There were goals everywhere you looked, starting with a 3-3 and ending with a 4-1, although the standout fixture saw the only two teams fail to score as we had the illusive 0-0.
Antofagasta’s defence v attack
Outside the top five in Torneo 2013 Antofagasta have the best goal scoring record. However, it is their against column which tells the true story as to why they are struggling in the bottom three positions of the Coeficiente de Rendimiente after a 3-3 draw with Huachipato. Only Cobresal and San Marcos de Arica have conceded more than their 21. Both of those teams are Antofagasta’s relegation rivals.
The most worrying thing for Gustavo Huerta must be the way his side conceded the goals which saw the Pumas trail 2-0 at the break to a Huachipato side with only one regular starter as they rested players ahead of their crucial Copa Libertadores game with Grêmio on Thursday.
They lined up in a 4-2-2-2 with Cristian Canio and Eric Pino narrow behind the two strikers; however there was little width from the full-backs and a number of passes were loose from both sides. When Antofagasta lost the ball they were too easy to attack against. The first goal saw Felipe Reynero show the quality that prompted his move to Huachipato from Rangers, running more than 50 yards, speeding away to the by-line to cross for Federico Falcone. The second was also from a turn over in possession deep in Huachipato’s half before a simple ball over the top saw Falcone run on to it and round Sebastián López.
It was all to easy for the Steelers and unsurprisingly there were changes at half-time and early in the second period. It was the change of full-back which had one of the biggest effects as Victor Oyarzún replaced Patricio Jerez. He was far more proactive down the right, playing almost as a wing-back. It gave Huachipato a different proposition to defend against. As a result of Oyarzún’s introduction Pino became a more prominent figure finding more space than he had in the first half as he moved laterally across the pitch.
And with two marksmen in Javier Elizondo, who netted his second Friday night hat-trick, and Daniel Arismendi there will always be goals. A semi-competent defence would have them a safe position already.
La furia roja are given respect – and it’s frustrating
Unión Española failed to win in the league for the first time in more than a month as for the second game running the opposition adapted their tactics to frustrate la furia roja in a game which finished goalless.
Cobreloa, coming into the game on the back of two consecutive defeats – one of which was in the Copa Chile to Universidad Católica – lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation; similar to how UC set- up when they welcomed Española to the San Carlos last week.
However, unlike last week when José Luis Sierra’s men recovered from a frustrating first half to pick-off Católica 3-1, they were continuingly thwarted; an offside flag and the woodwork denying los hispanos from picking up the three points which would have seen them go eight points clear at the top before their title contenders were in action.
For the second game running Oscar Hernández was anonymous in the first half, which meant the front three ran down blind alleys with little going their way. The missing presence of Diego Scotti deeper in midfield was also felt; his combative style and inclination to provide supporting runs from midfield a key asset to the team, along with his willingness to collect possession from ‘keeper Diego Sánchez. His replacement Luis Pavez was on the periphery of the game.
With René Lima screening in midfield and Cobreloa’s back four proving resolute there was no space for Española to exploit. The introduction of Christian Cueva added dynamism and a driving figure to Española. And it may be something for Sierra to look at with more teams likely to sit deeper and restrict space in behind and to the sides.
And we have a title race!
Unión Española’s slip-up allowed the three teams directly below them to close the gap. And, one after the other they did exactly that to give us a four-way title race with only six rounds remaining.
First up was O’Higgins who left it late to snatch a controversial win in Talca against an improving Rangers side. Braulio Leal converted a penalty that was hotly contested, while Carlos Escobar netted a last minute winner for the come-from-behind win.
A much changed Universidad Católica would find it tough going in the first half against a very competent Ñublense side who are rightly proving the most adaptable of the promoted sides. Yet, the seldom used Michael Ríos reminded everyone why he was one of the players of 2012 for UC by opening in the scoring in the first minute with a superb finish before setting up 37-year-old Rodrigo Valenzuela to give los Cruzados a half-time 2-1 lead.
Despite one sloppy moment as Ñublense equalised the defence, missing the valuable duo of Cristián Álvarez and Hans Martínez, handled the crafty home attack well, while Carlos Villanueva once again proved his quality off the bench to set-up Nicolás Castillo.
Sunday was Universidad de Chile’s turn to turn up the heat on Española with a dominant 4-1 win over Palestino who had the second best defence going into the game.
Despite the disappointment of missing out on qualification from their group in the Copa Libertadores, even after a 3-2 win in Venezuela over Deportivo Lara, La U are now without a defeat in the league since February and are gradually beginning to see players return from injuries – namely Luciano Civelli who netted a double.
The weekend’s results means there is only four points between the top four and, boy, are there some cracking fixtures to look forward to in the run in.
