After a brief hiatus for the international week the Primera Divisón returned on the Thursday rather than Friday due to Good Friday.
The goal less draw between Rangers and Santiago Wanderers did not set the precedent for the weekend ahead as there were the usual concoction of goals, surprises and controversies. The biggest headline being Colo Colo. As Chile’s biggest club, they are often at the forefront of the sporting news, but in recent times it has all too often been negative – and that continued at the weekend.
Before we get to that however we look at the 0-0 (sorry), the top of the table, the relegation battle and a return to form for Huachipato.
Wanderers lack that magic spark
In the coeficiente de rendimiento Santiago Wanderers are 15th which means they retain the anxiety of relegation. But on recent performances they should not need to worry, despite some negative results. For the second game in a row they controlled the game against Rangers, playing positive football with two attacking full-backs and three attacking midfielders behind a lone striker.
However, as Patricio Polic blew for full-time whistle it had finished 0-0. It highlighted the one facet of the team which is missing; the element that will see Ivo Basay’s side move into the top eight rather than knocking around in the mediocrity of midfield.
Stationed behind Matías Donoso in the central attacking midfield role was Jefferson Castillo. Yet, in his 60 minutes on the pitch he was ineffectual, constantly losing the ball and giving Donoso little support.
Rodrigo Toloza and Nicolás López Macri were industrious down the flanks, ably supported by Boris Sandoval and Franz Schultz respectively but they often only had one target to aim for in the box.
It improved with the introduction of Ariel Colzera and Jorge Ormeño’s increased willingness to break from the team’s double pivot and get into the box. He was unlucky to see one header, after a late run, sail over the bar.
Colzera injected directness and a confidence to take players on. Moments after his introduction he breezed past an opponent with a step-over and shuffle and forced Nicolás Peric into a stretching save.
The game ended in a sour note when Peric was involved in a confrontation with his own supporters and was shown a red card for suggesting to the fans that he has cojones, which incensed him even more and he had to be pulled away to stop the argument becoming physical.
Unión’s defensive unit
After O’Higgins were defeated by Everton 2-0 it meant Unión Española were sole leaders at the top of Torneo 2013 thanks to an earlier 1-0 win over Deportes Iquique.
Much is made of Española’s attacking quality, especially now that Gustavo Canales is allowed to play after being banned for testing positive to a banned substance while playing for Arsenal de Sarandí in Argentina.
However, defensively they have bordered on immaculate, conceding only five goals in nine games – four better than the next best defence – and keeping seven clean sheets in their last eight matches (one of which was a Copa Chle semi-final 0-0 draw with Universidad de Chile).
It is testament to the way José Luis Sierra has adjusted the team’s shape when out of possession and the improvement in individual players. In the regular season of the 2012 Apertura and Clausura they conceded a combined 56 goals in 34 games; a consequence of their open and expansive nature.
But to say they have lost any attacking threat due to their increased defensive solidity would foolish considering they have the second best attacking the league with 20 goals – one behind Universidad Católica and Cobreloa. The full-backs continue to start high from goal kicks and play on the front foot to support the wide forwards, giving the team extra width.
It’s when out of possession where the change has been made. Los Hispanos now play a lot tighter when defending. The full-backs tuck in and there is a greater emphasis on the defensive ‘unit’.
After some inconsistent performances in 2012 Jorge Ampuero has formed a comfortable partnership with 21-year-old Matías Navarette, whose consistency and confidence has belied his age. While in the full-back positions Dagoberto Currimilla and youngster Mario Larenas have shone with Enzo Ruíz and Nicolás Berardo proven to be able deputies.
However, a lot of credit has to go to Diego Scotti and Gonzalo Villagra. The experienced midfield duo have shown no signs of veteran status as they continue to buzz around the park providing a fluid link between defence and attack through midfield. The pair take it in turns to initiate attacks by dropping between the centre backs when Diego Sánchez is in possession of the ball.
With a three point lead and a variety of options la furia roja show few signs of letting up with over half the league campaign played.
The relegation battle
Moving to the coeficiente de rendimiento, and to the bottom of the table, San Marcos de Arica’s position looks perilous in 18th place with a 0.777 ratio with their nine points from seven games.
The coefficient takes into consideration the previous three years’ worth of results – excluding play-offs – plus the 18 matches of the Torneo 2013 to determine who will be relegated in May and who will take part in a play-off in an attempt to retain their place in the top division.
