The Argentinian Apertura 2009 is poised for kick-off, with Clausura champions Velez Sarsfield sure to be among the title chasers once more. Not that they will have things their own way, given challengers of the calibre of Boca Juniors or Copa Libertadores winners Estudiantes de La Plata to contend with. FIFA.com brings you a preview of the campaign ahead.
Since snatching the title from Huracan's grasp in the final game of the Clausura 2009, Velez have held on to most their key performers while adding attacking firepower in the shape of Leandro Caruso, who starred for Godoy Cruz last term.
Under the guidance of coach Ricardo Gareca, and boasting the experience of defender Sebastian Dominguez and Uruguayan forward Hernan Rodrigo Lopez, as well as proven young talents like Argentina international Nicolas Otamendi and midfielder Fabian Razzotti, El Fortín (The Fort) are sure to be a force home and away. One distraction could be potential progress in the Copa Sudamericana, which may have an effect on their domestic form.
Having finished in an instantly forgettable 14th spot in the Clausura, Boca signalled their intentions in pre-season by bringing back iconic former coach Alfio Basile. Also crucial could be the signings of another Xeneize old boy in playmaker Federico Insua as well as Chilean Gary Medel.
Lanus, for their part, will have high hopes of a repeat of their third-placed finish last time out. Their policy of putting faith in young players combined with a sprinkling of more experienced pros has borne fruit in recent years, though the departure of last season's divisional top scorer Jose Sand is a real blow. Filling his void is the well-travelled Paraguayan forward Santiago Salcedo.
Also in the running are the Estudiantes side featuring the visionary Juan Sebastian Veron. Though two first-team fixtures in Mariano Andujar and Gaston Fernandez have headed for the exit door, El Pincha should have enough quality to remain competitive.
The dark horses
Angel Cappa's Huracan, widely considered the best footballing team in the Clausura, have been hit by the loss of a host of players. They are unlikely to allow this setback to affect their attractive, short-passing style, though another second-placed finish may be beyond them. Another team who could ruffle feathers are Colon, who finished fourth last time out under coach Antonio Mohamed.
Coming off the back of disappointing Clausura campaigns, can Argentinian heavyweights River Plate and San Lorenzo pick themselves up in time for the Apertura? Diego Simeone, a former River coach, appears to have bought well in his bid to strengthen El Ciclón, while the focus for Los Millonarios coach Nestor Gorosito has been on ironing out the fitness problems of leading men Ariel Ortega and Marcelo Gallardo.
Dicing with danger
Racing Club, Gimnasia La Plata and Godoy Cruz, three teams involved in a battle against the drop last campaign, must continue to pick up points to avoid a similar scenario this time around. A good championship could give them an outside chance of sneaking into continental competition, however, an achievement which would be a welcome boost for Americo Gallego's Independiente.
After one of their worst ever seasons, the latter club will be further hamstrung by the loss of star man Daniel Montenegro to Mexican big spenders America. Also with little margin for error in the relegation stakes are Rosario Central and the two newly-promoted teams, Chacarita and Atletico Tucuman.
The off-season transfer action has been notable for a host of big names returning to the clubs where they made their mark. Aside from the aforementioned Insua, the second comings of Ortega and the previously retired Matias Almeyda at River have made headlines, as has Andres Silvera's move to Independiente and San Lorenzo's signings of Jonathan Bottinelli and Leandro Romagnoli from Italian and Portuguese football respectively. Getting in on the act are Estudiantes, who have tempted back Marcelo Carrusca from Mexico, while Banfield ended Daniel Bilos's sojourn in the French game.
Chilean international Medel's switch from Universidad de Chile, meanwhile, is sure to add bite to the Boca midfield; former Boca and Spartak Moscow defender Clemente Rodriguez has joined Estudiantes; Kily Gonzalez, once of Valencia and Inter Milan, has signed for San Lorenzo; and River and Newell's Paraguayan old boy Salcedo has been handed a new challenge at Lanus.
Players to watch
The spotlight is bound to fall on established stars such as Veron, Ortega, Gallardo, Juan Roman Riquelme and Martin Palermo, not forgetting Colon's veteran goal-getter Esteban Fuertes. Of the outstanding performers in the Clausura 2009, the pressure to continue excelling will be on Otamendi and Razzotti (Velez); Matias De Federico and Mario Bolatti (Huracan); Diego Lagos and Eduardo Salvio (Lanus); Diego Pozo (Colon) and Fabian Rinaudo (Gimnasia).