top flight, Aston Villa won it in 1980-81 and have been followed  Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, Leeds, Manchester United, Blackburn and Chelsea. Similarly you have to go back to Hellas Verona in 1984-85 in Italy, 1977-78, FC Köln in Germany and in Spain Atlético Bilbao way back in 1955-56. Several leagues have never even seen eight different league champions in the professional era, let alone all within the last four years.

Anyone coming here for gambling tips be warned, I am writing this under the effects of opiates after an operation. A lot will depend on the fortunes of the Argentine clubs playing in the Copa Libertadores, a strong run could tire them out too much for a sustained championship fight but it could also potentially help them find consistency and a winning mentality in the league too. An early elimination could let them focus on their league campaign but it could also destroy their confidence and cost them even more points.

All Boys were one of the most entertaining teams to watch last season and it will be interesting to see how they manage to fit Ariel Ortega into their team. A half decent Clausura should see them avoid relegation but a poor run of results could see them slip back into the relegation fight.

Argentinos Juniors will be focussing most of their efforts on their first Copa Libertadores campaign in years. They have signed Santiago Salcedo and if the Paraguayan striker avoids injury and finds his form he could be a contender for the league top scorer. A mid table finish and a good run in the Libertadores would be the best that they could hope for.

Arsenal de Sarandí finished in their highest league position ever in the Apertura but a repeat will be unlikely. A consistent season could see them secure a spot in the 2011 Copa Sudamericana but I fancy them to fall back quite a long way.

Since they won the Apertura 2009 championship Banfield have been consistently decent top half of the table side. Their manager Julio Cesar Falcioni left to become manager at Boca Juniors and took inspirational midfielder Walter Erviti with him. They may have a rookie manager and a slightly depleted team but it is hard to imagine them finishing anywhere near the bottom of the table.

Boca Juniors fans will be expecting a good campaign from their team with Falcioni in the driving seat, however they would do well to remember last year's departure of Claudio Borghi after only 14 games in charge before they let themselves get too carried away. They have lost Chilean midfielder Gary Medel to Sevilla but in Walter Erviti they have an excellent addition to the midfield and one that the manager knows how to utilise. The least Boca's fans will expect is qualification to play in the Copa Sudamericana and a good start to the Libertadores 2012 qualification campaign. The interesting issue is how Falcioni is going to deal with the older players like Riquelme and Martín Palermo. At some point the club needs to look to the future but if Riquelme is fit the fans will not see him left out and it would take a brave man to leave out a player with Martín Palermo's goalscoring record. I expect some improvement on their 14th place finish in the Apertura but I would be surprised to see them rebuild quickly enough to challenge for the title.

Colón face their first full season without Antonio Mohammed in charge. Under his leadership they were consistently top half of the table and only just short of the championship run in on a few occasions. Fernando Gamboa has a lot of work to do to keep them from falling back but they seem to have made a few decent signings so I would be surprised to see them finish lower than mid table.

Estudiantes are the current champions and have one of the strongest squads in the division however two things count against them, they are very likely to have a serious tilt at the Copa Libertadores meaning an extra 10 games or more and the other is that it is a long time since anyone managed to win consecutive Primera División titles. I expect them to finish in the top five but would be surprised if they had the squad strength to win the league and make a strong bid for the Libertadores championship.

Gimnasia de La Plata have been struggling along near the bottom of the division for years, they have survived two consecutive relegation play-offs against Atlético Rafaela but this time I expect them to be automatically relegated. They cannot continue to rely on the poor form of recently promoted teams and I expect either Quilmes or Olimpo to overtake them. Even with the signing of Guillermo Barros Schelotto I don't expect them to survive.

Godoy Cruz have lost their influential manager Omar Asad to Ecuadorian side Emelec. His replacement is Uruguayan Jorge da Silva whose only previous experience has been with Defensor Sporting of Uruguay and Al-Nassr of Saudi Arabia. They have also lost several of the key players that helped them secure their first ever qualification to play in Copa Libertadores. Jairo Castillo has gone to play in Mexico and Cesar Carranza and Davíd Ramírez have joined Lanús and Vélez respectively. Their participation in Copa Libertadores and the loss of so many key figures is bound to have a big impact. I can only see them falling back from the role of high scoring, entertaining 5th place finishers.