Starting this weekend, O’Higgins ‘welcome’ Universidad de Chile to the Estadio Santa Laura on Saturday as their home in Rancagua is being upgraded, before Universidad Católica make the trip west to Macul to play Colo Colo in the Torneo 2013’s first Clásico. The following week O’Higgins play host to Unión Española. The first fixtures in May sees the Superclásico before Colo Colo welcome O’Higgins the week after. The penultimate week brings us the Clásico Universitario. In the final round of fixtures the standout is Unión Espánola versus Colo Colo.
They may be nine points off the summit but if there is one team who could have the biggest effect on the destination of the title it will be los albos. Who knows, the unthinkable could happen and they could win all six games and possibly sneak the title. Another ‘crisis’ is more likely however.
And the main hunter is . . .
Out of the three teams chasing Unión Española one is standing out as the closest challengers – and not just in terms of points. And now they’re out of the Copa Libertadores it would not be fantasy to suggest that Universidad de Chile may even be favourites.
Their travails have been well documented on these pages and this writer only recently shot-down a tweeter who suggested they were – to paraphrase – back up and running. But looking at the recent stats and the depth of the club’s squad I am happy to admit that I may actually be wrong – with that there is no surprise, just look at some of my Chilean betting tips for a start!
As mentioned above, La U knocked four goals past a Palestino side renowned for their defensive solidity rather than adventurous play. It followed on from four goals over Huachipato the previous weekend and sandwiched in between a weakened los azules XI scored three in Venezulea against Deportivo Lara.
Only recenty the side were criticised for their lack of goals, or more pertinently the regular scorer in the mould of Gustavo Canales and Ángelo Henríquez. They now have 26 in 11 league matches, taking them top of the league’s goal scoring charts.
The goals are being spread around. In the league Sebastián Ubilla who plays as a wide forward tops the team’s charts with six in the league, while three others have three and four have four.
However, it is in the big games where a potent striker is craved for; the player who needs only half a chance or who can fathom up a goal out of little more than scraps. In two games against Española this year La U have failed to find the net, while they did not score in three of their six Copa Libertadores group games.
But one thing they do possess is a bulging squad with numerous options that can play in numerous positions in numerous systems. Dario Franco has made a valid point about not having his full squad available to him due to a number of reasons. But he has still been given the ultimatum of winning the Copa Chile and league double.
But with the likes of Luciano Civelli (scorer of two goals at the weekend), Eugenio Mena and Ezequiel Videla all returning to full fitness he goes from having one headache to another. How is he going to keep everyone happy as well as making sure the talented youngsters at the club are given ample opportunities?
It will be an interesting situation to observe in the coming days and weeks starting with the Copa Chile second-leg with Española this evening. Will he stick with a spine of players to get him through until the end of the season or will he rotate to try and keep his players sweet?
Iquique’s end of season wish
The season end can’t come quick enough for Deportes Iquique. 2012 was a prosperous year for Iquique as they recorded the second best points tally for the year behind Universidad de Chile, qualifying for the Copa Libertadores in the process.
Fernando Vergara was a key figure as coach but left after disagreements with the board before the season. His departure saw team lose that bit of spark falling to Rangers in the play-off quarter-finals.
The appointment of 36-year-old Cristián Díaz plus the signings of Álvaro Ormeño, Edson Puch and Manuel Villalobos had added quality and further experience to the squad in equal measure, while Díaz was an interesting but fresh-faced appointment.
A win, draw and defeat in the opening three league games looked to have been a solid start, especially as they qualified for the group stages of the Copa Libertadores after a penalty shoot-out win over Mexican side Léon in the qualifying stage.
Since the Colo Colo win in the third round of fixtures Iquique’s form guide reads: LLLLWLLLLLLDLL, including their latest 3-1 defeat to Audax Italiano.
During that time Díaz apparently got involved with a physical confrontation with a fan before being sacked. The fans also stormed the club’s training ground to confront players. Throughout his tenure Díaz did not seem to have a preferred style of play or preferred starting XI. And despite the squad being awash with talented attackers – Leandro Monje, Puch, Villalobos, Rodrigo Díaz, Sebastián Ereros and Cristián Bogado – the team have scored six goals – six worse than San Marcos who sit with the second worse goal scoring record.
The Copa Libertadores group stage games done little for confidence, despite a win against Emelec, or for the aging legs in the side with the club having the league’s highest average age.
It is now left to Jaime Vera, assistant to Claudio Borghi when the Argentine managed Chile, to pick up the pieces. He has not started with a bang but there is little he can do to make the situation worse. Without the fear of relegation he can experiment looking ahead to the new league season in June and possibly blood some younger talent.