Let’ s all just decide to do one thing between now and the end of the tournament: forget about predicting the winner of this manic title race. Not only do we have new leaders but the title race has increased by half with a third of the teams in the league now realistically involved.
None of the tres grandes claimed three points as Javier Elizondo confirmed his place as player of the weekend with a show of expert finishing, while San Marcos de Arica gave themselves a glimmer of hope at the foot of the Coeficiente de Rendimiento.
What matters more than defeat is a team’s reaction to it (as said by Sir Alex Ferguson). Unión Española have now lost two on the bounce to go from champions elect who topped the league after week 10 to trailing O’Higgins by a point after week 13.
The two teams faced each other in the game of the weekend on Friday night and la celeste were worthy of their 2-0 win as Española once again struggled to create sufficient goal scoring opportunities.
However, it was the loss of both Gonzalo Villagra and Diego Scotti in the midfield which hampered the side. Their replacements Luis Pavez and Matías Abelairas had little effect on the game. Scotti has proved a crucial component in the midfield; beginning attacks, stopping attacks, providing incision in the final third and being a general goal threat.
It was left to Peruvian Christian Cueva to scheme behind the front three. He is similar to Emiliano Vecchio and started really well taking on the opposition and knocking passes behind the defence but his star soon faded.
O’Higgins were happy to soak up pressure, defend solidly with the increasingly impressive César Fuentes joined by Claudio Meneses in the middle of midfield to allow the front three, the full-backs and Rodrigo Rojas to exploit UE on the counter-attack, which they done to devastating effect with the second goal scored by Luis Pedro Figueroa – Carlos Escobar had opened the scoring with a smart turn and finish.
Rojas, like Fuentes, is getting better and better in the number 10 position; opening up more defences with his passing and making better decisions. He had played there at previous clubs but was moved back to a deeper midfielder until the departure of Ramón Fernández. However, he could be about to return to a deeper position as Universidad de Chile put a deal in place for the Paraguayan to replace Charles Aránguiz who is likely to move to Udinese as they Italian club own 50% of his contract.
Four becomes six
For the last few weeks it seemed that it was going to be one winner from four. But this title race takes a turn here and there every day of the weekend. It started on Friday night as O’Higgins went top; Católica could have gone top 24 hours later but failed as did Universidad de Chile on Sunday.
Those points dropped allowed Cobreloa back into the race along with a new face. Let’s welcome Unión La Calera to the fold.
We know quite a bit about Cobreloa and their manager Marco Antonio Figueroa. But less so of La Calera who have flown stealthily under the radar – like a lion moving quietly throw the growth analysing his prey.
If you look at their form it is easy to see why. Their opening sequence read WLWWLWLL. But in the last five games it has read DDWWW. A narrow win at Everton was followed by a defeat of Unión Española then a win against Ñublense this past weekend.
In goals they have goal scoring Paraguayan goalkeeper Arnaldo Giménez (two goals to his name), experience is provided in midfield by Angel Carreño, while goals have been added by Maximiliano Bajter – the Uruguayan has five – as does striker Leandro Benegas.
However, the player catches the eyes when watching los rojos is 21-year-old Ruben Farfan. The attacker is an exciting player who moves laterally and vertically around the pitch to good effect, picking up spaces to hurt opposition and the confidence to take on and beat defenders, while providing an end product to boot in terms of assists, plus the three goals he has added.
The next two games for Nestor Craviotto will give an indication of the seriousness of their challenge as they host Huachipato and travel to play Cobresal.
Speaking of Cobresal they were beaten 4-1 by Cobreloa in the Clásico de cobre despite not only taking the lead but playing the last 40 minutes against 10 men when they were leading. A play-off to remain in the top division waits.
Home is not where the heart is
The way the title race is going each club involved will have one feature of the tournament which they can point to and say “that’s exactly why we are sitting here in our white briefs, hands down our pants, drinking a bottle of Escudo empty handed”.
For Universidad Católica it will be their home form which will be their undoing. Played six, won two, drawn two, lost two. A stark contrast to their almost exemplary away form which reads played seven, won six, lost one.
On Saturday they looked to have the most straight-forward of home tasks as they entertained Deportes Iquique who have so far gained one measly win from 13 league games.
They were missing both Ismael Sosa and Nicolás Castillo yet they were able to call on the services of former Iquique striker Álvaro Ramos who was bought less than 12 months ago for a reasonable sum. However, they could not build on Enzo Andía’s goal around the 40 minute mark and once again Carlos Villanueva was brought on to try and conjure up some inspiration, something which he has done more than once.
His starts have been reduced and speculation already surrounds him and a possible move to Unión Española at the end of the season. While Sixto Peralta, Tomás Costa and Gonzalo Sepúlveda have all played well this season none offer the vision, awareness or passing quality the ex-Blackburn Rovers man offers – a valuable commodity when struggling to create meaningful chances.
In the aftermath of the game Hans Martínez said that the team must show they have what it takes to be champions. They are now third one point behind O’Higgins.
If Antofagasta are still in the Primera División once the new tournament starts in July then a sizeable amount of credit has to go towards Javier Elizondo who almost single handily pilfered Universidad de Chile with FOUR goals. His THIRD hat-trick of the season.
His goals, of which there has been 11, have amassed six points for the Pumas. Without those six goals Antofagasta would be on 0,936 in the Coeficiente de Rendimiento rather than the 1.063 they are now. And with San Marcos de Arica finally picking up a win (1-0 against Rangers) each point is crucial; San Marcos are now on 0,769 and a win in their next game will put them agonisingly close to the 1,000 mark.
Elizondo once again demonstrated the art of finishing but was helped by hapless La U defending. His first three came from set-pieces when he was marked by Luciano Civelli – two simple headers plus a rasping shot in the top corner inside the box.
His fourth game after Ezequiel Videla was dispossessed and then a mix-up ensued between José Rojas and Jhonny Herrera to allow Elizondo to nip in and confirm the momentous victory, celebrating the goal with his family including his daughter Clara who suffers from a heart disease.
As for Universidad de Chile they slip to fifth which is even more startling when you consider a win – which was expected – would have taken them top. It looked to be heading that way when Isaac Díaz put them in front and they started very positively with Ramón Fernández at the heart of everything. The Argentine may have had a point to prove after being seen watching his old team O’Higgins against Española on Friday, something which fans did not take kindly to.
He wasn’t supported by the likes of Civelli, Gustavo Lorenzetti and Guillermo Marino who all had days to forget.
Derby day joy
Everton’s excellent start back in the top division had well and truly been forgotten about going into the clásico porteño with Santiago Wanderers. They had opened their campaign with three wins and three draws to effectively rule out any chance of suffering relegation back to Primera B. But since then they had lost five of their last six.
That terrible run came to an emphatic end with a 3-0 win over Wanderers who had moved into sixth on the back of three consecutive victories.
What’s that about the form book going out the window for derbies?
In front of a fervent crowd at the Estadio Bicentenario Lucio Fariña in Quillota Everton swept Wanderers to one side with one of their best attacking performances in recent weeks. Emiliano Romero and José Luis Muñoz scored with lovely side foot passes into the bottom corner, while Angel Rojas featured highly.
Ivo Basay had changed the shape of his team with two strikers in a 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 but soon reverted to the more familiar 4-2-3-1 at half-time. But by that time it was too late. Everton were too quick and too incisive on the counter-attack and the win gave them a major boost in the Coeficiente de Rendimiento.