Due to Arica’s long absence from the Primera División their efficient is judged solely on their performance in these 18 games. After a promising start and despite their draw with Unión La Calera at the weekend they find themselves 0.629 behind Antofagasta in 17th. It is likely the contest to avoid 17th place will prove more exciting – if that is the correct word – than that for 18th.
Antofagasta have the best attack outside of the top five places in the league. They can score three goals at the Estadio Monumental and three goals in about ten minutes away to Santiago Wanderers. But at the same time they have conceded 15 goals in six games. The latest two coming in a 2-1 defeat at home to Palestino who have now one three on the bounce.
There are only two teams who have conceded more: San Marcos and Cobresal.
The latter are the only team of the trio to have played the full complement of games over the last three years and bit. They managed to hang on to their top flight status in 2012 after changing manager. After doing so again they currently occupy 17th place in the coefficients on 1,054 – a mere 0.008 ahead of Antofagasta.
Yet little has changed since José Cantillana took over from Oscar del Solar. The latest defeat came at home to Universidad Católica in what was a poor game with Cobresal giving up a one goal lead to lose 2-1.
It means that after nine matches Cobresal have equalled the worse record with eight defeats and just the solitary point coming in a 2-2 draw with Rangers.
With Ever Cantero and the talented Jean Paul Pineda, the team possess goals and creativity. However, relying on those two to make up for the shortcomings of the rest of the team is too much to ask. So far three goalkeepers have been used, while only one player has played in all nine games, and that is Paraguayan striker Cantero. It does not get any easier with a trip to Rancagua to face O’Higgins up next.
Huachipato finding form
Last year’s Clausura play-off finalists started the opening weeks of the season in contrasting fashion. While we know all about Unión Española who have strengthened after their departure, reigning champions Huachipato were in some what of a mire as they juggled Copa Libertadores, injuries and the Torneo 2013.
In their opening five league games los acerceros amassed a measly two points. Although the mood was brightened with a famous Copa Libertadores win over Grêmio in Brazil. That was a sole highlight.
However, since March, Huachipato have added nine points from their four league games, plus the bonus of another impressive result in Brazil, drawing 1-1 with Fluminense.
In the initial games you got the sense the team were too over reliant on Braian Rodríguez after the departures of Manuel Villalobos and Cesár Cortés to the point where it became all too predictable. While he has scored two goals in four Copa Libertadores matches, he has only one in eight in the league.
Recently others have stepped up including Federico Falcone and Nicolás Nuñez, both scoring late winners in weeks.
With a likely departure from the Libertadores the club have left themselves too much to do in terms of a challenge to retain their league. But what they can use the rest of the season for is building on the squad, creating a more assured game plan rather than knocking it long to Rodríguez.
Colo Colo’s chaos
The biggest story of the weekend came in the final game on Sunday and, again, it was more bad news for Colo Colo as their supporters forced the suspension of the game with Audax Italiano at the Bicentario de La Florida.
With 34 minutes remaining of the match as los albos trailed their hosts 3-1 an object was thrown and struck linesman Carlos Astroza; referee Enrique Osses taking the decision to suspend the match.
It is the second time in less than a year that Colo Colo fans have disrupted a game with Audax Italiano at La Florida – and the latest in a string of incidents involving fans of el popular. In May last year objects thrown onto the pitch held the game up for a substantial period until Colo Colo fans were ejected from the stadium. The club were punished with having to play games in without any fans and only club members.
The ANFP have already decided that Audax Italiano will receive the three points, however, due to rulings in the stadium security plan the club can not be punished further due it being the home side’s responsibility on crowd safety and prevention of incidents such as this.
Yet, the result will be punishment enough for Colo Colo who go from one controversy to another. It has not been a good start for Hugo González since replacing Omar Labruna as interim manager. These problems go much deeper for Colo Colo than simply poor performances and changes in manager. George Forrester’s excellent summary of the institutional crisis is a must read highlighting much of the problems surrounding the club – from the barra brava to poor transfer business.
Another tournament is being written off with eight games still to play as they trail leaders Española by 11 points.
Audax should not be ignored completely. They raced into a three goal lead within the opening 30 minutes; Argentine hitman Sebastián Saez doubling his tally for the season with a hat-trick. The striker scores goal every time he lays eyes on the iconic white shirts. In 326 minutes of action against Colo Colo Saez has now scored seven times – on average a goal every 47 minutes.
It is a much needed three points for Pablo Marini who has come in for criticism from his own supporters.