Week 10 in the Primera División may just have been the week when Unión Española made their first contact with the league title after a decisive win over Universidad Católica in the top of the table clash. A five point gap was opened up at the top and with la furia roja possessing the in-form players in each position there appears to be no stopping José Luis Sierra’s men.
Universidad de Chile moved in to second place after winning the craziest game of the weekend. And that took some doing after Sebastián Sáez’s goal scoring exploits which were still not enough to see Audax Italiano win.
Then again this is Chile, with surprises elsewhere. None more so than in Macul where Colo Colo produced a routine win with little incident. I kid because two of their players were involved in an altercation with a taxi driver prior to the match.
After a dominant performance for almost an hour Audax Italiano let a two goal lead slip to draw 3-3 away to Unión La Calera.
Up until that point La Calera had only offered one fantastic diving header from Maximiliano Bajter. However, at the opposite end los tanos were offering a lesson in positive, attacking football with a lone striker supported by three attacking midfielders.
On the right was Bryan Carrasco. Back from his loan spell at Dinamo Zagreb he offered blistering pace and a fine crossing ability. As that link states he was, at one point, one of the most promising players in the country – with the odd controversy. Positional changes and irregular football has hindered his development. But he looks like he is beginning to regain confidence.
I was planning on writing about the 22-year-old, but another player stole the show. Sebastián Sáez netted his second successive hat-trick. What more, the first hat-trick was completed within the opening half an hour of the game against Colo Colo where the final half an hour of the game was not even played.
The 28-year-old Argentine is now the top scorer in the league with nine goals; he has scored 21 goals in his last 19 games and has scored more than two or more in seven of those games.
After a slow start to the game he was superb. Audax looked to get the ball to Carrasco often with switches of play out to the right. However, he made a run inside and a ball behind the defence found but his mis-control inadvertently laid the ball into the path of the onrushing Sáez who anticipation was quicker than the defence to net past Arnaldo Gimeñez who was out of position.
Sáez was then flagged offsideahas he lifted the ball over Gimeñez but replays showed he had actually kept himself onside. But that did not matter as moments later he darted into the space between Jorge Aguilar and Jorge Schwager and hit the ball first time across Gimeñez from just inside the box. As if he was a sniper taking out his target, expert marksmanship.
He left the best until last however when he dummied Carrasco’s pass to let the ball run to Gamadiel Garcia, and the Audax captain’s first time through ball found the run of Sáez who let the ball do the work before opening his body and slotting it into the corner.
A truly glorious hat-trick only ruined by Ariel Pereyra’s two-goal intervention.
It was no surprise Palestino versus Rangers finished as a draw. Both teams finished on 18 points in the 2012 Apertura, improving that point total to 30 in the Clausura. Now, after a 2-2 draw at the weekend, both are separated my a mere point with Rangers in 10th place on 14 points and Palestino 12th place on 13 points. Even their recent form is similar with Palestino winning three and drawing two of their last five games, while in the same sequence Rangers have won two, drawn two and lost one.
The opening five games hampered any outside chance of ether side competing in the top six – even the word outside could be deemed harsh especially on the back of such a prosperous end to the year for both sides as they made the play-offs.
However, both teams have had to adjust in this short championship. If it was a full league season, which Chile are moving to, you would expect both teams to find themselves higher up the table and the longer season would give them the chance to try and do so.
Many teams are finding that a bad start to the Torneo 2013 is leaving them with too much to do to catch the teams at the top, especially with Unión Española in such fine form.
Going in to the new campaign Rangers had lost a lot of key players from 2012 resulting in changes within the team and new recruits getting used to Dario Giovagnoli’s 3-4-1-2. Sebastián Luna is proving to be a real threat down the right-hand side with a non-stop engine and fantastic crossing ability, which again came to the fore against Palestino, and he looks an adequate replacement for Andres Oroz. What they have not been able to replace as of yet is a regular goal scorer like Milton Caraglio.
Different partnerships have been tried but Giovagnoli seems unconvinced as to what the best pairing is. However, defensively the team are still pretty sound as they currently sport the fifth best in the division. The experienced Francsicio Tapia has replaced Damian Ledesma, while the rest is unchanged.
One team who do have a better defensive record is Palestino. Emiliano Astorga has the team well-drilled and they can often be quite narrow which helps them out in the defensive side of the game with their two banks of four and two physical strikers.
Last season they were an Italian 4-3-1-2 with Robert Flores providing creativity and Mirko Opazo offering great width down the right. Now it is up to Jason Silva to give the front pairing of Diego Chaves and Lucas Simon support and service. When the duo are given the ball they can combine and power their way through defences.
Chaves hit a double – both striker’s goals – and as noted on these pages only a few weeks ago Palestino will be a tough team to beat when the strikers find the net on a semi-regular basis.
One game stood out as the match of the round. Going into the weekend it was second versus first. A win for Universidad Católica and the title race would be so open that not even Ronnie Rosenthal could miss. But on the other hand a win for Unión Española and they would scraping the trophy with the finger tips of one hand.
What transpired was a close game between two good sides in front of a healthy and atmospheric crowd at the Estadio San Carlos de Apoquindo. Católica’s game plan worked in the first half. They shut the midfield avenues off so Española could not dictate the match with their possession game, which has seen them compared to Barcelona more than once. Out of possession UC sunk back to a 4-5-1/4-1-4-1. And with Carlos Villaneuva in looking extra cool in possession, prompting play los cruzados were the better side. Although it was the visitors that went closest through a shot from Patricio Rubio which had Cristopher Toselli diving to his right to brilliantly push the ball around the post.
