Another weekend in Chile and another twist in the race for the 2013 Campeontao Petrobas title. Unión Española made it five dropped points within a week, allowing the three closest challengers to close the gap.
The biggest winners of the week were Universidad Católica who won the year’s first clásico without much of a challenge from a hapless Colo Coloside who fall to ninth, with a host of mid-table sides winning, including in form Palestino and Santiago Wanderers.
It was also another week of San Marcos de Arica taking another step back to Primera B.
The López effect
From fifth to 11th, five of the six teams won to tighten the gap to the top four and highlight that if the season was over 34 games we would be in for one hell of a title race – six points separate first and seventh.
The team in 11th are the epitome of a mid-table outfit. But after a stuttering start Palestino have now won four of their last six. The run coincides with the reintroduction of the 4-3-1-2 formation which took the team into the Clausura play-offs last year.
Having lost Robert Flores Emiliano Astorga switched to a flatter four in midfield but has reverted to last year’s formation by bringing in 24-year-old Sergio López to play behind Lucas Simón and Diego Chaves, triggering the upturn in form.
Flores was more of a traditional number 10 who would drift in the attacking third looking for killer passes or if around the box going on his own. López is more dynamic and offers more to the defensive side of the game, covering more grass and it is not unfamiliar to see him collect possession from deep positions.
Against Everton he set up the first goal for Simón before scoring what proved to be the winner for himself.
Saturday’s clash between O’Higgins and Universidad de Chile – third and second going into the game – was one neither team deserved to lose. It was an excellent encounter between two teams who wanted to attack; La U through more patient build-up and O’Higgins through quick, direct passing through the midfield to exploit the space La U would leave in front and behind the defence.
Without the ball both teams shared similarities in that they would press aggressively and quickly, O’Higgins even more so. In terms of chance creation O’Higgins shaded it with Carlos Escobar being particularly wasteful in front of Jhonny Herrea, especially in the first half.
There were interesting battles all over the pitch, for example Luis Pedro Figueroa and Eugenio Mena but it was two players who were not in direct confrontation who were the protagonists. Since leaving Rancagua for the bright lights of Santiago, Ramón Fernández has struggled and been criticised by coach Darío Franco. Recently however his form has picked up and against his former side he was busy and scheming in the central attacking midfield position.
But his performance was overshadowed by the man who has taken over his number 10 duties at O’Higgins despite wearing the number 20. Paraguayan Rodrigo Rojas played deeper last season but has been moved forward by Eduardo Berizzo and has been an energetic attacking presence, but one which has lacked guile. Yet, it is a facet of his game which he seems to have improved on, piercing los azules’ backline open with a pass to set up Gonzalo Barriga who was brought down by Jhonny Herrera.
He was ably supported by the forward bursts of Braulio Leal, while Cesar Fuentes had another excellent game as the midfield anchor.
The game swung back-and-forth and the final 2-2 score line was a true indictment of a wonderful match that both teams may be content with especially with Unión Española losing later that day.
The game also saw good friends Franco and Berizzo face each other on the touchline for the first time. The duo have shared a bond since playing together at Newell’s Old Boys.
A controversial Figueroa
It has been a tough month or so for loínos having failed to pick up a win since March 9 going into the game against San Marcos de Arica on Sunday, losing touch at the top of the table and being knocked out of the Copa Chile by Universidad Católica.
Reports emerged earlier last week of a rift between influential/controversial defender Sebastián Roco and manager influential/controversial Marco Antonio Figueroa. During the week Roco said that Figueroa had “disrespected the institution” and his claims were backed up by goalkeeper Luciano Palos who said the squad were with Roco and not the goalkeeper. While Mario Herrera, club president, was worried because it was not just those two who had raised issues about Figueroa.
Figueroa is one of the more controversial figures in Chilean football and has a substantial history of clashes with coaches when he was a player, players since becoming a coach, other players when a player and fans. So pretty much everyone.
And this controversial style is known to work in the short term with clubs before clashes become more frequent the longer he spends in charge. He has already clashed with some of the club’s officials. However, there is no denying that Cobreloa have been one of the most entertaining teams to watch this season.
Against San Marcos it was unsurprising to see that neither Roco nor Palos were near the squad having been training away from the first team. But they did have Sebastián Pol (pictured). The 25-year-old Argentine netted his ninth and 10th goal in the league (one behind Audax Italiano’s Sebastián Sáz).