Huracán had a dismal Apertura tournament finishing way down in 18th position. they have made a couple of interesting signings, Javier Campora (the top scorer from Apertura 2005) has finally returned to Argentina to play for them and Cristian Maidana has joined from Spartak Moscow. I can't see much improvement from them and expect them to spend the season involved in the relegation dogfight.

Independiente finished 20th and last in the Apertura but their fans will tell you the reason was their triumphant 2010 Copa Sudamericana campaign. Under the new rules their victory in Copa Sudamericana earned them a place in the even more intensive international Copa Libertadores tournament. They have made a couple of good signings, Leonel Nunez has returned to Independiente and Matiás Defederico will be trying to re-establish his reputation after a couple of disappointing years in Brazil. I don't expect them to finish bottom of the table again but anything better than a mid table finish would be a big surprise.

Lanús have done some quite extensive squad rebuilding under new manager Gabriel Schurrer, Santiago Silva, Sebastian Blanco, Hernán Grana, German Cano, Marcos Aguirre and Nicolás Ramírez have all left the club and Carlos Araujo, Cesár Carranza, Diego Valeri and Diego González have all come in. Given the amount of rebuilding and the rookie manager I find this one of the hardest to predict. They have the benefit of no international distractions but I'm still amazed that they got rid of previous manager Luis Zubeldía when he had been doing so well and find myself hoping that they end up regretting that decision.

Newell's Old Boys sold their iconic young midfielder Mauro Formica to Blackburn Rovers in January but I still expect them to have a strong tournament. They will be hoping that a good finish will earn them a place in the 2011 Copa Sudamericana.

Olimpo are bottom of the promedios (points averaging) relegation table as it stands and will need a big improvement on 17th position to avoid automatic relegation. They did show that they had the determination to win a good few games at home but their away record was pathetic. If they have a good season and finish in mid table they will probably end up facing a relegation play-off, if they have another poor tournament they will be automatically relegated.

Quilmes spent the first 13 games of the Apertura looking like dead men walking managing only six draws and seven defeats. They then pulled themselves together to win four out of their last six games to give themselves the scent of survival. If they can rediscover that vein of form after a 2 month break they would easily avoid relegation however I can't see them recreating championship winning form over the span of 19 games even though they should be able to field teenage sensation Juan Manuel Iturbe. I expect to see them near the bottom of the relegation table at the end of the season although they may avoid automatic relegation.

Racing Club actually began to look like a real football club for the first time in years towards the end of the Apertura tournament, they had their hopes of a Copa Libertadores spot cruelly pinched by local rivals Independiente but that could be a blessing in disguise. If they get off to a strong start I can see them finishing in the top five. Given their distinct lack of league success over the last 45 years only a fool would tip them for the championship but I'll put them down as my dark horses.

I expect River Plate to have a strong tournament, probably not tournament winners but they will hope to continue the revival under current manager and club legend J.J. Lopez and the lingering fear of relegation will be motivation for the squad. they have kept hold of most of their best performers from the Apertura and did well to keep hold of teenage sensation Erik Lamela so I expect to see them in the top five again but one thing to bear in mind is the fact that last time they got rid of club legend Ariel Ortega they slumped from championship winners to their worst ever finish of 20th and last in the table.

San Lorenzo are another difficult one to call, Ramón Diáz has had a huge clear out of players but given their lowly 13th placed finish last season the directors could lose patience with him before the end of the season if they do not see significant improvements. I respect Diáz as a brilliant manager and expect him to lead San Lorenzo to a decent top half of the table finish and with a good run of results they could be in the title mix-up going into the last few games.

Tigre had a poor Apertura but in Denis Straqualursi they had the division's joint top goalscorer. The first time I saw him playing for Gimnasia I thought that he had the potential to become a human tank of a player. If he continues to score a lot of goals Tigre could fight their way away from the relegation zone however if they struggle under new rookie manager Rodolfo Arruabarrena they could find themselves in danger of facing an end of season relegation playoff.

Vélez Sársfield were brilliant in the Apertura and were unlucky to finish second to Estudiantes. Like Estudiantes they are the only other team equipped to have a serious go at winning the Copa Libertadores and maintain an outside chance of winning the Clausura. They managed to keep hold of most of their key players and I would be amazed if they don't find themselves in the top five at the end of the season.

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