The half-time introduction of Gustavo Canales made the difference for José Luis Sierra’s men. He took up Patricio Rubio’s central position with Rubio moving wide. He provided added strength, nous and quality as the focal point with Rubio making inside runs from the wide position, while Oscar Hernández became a more prominent figure, his influence increasing throughout.
Canales unnerved the Católica backline and slowly mistakes began to appear. UC played so well with a back three, which improved the team’s dynamic further forward. However, the club only really have three solid centre backs to play and with Cristián Álvarez missing it meant a line of four. Something which will continue after Hans Martínez was shown a red card.
Back to Canales and it was no surprise when he had a hand in the winning goals; netting to make it 2-1 (Nicolás Berardo had made it 1-0 before Nicolás Castillo excellently equalised) and then laying on Rubio superbly to confirm the three points.
Talk in the post-match interview focused on his possible selection for Chile (Canales is a naturalised Chilean). He was positive in his response, keen to link up with Jorge Sampaoli again. More performances such as Saturday evening and like the one against former team Universidad de Chile in the Copa Chile will not only see a possible call-up in the offing but also a league title with Española.
The Argentine influence
Darío Franco’s short spell in charge of Universidad de Chile hit its zenith last week as La U slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Olimpia in the Copa Libertadores, making it almost impossible for the 2011 Copa Sudamericana champions and 2012 Copa Libertadores semi-finalists to reach the knock-out stages.
Fans did not appreciate the Argentine saying that he was still learning and referring to himself as a “newbie”. Speculation followed that to secure his job past June he will have to win the Campeonato Petrobas 2013.
The good news is that the side did respond, defeating Huachipato in 4-3 in an enthralling and down-right crazy match to move in to second. But they remain five points behind Unión Española, plus the defence wasn’t quite what you would expect for a team looking to win their domestic title.
However, in recent weeks the criticisms have surrounded La U’s deliverance in the final third. They were helped by two howlers from Huachipato goalkeeper Nery Veloso, but in the main they looked more threatening with incision that was previously lacking. Sebastián Ubilla, who has now hit five leagues goals after his strike on Sunday, is proving an important attacking asset despite not playing as a central forward. He is beginning to live up to some of the hype which followed him after his move from Santiago Wanderers.
Yet, it is four of Franco’s countrymen that may be his biggest assets and best chance of regaining the Chilean championship: Guillermo Marino, Ezequiel Videla, Gustavo Lorenzetti and Ramon Fernández.
We know all about Marino and Lorenzetti, both of whom provided assists on Sunday. There is no denying the undying quality which they both possess and their performances on Sunday made it even more confusing as to why both were left on the bench for a crucial Copa Libertadores match against the Paraguayans. Both were rightly championed after the match.
As was Fernández to a certain extent. He has had a tough time adjusting to a bigger club and stage since his US$1.6m move from O’Higgins. In pre-season there were signs of a blossoming relationship and understanding with Marino and Lorenzetti, but he has struggled in competitive action, especially when played as an almost false 9 and has suffered criticism from Franco. But there were signs of that tantalising quality which attracted so many while at O’Higgins. He moved around the attacking zones with purpose as some of La U’s electric passing reappeared, plus he netted a free-kick.
At the base of midfield Videla returned after a long lay-off. As the game swung back and forth in the first half he struggled to keep up with play which is understandable after coming back from injury. In the second half, however, he brought a calming influence to the team and throughout his time on the pitch his passing success rate was 97% as he moved very deep to collect possession from Jhonny Herrera and start attacks.
Franco has wanted to instil more patience and ball retention into the team, and with Videla’s technical and passing qualities his return to fitness may be the turning point for Franco.
Controversial Colo Colo may become boring Colo Colo
Just as Claudio Gentile stalked opposition players, namely Diego Maradona, controversy follows Colo Colo. In the build-up to the 3-0 win over Everton Mauro Olivi and Fernando De la Fuente were involved in a confrontation with a taxi driver who had some strong words for the pair. Although it appears that it was the taxi driver who was causing the problem a swift apology from the pair followed. However, both found themselves on the bench for the game at the Estadio Monumental, played in front of under 11,000.
Olivi was not expected to start but De la Fuente was. Instead Hugo González opted for the youthful pairing of 19-year-old Claudio Baeza and 22-year-old Esteban Pavez.
With the poor performances of the club in recent years and the continued instability there is a focus at the club to return to promoting players from the lower ranks. In fact, in the search for a new manager one of the key aspects of the appointment will be the manager’s willingness to work with and promote younger players.
If Sunday is anything to go by, in Baeza and Pavez Colo Colo have two solid, dependable midfielders who give ample protection to the defence and are comfortable in possession. Their heat map shows that they both patrolled their side of the midfield double pivot, providing a base for Colo Colo to go on and win in a tame unexciting match, only lit up by the scoring exploits of Carlos Muñoz.
Emiliano Vecchio had another game which passed him by and he headed straight for the changing room after being substituted. Reports have even surfaced that there may be a deal in place for Vecchio to return to Unión Española in return for Patricio Rubio.
Anyway, Colo Colo fans may have to prepare for more games of the same in the remainder of the season with little left to play for as they sit in eighth position. Yet, it may be the perfect time for the players in the lower ranks to gain some playing time.