The game looked like it may be adding to the club’s recent woes as it ticked into the last 15 minutes without a goal. But the busy and indefatigable striker netted the important brace to keep Cobreloa in with a small chance of league win, closing the gap to Unión Española to five points. A title win or not it is unlikely Figueroa will still be in charge after May.
Despite a late consolation San Marcos are in an ominous position. The club’s seventh defeat in nine matches leaves them on 0.583 at the bottom of the Coeficiente de Rendimiento. The target in the last five games is at least three wins. And after a 27 year wait to get back into the top division that may not be enough to prevent them dropping back down after barely six months.
It is often said every team has wobble during a league campaign. These ‘wobbles’ take on even greater significance when the league season only lasts 17 games. Therefore it is imperative that these are overcome as quickly as possible.
In the last week UE have been knocked out of the Copa Chile on penalties by Universidad de Chile, while in the league they have dropped five points, scoring one goal in more than 270 minutes.
A combination of hapless finishing, uncharacteristic defending and contentious refereeing contributed to what could be a crucial and costly defeat to Unión La Calera.
The presence of Gustavo Canales has seemed to have had an effect on the goal scoring ability of Patricio Rubio with the team’s top scorer repositioned on the left of a front three to make room for the returning Canales. The balance the team had enjoyed prior to the ex-La U man’s transfer has seemed to have been thrown out of kilter. The central striker (Rubio), the hard working forward (Sebastián Jaime) and the wide forward/wide man (Francisco Castro) has been replaced by the central striker (Canales), the central striker out wide (Rubio) and either the hard working forward or wide forward/wide man (Jaime/Castro). Rubio’s recent form was summed up by an embarrassing miss.
The first La Calera goal was so unlike los hispanos; Maximiliano Bajter heading in unmarked. So easy.
There was then Patricio Polic’s performance. He sent off right-back Dagoberto Currimilla before denying Española a blatant penalty when Rubio was felled by Arnaldo Gimenéz. The decisions prompted the usually reserved José Luis Sierra to question the referee’s motives. The comments may be construed as a manager feeling the pressure but it is likely they are a mixture of pressure, frustration and truth.
Friday evening sees the game of the weekend as Española welcome O’Higgins to the Estadio Santa Laura as the title race continues unabated.
Colo Colo’s crap clásico
You would think a significant 1-0 win for Universidad Católica at the Estadio Monumental to take them into second place, tucked in nicely behind Española, would prompt much discussion about them. However, the wretched performance offered up by Colo Colo was more evident.
The opening proceedings were quite even with Colo Colo trying to control possession and Católica happy to take the small body blows before hitting with a ferocious counter-attacking sucker punch. There was a nice ebb and flow to the game without it breaking into a similar contest witnessed on Saturday evening between O’Higgins and La U.
Cristopher Toselli demonstrated his acrobatic qualities with a couple of flying saves, one in particular to deny Emiliano Vecchio was a ‘camera save’ but one that had to be made. But those long range efforts were all Colo Colo could muster.
Católica were getting greater freedom on the counter-attack with Sixto Peralta enjoying a lot of the ball behind the young double pivot of Claudio Baeza and Esteban Pavez, while Fernando Meneses is truly back to his best and played a starring role on the right as a wing-back, tormenting Juan Guillermo Domínguez.
After the break Carlos Bueno missed chance after chance as Colo Colo could not thwart a Católica side who punched into a higher gear. There was little rebuttal from los albos. Vecchio faded after a first half where he was trying, some times too hard, often selfishly, to make things happen – nothing was coming off; Carlos Muñoz was anonymous; Emilio Hernández flitted in and out of the game on the left; Gonzalo Fierro offers little in the way of creativity from the right, just plenty of energy and tenacity. As the game wore on the double pivot was overawed by the imperious Tomás Costa and Gonzalo Sepúlveda.
It was only after Hans Martínez easily scored from a corner when el cacique increased the pressure, but barring a nervy moment or two for the Católica back three they were relaxed. Felipe Flores’ frustration got the better of him as he needlessly jumped into Toselli and was shown a red card; as was Nicolás Castillo who pointlessly got involved in the handbags that ensued.
Last week we talked about the effect Colo Colo could have on the title race and how they may have even had an outside chance winning it themselves after two successive wins. The second point was absolute nonsense. Their aim now is to attempt to stop Universidad de Chile from winning the title as they still have to travel to the Estadio Nacional for the Superclásico.
And there was little surprise to see the search for a new manager intensify and speculation regarding which players will go in the media in the aftermath of the game.