With just over a third of the season having passed us by it’s time to have a look at some the key talking points from the opening seven rounds of matches of the 2014 Apertura season.
A tale of two Universidads
The fortunes of Universidad de Chile and Universidad Católica could not be more stark a third of the way through the season. The former, under the tutelage of former Universidad Católica manager Martin Lasarte, currently sit three points clear on top of the table with six wins out of their first seven matches and currently undefeated. This is a welcome return to form for a team that a disastrous period following the departure of Jorge Sampaoli to the national team which saw Dario Franco, Marco Antonio Figueroa and Cristian Romero all have less than spectacular success which was highlighted by five consecutive losses to finish the 2014 Clausura season. The key to La U’s success so far this season has been the form of Gustavo Canales who has bagged six goals in seven games in his second stint at the club. Mathias Corujo has also been a revelation in defence whilst Gonzalo Espinoza has slotted into the team with a minimum.
Meanwhile over at the Estadio San Carlos, Universidad Católica, sit in twelfth position in the table with only two wins to their name. Julio Cesar Falcioni, who came in as manager in the off season, is coming under increasing pressure with the team currently on a seven game winless streak with five of those being losses. Those five losses also saw los cruzados’ elimination from the Copa Sudamericana at the hands of Uruguayan side River Plate (see below). In contrast to Universidad de Chile they are struggling for goals with new recruit David Llanos being the leading scorer with three goals whilst the only other striker to score a goal is Jose Luis Munoz. Regular goalkeeper and fan favourite Cristopher Toselli, who failed make a move in the transfer window, also appears to be frozen out with Franco Constanza being Falcioni goalkeeper of choice. It’s a choice that hasn’t gone down too well with the Universidad Católica faithful.
It is also a tale of markedly different fortunes for the two promoted sides in the form of San Marcos de Arica and Barnechea. San Marcos, who returned to the top flight of Chilean football after their brief appearance during the Torneo Transicion of 2013, currently sit in seventh position on the table with eleven points to their name. Whilst this may not look like a problem at this stage of the season, what will be of concern to manager Fernando Diaz is his team’s inability to pick up points on the road. San Marcos have only picked up one point out of a possible nine and that point came against fellow northerners Cobresal. This is stark contrast to their form at the Estadio Carlos Dittborn where they are unbeaten having won three matches and drawn one, with that draw coming against Colo Colo in the opening round. Unlike their last foray into the Primera Division, San Marcos are guaranteed at least two seasons in the division but if they want to make that time last longer their away form needs to improve.
Things couldn’t have started any worse for fellow promoted side Barnechea, who lost their manager Hugo Vilches only a game into the season. Vilches resigned after Barnechea’s first ever game in the Primera Division, a 3-0 loss to Santiago Wanderers, citing that he felt the club was not prepared for top division football. Key among Vilches complaints were that their stadium wasn’t ready and no new signing had materialised during the off-season. Vilches was replaced by twenty-seven year old youth coach Francisco Bozán, who became the youngest manager in the history of Chile’s Primera Division in the process. However life under Bozán hasn’t been any easier with the Santiago-based side only picking up three points in their opening seven fixtures, with those three points coming in a win over the aforementioned San Marcos de Arica. Only Cobreloa has conceded more goals than them and if this form continues their fans will be in for a long two seasons of top flight football before they will be making a swift return to the Primera B.
Copa Sudamericana Disaster
Only one round has taken place for this much maligned competition but already three of the four Chilean clubs have crashed out of the competition. The only club that could hold its head high is Huachipato, who saw off Bolivian opposition in the form of San Jose 6-3 on aggregate, and look a rejuvenated side under that stewardship of Mario Salas as they also have started the Apertura season in good form.
Chile’s other three entrants in the form of Universidad Católica, Cobresal and Iquique all crashed out in various circumstances with los cruzados exit to Uruguayan side River Plate coming in the midst of a four match losing streak. Cobresal, for their part were unable to overcome the eight men of Paraguayan side General Diaz, whilst Iquique were also unable to make the most of a man advantage against Bolivian side, Universitario Sucre.
The early exit of the Chilean clubs from the Copa Sudamericana brings into question the qualification process for the tournament. Why for instance isn’t last season’s champion in the form of Colo Colo not taking part and why aren’t the teams that competed in the previous Copa Libertadores not able to participate in the post-season Clausura playoffs for a Copa Sudamericana berth. Surely Chile, whose trophy cabinet is particularly spare, would want their best teams competing in this tournament especially considering the 2011 triumph of Universidad de Chile, but the current system doesn’t allow for that. Quite simply a team such as Cobresal, who finished the 2013 Apertura in ninth position and the 2014 Clausura season in tenth position is not worthy of a continental berth. A review is definitely in order.
Five in seven
Five goals in seven matches must be a concern for Unión Española manager particularly as his former charges in the form of Gustavo Canales and Patricio Rubio, albeit a few season back in the latter’s case, have score eight between them for Universidad de Chile. That coupled with the departure of Sebastian Jaime to Real Salt Lake in the MLS and things are looking particularly threadbare in the striking department the Independencia based club. And this is highlighted by the fact that they have been kept scoreless in their last four matches. In fact when you look at the leading goalscorer for the last few seasons, they are no longer with the club as highlighted below:
2013/14 – Gustavo Canales – Universidad de Chile
2013 – Patricio Rubio – Universidad de Chile
2012 – Sebastian Jaime – Real Salt Lake
Of the strikers on his books only Fabian Saavedra has found the back of the net whilst Carlos Salom, who scored eight goals in the last campaign, is scoreless this time around. As the goal tally suggests the midfield isn’t contributing with only Milovan Mirosevic getting on the scoresheet, albeit only once against his former club Universidad Católica. If the 2013 Torneo de Transicion champions are to have any chance of challenging for a Copa Libertadores place for next season a goalscorer needs to be found and found quickly before this season slips away.
After scoring five goals in the last round of the Clausura season to claim that season’s Golden Boot, Esteban Paredes has continued on in fine form this season scoring eight goals in the opening seven rounds of this season. The sometimes Chilean international has scored in six of those encounters only missing in Colo Colo’s 3-1 defeat of Huachipato and has also proved deadly from the penalty spot with three goals. If Colo Colo are to claim their 31st title and overtake Universidad de Chile they will need Paredes to remain fit and firing for the remainder of the season.
However, the reliance on Paredes has been lessened somewhat by the form of youngster Juan Delgado The twenty-one year old, has already surpassed his goal tally from last year by finding the back of the net on four occasions so far this season. Those four goals have come in his last five matches and his good form earned him a call-up to Chile’s recent friendlies against Mexico and Haiti, making his debut against the former and scoring against the latter. With plenty of young striking options on the international front Delgado will need to keep banging in the goals at club level to keep him in Sampaoli’s good books and being paired with the league’s best will surely hold him in good stead.