Week eight was the final week before a brief break for the international period. It almost brings us to the half way point of the Torneo 2013 and Unión Española and O’Higgins continue to lead the way, although both put in performances of varying levels, yet picking up the same three points.
Hot on their heels are the Cobreloa and university duo of Universidad de Chile and Universidad Católica.
After recently relieving themselves of their managers Colo Colo, Deportes Iquique and Cobresal all languish in the table; the latter two are 17th and 18th, while los albos are 10th.
But of course it is the coeficiente de rendimiento which determines relegation to Primera B and it is currently San Marcos de Arica who occupy bottom position with an average of 0.750, behind Cobresal who are on 1.063.
As O’Higgins rose to the summit of the Torneo 2013 table as sole leaders – for at 24 hours – in their come-from-behind win over San Marcos de Arica one player stood out more than most: Luis Pedro Figueroa.
The Chilean internationalist was a key player for the Rancagua side in the first half of 2012 as O’Higgins were seconds away from beating Universidad de Chile in the play-off final to claim their first ever top division title.
The 29-year-old has had spells at both Universidad de Chile and Colo Colo and his performances of late have highlighted exactly why he played more than 70 league games for Chile’s two biggest club. But what his performances do make you question is his passport.
He moves around the pitch with a zest of a teenager breaking into the team rather than a player on the verge of veteran status.
He, like most O’Higgins players, fell short in a lot of league games in the Clausura and was even dropped for a period. But with Ramon Fernández now at La U he has taken on more responsibility as O’Higgins focus their efforts on hitting opposition teams with speed, incisive passing through midfield and down each flank, stretching the opposition.
In the first half, while Gonzalo Barriga struggled on the opposite flank, Figueroa was a constant menace to San Marcos, ably supported by Yerson Opazo from full-back. Other than Gustavo Lorenzetti and Eugenio Mena you will struggle to find a wide duo with such an effective partnership. Opazo acts like a wing back and it allows Figueroa to move infield or overload the opposition down the flank.
In the first half alone Figueroa created three golden opportunities two of which were squandered by Barriga and another by Pablo Calandria, who scored the equaliser in the second half for his ninth goal in 10 matches since joining from Santiago Wanderers.
But what was so impressive about the three chances he created was his composure, awareness and decision making. The first two saw players drop away from goal and he cut the ball back right to their feet and then with the third he was through on goal with Pedro Carrizo sliding in front of him, but he just stood the ball up to the back post for Barriga to meet with the head (cleared off the line).
There is a gracefulness about the way he goes past players. He does not seem to moving at any great pace but glides away from opponents. But he is no stocky winger. He is rangy and strong. Is it any wonder that full-backs are having a tough time trying to thwart him?
I was all set to talk about Santiago Wanderers. I seem to have done them a disservice of late, especially when I described them as uninteresting on Twitter a week or so back. They then hit three goals in 18 minutes against Universidad Católica. And on Friday night had Antofagasta pinned back for post of the match, with the pumas counter-attacking sporadically.
They have a real balance with two forward-minded and energetic full-backs, while Matías Donoso is a handful as he leads the line ahead of three attacking midfielders. After getting back on level terms after Valenzuela’s thumping volleyed opener it seemed only a matter of time before Wanderers would take the lead. But it never came.
Antofagasta were lop-sided with no one playing to the left of midfield for periods of the match, Javier Elizondo ineffective flitting between the left and supporting Daniel Arismendi who heads the attack.
The game was often stretched with both teams’ defences playing deep lines, but it wasn’t until Antofagasta made changes which saw Elizondo join Arismendi in a strike partnership. It seemed to reinvigorate Arismendi more than anyone else. He was able to occupy the space between defence and midfield – laying on two of Elizondo’s three goals in the last 10 minutes to complete a 4-1 win for the away side. The first was extra special Arismendi locating the space to dissect the defence for Elizondo to run on to the pass.
The result leaves Antofagasta in 16th in the coeficiente de rendimiento.
Universidad de Chile can owe much of their come-back win against Unión La Calera down to a 19-year-old who put in another sterling performance in the league.
Nicolás Maturana was part of the Chile under-20 squad to qualify for this summer’s under-20 World Cup in Turkey, but he was often used off the bench as he competed with Bryan Rabello and Cristián Cuevas for a place as the central attacking midfielder or from the left.
But as Darío Franco has tried to utilise the full complement of his squad with La U competing in three tournaments, plus injuries to key players, the young players have been afforded considerable playing time in the league.
