Less than six weeks after Boca Juniors were crowned Apertura champions, league action is about to resume in Argentina. And while the close season has not seen as many headline transfers as previous years, passions will be running as high as ever this weekend when the 2009 Clausura gets underway.
Boca Juniors start as most people's favourites to retain the title, and understandably so. Not only do they have Alibiceleste keeper Roberto Abbondanzieri and former coach Carlos Bianchi back at the club (the latter in a managerial capacity), but they also welcome back from long-term injuries two of their first-choice strikers, Martin Palermo and Rodrigo Palacio. Moreover, coach Carlos Ischia now has at his disposal a core group of talented youngsters who have sucessfully come through the junior ranks. The squad's strength in depth was in evidence again recently when Los Xeneizes won the annual Pentagonal friendly tournament, and it could prove a vital weapon as they go in search of league and Copa Libertadores glory this year. Victory in the Clausura would enable Boca to claim consecutive opening and closing titles for the first time since 2005/06.
In contrast to recent years, Velez Sarsfield are being widely tipped to challenge for top honours this season. Ricardo Gareca's outfit have strengthened their squad over the summer and, with no Copa Libertadores to distract them, can focus entirely on the league. Competing on two fronts, however, will be Estudiantes de La Plata, Lanus and San Lorenzo who, with mostly unchanged squads, will have to rotate wisely or perhaps prioritise their objectives. Meanwhile Tigre, who surprised many by making it into a three-way play-off for the 2008/09 Apertura last December, have kept the nucleus of their squad together and will be hoping to celebrate their third year in the top flight with a maiden league title.
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With the appointment of Raul Gorosito as coach, River Plate will be keen to make up for last year's disastrous Apertura campaign which culminated in their finishing bottom of the table for the first time in their history. With just two wins in their last 24 domestic games, a swift recovery still looks a tall order, although a flurry of last-minute signings could provide some much-needed impetus for the club.
In a not-dissimilar situation are Avellaneda's big two: Racing Club and Independiente. La Academia need a strong showing this term to stave off the threat of relegation, something that could also become a concern for El Rojo unless they can improve on the 15 goals that saw them finish bottom of the scoring charts in the recent Apertura. Others sides a bit too close for comfort to the drop zone (based on averaged standings from previous three years) are Gimnasia de Jujuy, San Martin de Tucuman, Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, Rosario Central and Colon Santa Fe.
Despite a pre-season of intense transfer speculation with multiple clubs eyeing up the same players, the actual number of big-name moves has been down on previous years. As of today, the pick of the new arrivals include that of Roberto Abbondanzieri to Boca Juniors, Eduardo Tuzzio to Independiente and the return of Jonathan Bottinelli and Jonathan Santana to San Lorenzo, who also signed former Arsenal de Sarandi midfielder Alejandro Papu Gomez. River Plate have left their transfer activity late but are reportedly aiming to line up a trio of key players. Velez, for their part, have signed CF America's Sebastian Dominguez and Racing Club's Maximiliano Moralez, a member of Argentina's title-winning side from the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007. On the subject of Racing, the Avellaneda outfit have pinned their hopes this season on the incoming Lucas Castroman, formerly of Velez, Italy's Lazio, and Boca Juniors, among others.
Players to watch
Even allowing for outgoing foreign transfers, it is widely felt that the current Clausura will provide opportunities for consolidation for several young players who could well have ended up moving to Europe. In this group are the likes of Jose Sand (Lanus) and Radamel Falcao (River Plate), two goalscorers who have already shown what they are capable of, and Diego Valeri, who will be hoping for better things this year with Lanus after limited playing time last term. There will also be plenty of eyes on Independiente captain Gaston Montenegro, not to mention star attractions Juan Veron at Estudiantes and Juan Roman Riquelme at Boca Juniors. Also on show at the Bombonera after long lay-offs will be the aforementioned Palacio and Palermo, while Tigre's goalscoring hero from the Apertura, Martin Morel, has stayed put and is hoping for more of the same.
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