The Primera División began in earnest this past weekend but following on from the instability of the build-up there was further controversy as only eight of the nine games went ahead.
On the first of a regular feature we look at five storylines from weekend’s action, explaining what happened with the one game that didn’t go ahead, the lack of goals, Colo Colo’s humiliation in Calama, the defending champions and an improved Universidad Católica.
La liga de desorganización
Chilean football deserves better. Thanks to the power of Twitter, internet streaming and Marcelo Bielsa the league is becoming more popular among football fans in Europe and further afield.
A fourth reason for its increased popularity is Universidad de Chile and their scintillating football on the way to winning the Copa Sudamericana.
However, those fans looking forward to seeing La U in action under new management – Argentine Darío Franco – against Santiago Wanderers on Saturday would have been left disappointed as less than 24 hours previous to the game kicking off it had been postponed due to a lack of suitable venue.
A long story short: Wanderers’ home ground in Valparaíso, the Estadio Elías Figueroa, is being upgraded for hosting the Copa America in 2015. El decano then put forward main rivals Everton’s home ground, the Estadio Sausalito, as an option. However, that ground has not been deemed safe enough to host Primera División football. They then opted for the Estadio Municipal in San Felipe. That was again rejected.
On Friday ANFP moved to the game Santiago to Unión Española’s Estadio Santa Laura. But this time it was the turn of Wanderers and the Santiago authorities to reject that option; the latter releasing a statement saying that the decision would “violate fair-play and sports equality” because they would be playing in a ground that La U have had a lot of experience playing at.
La U have now appealed for the three points to be given to them.
The question that should be asked is ‘why is only 24 hours before a match that grounds are deemed unfit?’
There is a currently an Estadio Seguro plan in Chile that is unpopular with the fans preventing them in bringing flags and instruments to create atmosphere. However, it seems to be down to incompetence and shoddy organisation.
Roberto Cereceda summed it up it best: “It is a tremendous disrespect for football in general.”
Where are the goals?
The Primera División is an attacking league full of thrilling encounters, goals in abundance and the favourite of many punters in the over 2.5 goals market. The 153 Clausura games (excluding play-off matches) in 2012 averaged almost 2.8 goals a game. Only 5% (eight) of games finished without a goal.
In the first weekend of games there was two, while in five of the other six games the Primera’s penchant for enthralling exhibitions of football was difficult to see.
There are a few variables as to what we can put the lacklustre first week down to. Is it the rustiness of what was an eight week break for many? Is it the change in personnel at a number of clubs, whether it is manager or players? Or was it the disorganisation leading up to the start of the weekend when players were unsure if they would even have a game?
Starting on Friday night the pace of Rangers v Audax Italiano was slow and the 90 minutes tepid. Huachipato v San Marcos de Arica which followed started at a quicker pace before settling in to a game of attack versus defence – the league newcomers more than happy to pick up a respectable point at the reigning champions.
The only match that bucked the trend was Cobreloa and Colo Colo (read more below). Let’s hope it will be goalless, uninteresting draws that are bucking the trend for the rest of the season.
Know the system
Cobreloa’s quite amazing 5-2 thrashing of Colo Colo, where they led 5-0 with 30 minutes to go, was a case of two teams at contrasting stages in their understanding of their separate systems.
As I pinpointed in two previews Cobreloa may well be one team to look out for under Marcos Antonio Figueroa. Against los albos he had his side lined up in an interchangeable 3-3-1-3; René Lima acting as the double sided tape which kept the defence and attack together at the base of the midfield. His conservative play was supported by two hard working wide midfielders – Bryan Cortés and Alejandro Vásquez – who narrowed the game when out of possession then widened the pitch in possession helping the wide forwards double up on the opposing full-backs with new signings Pablo González and Francisco Pizarro from Universidad Católica; Miguel Ángel Cuellar was never left isolated.
Colo Colo on the other hand were disjointed. Omar Labruna had not hid his desire to set up los albos with a back three throughout pre-season. However, due to injuries and lack of recruitment he has had to persist with a back four. Lining up against Cobreloa with a 4-2-1-3, it was so he could get the best out of the attacking talent he has at his disposal. In an attacking sense the front four were often too narrow therefore relying on the full-backs to provide width. With the two nominal wide forwards coming in field Emiliano Vecchio was often forced wide for space. 4-2-2-2 served el cacique well in the Clausura, but it is clear Labruna would like Vecchio as the enganche, just another reason for the desire for three at the back to free up the number 10 position with balance elsewhere.
The win solidifies Cobreloa’s unique hold over Colo Colo as the only team to have a positive record against los albos; 34 wins to Colo Colo’s 31.
Braian Rodríguez may have finished top goal scorer as el campeón del sur won the Clausura title. However, there were a host of other key players, namely Nery Veloso, Omar Merlo, Lorezno Reyes, Cesár Cortés and Manuel Villalobos.
In the opening day stalemate with new boys San Marcos de Arica Huachipato were crying out for the latter two – both having moved on. Jorge Pellicer has made a slight alteration with his formation; fielding Francisco Arrué behind two physical strikers – Rodriguez and Federico Falcone. The team were clearly missing creative influence with most of the onus falling on Arrué to conjure up the moments of magic that los acerceros had become so accustomed to with Cortés and Villalobos.
Cortés was a reliable wide man, comfortable moving infield and supporting Rodríguez, as well as scoring goals. Villalobos, a free-spirited forward, is one of those players that you enjoy watching; the ball comes to his feet and he will do something that few others can replicate.
A game like Friday night’s when the away side defended deep and in vast numbers was crying out for either player.
Elsewhere, the team looks solid with Carlos Labrín covering for Merlo’s injury in defence, the two full-backs continuing to offer quality in either half and the midfield three working their socks of to keep a balance to the side; helping out defensively and supporting offensively. It may be that Huachipato will have to be clinical when they get the chance.
Pragmatism the way to success
Universidad Católica only have one thing on their mind for the Torneo Transicíon, and that is to put up a better fight for the Championship than they did in the Clausura where they failed to make the play-offs for the first time since 2004.
It was the run to the Copa Sudamericana semi-final which saved Martín Lasarte from the sack. And it appears that he will be taking the pragmatism that served them well in the continental competition and reinforcing in the domestic scene.
Sunday’s 1-0 win away to O’Higgins was about defensive solidity and organisation, rather than attacking and expansive football. UC played well in the first half with a quick tempo, going into the break one goal to the good. It was then the team dropped back, kept their shape and saw out the remainder of the game, thanks to resilient defending and typically astute goalkeeping from Cristopher Toselli.
Lasarte has added firepower, but the important players will be Toselli (as ever), Cristián Álvarez, Hans Martínez, the rejuvenated Enzo Andía and Michael Ríos.
And since it is the first week something extra . . .
Since it is the first week how about the goal scoring Paraguayan goalkeeper? No, not Jose Luis Chilavert silly. Unión La Calera’s 25-year-old Arnaldo Gimenez. Signed in 2012, he could not oust Lucas Giovini from the number one spot. However, Giovini has moved to Ñublense and Gimenez now has his chance. He has endeared himself to los rojos’ fans already with a goal from the penalty spot in the club’s 2-1 win over Antofagasta, but he will be judged on his performances between the sticks as La Calera look to continue their fine defensive form from the Clausura.
Photos taken from elgrafico.cl & terra.cl