Maturana followed up last week’s effective performance against Deportes Iquique with an even better one on Saturday.
La U were horrendous to put it lightly for the majority of the first half against La Calera, defensive frailties were prominent as José Rojas had one of those games which are becoming worryingly too familiar. He was beaten in the air for the opening goal scored by Mario Berrios before a tame challenge allowed La Calera to advance into the box before Sebastián González’s arrowed shot beat Jhonny Herrera.
La Calera pressed and harried La U to begin with before they fell into their usual game plan of attacking opposition on the counter-attack. It took a moment of Maturana magic to bring La U back into it on the stroke of half-time.
Maturana, who only replaced Sebastián Ubilla moments before kick-off, received the ball on the half-turn 35 yards but in one movement he turned to face goal, move the ball out from beneath his feet and rifled a shot that dipped into the top corner. Then just after the hour mark he ran off the left to collect an incisive Gustavo Lorenzetti pass to fire across Arnaldo Giménez.
Charles Aránguiz won the match with a stooping header in what Franco described as a game they won playing badly. However he did take time to praise Maturana saying he is happy with what he done in other games as well as the game against La Calera.
It was a fine all round performance from Maturana who proved adept in central areas and wider areas. His loan spells at Barnechea and Rangers last season provided the player with a good grounding and his continued performance will make him difficult for Mario Salas to leave out the starting XI in Turkey, especially with Bryan Rabello and Cristián Cuevas getting little game time.
The team to beat
It is said stats don’t lie. It is said the table doesn’t like. So with that Unión Española are the best in the league. After their 5-0 thumping of Everton on Saturday they joined O’Higgins on 19 points after eight matches. Although a far superior goal difference technically has them in front.
The second highest amount of goals scored so far (19). The best defensive record (five conceded). And five wins and a draw from their last six matches.
Patricio Rubio has scored four, Oscar Hernández, Diego Scotti, Sebastián Jaime all have three and Francisco Castro has two. But more than their ability to share the goals around the team, they work together defensively as well. They defend from the front. And as this writer has suggested before they are the closest team in Chile to Barcelona, despite the obvious links with Universidad de Chile in the last two years.
Simply put they are the team to watch. And in Oscar Hernández they arguably have the young player of the season. He has already played his way into the latest under-20 get together.
Fran Castro has been a great signing from La U, while Seba Jaime is a constant presence in attack. He may lack the vivacity of Castro, Rubio’s clinical nature and Hernández’s aesthetically pleasing qualities but he is Mr Consistent. He can work all across the attack, a physical presence and a reliable worker.
Experience is provided by the midfield duo of Scotti and Gonzalo Villagra who work just as hard as the younger players,which includes Matías Navarette who has struck up a solid partnership with Jorge Ampuero and Mario Larenas at left-back.
There was concern after reaching the Clausura play-off final and not winning as Emiliano Vecchio et al moved on. But José Luis Sierra has regrouped the squad and made them a more balanced entity.
No 30th star for Colo Colo
Colo Colo will not be adding the Torneo 2013 to their vast amounts of silverware and in the process collecting the 30th star.
Sunday’s 1-1 draw at home to Ñublense left el cacique in 10th place, eight points off the summit of the Campeonato Petrobas.
During the week they sacked Omar Labruna and replaced him with Hugo González who will manage on an interim basis until the end of the championship in May.
Reading the Labruna article on the site will give you an in-depth analysis of where it went wrong for Labruna and there was no quick fix against Ñublense, who have proven to be tricky opponents since being promoted back to the top division, despite a return to the 4-2-2-2 which served Labruna well in the 2012 Clausura.
Carlos Muñoz got the home side off to a fantastic start but Jonathan Cisternas equalised right on half-time and the fragile confidence was evident in the second half as they were unable to provide a winner.
Colo Colo have only scored 12 goals in eight games – incidentally an increase in two goals from this time in the Clausura. However, last season they would go on to score 11 in the next four games. This team could quite easily follow suit. They are creating at least six times as many chances as the opposition – just one of interesting facts provided by La Tercera.
But it comes down to a lack of continuity. As the Labruna article mentions a number of formations have been used. But what it does not mention is that Colo Colo have seven forwards in their squad and have so far used 20 different players in the tournament with only three playing all 720 minutes – Eduardo Lobos, Cristián Vilches and Fernando de La Fuente.
In the aftermath of the match González talked about the need for continuity and will look to use two friendly matches in the international break to decide on a settled team.