One of the biggest of big weekends coming up in Argentina. With a look at some intriguing ties, strong tackles and the return of Seba Veron, here's Sam Kelly.
There's a hell of a weekend coming up in Argentina. Four out of this weekend's ten top flight matches are derbies – one of which is a fixture that's not been played in some time – and one of the others sees the side in second hosting the league leaders. At the end of a weekend characterised by some angry words in the press from players on all sides, it's going to get heated.
On Friday evening, Vélez Sarsfield host Estudiantes de La Plata in Liniers, with Seba Verón's visitors knowing a win would put them way out in front in the league and that the match could therefore prove decisive for the title race. Vélez will be hoping to get a win themselves and claw Estudiantes back – the La Plata club are currently three points clear of Vélez and Arsenal in joint second. Maxi Moralez, the former Moscow FC playmaker, will be missing for Vélez but Verón looks to have passed a late fitness test for his side.
Then on Saturday the clásicos start. Champions Argentinos Juniors welcome All Boys to the Estadio Diego A. Maradona to resume a rivalry that wast last played in the Nacional B (second division) in 1996, and hasn't taken place in the Primera División since 1980. The second is the country's oldest clásico: River Plate vs Racing Club, a match in which the hosts will be especially desperate for a win after drawing yet again last weekend (of which more later).
Sunday is a packed one too, with Huracán at home to eternal rivals San Lorenzo, and Boca Juniors visiting Independiente. Everyone's trying to talk down the potential for things to get a bit silly in at least one of these matches, but it's going to be interesting all the same, and if you were to push me and force me to take a guess, I'd say the Huracán vs San Lorenzo match has the most potential to kick off.
I'll be at the Vélez vs Estudiantes match on Friday, and then at River vs Racing on Saturday, which will be an absolutely critical game for River's season. It'll also see all eyes settling on River's young attacking midfield promise Erik Lamela, who's been at the centre of some harsh words from other players all week after a controversial match between River and Godoy Cruz in Mendoza last week.
The biggest talking point of that game was that, after River had twice thrown away the lead, misfiring striker Rogelio Funes Mori brilliantly chested on a chipped through ball from Ariel Ortega before smashing in a superb winner with a minute left on the clock – only for the referee, who'd been well behind play at the time, to consult his linesman before disallowing the goal for a hand ball which had never, in fact, taken place.
The following day though, it was Lamela on the front pages of the sports supplements, as he showed off a horrible looking cut he'd taken on his left knee following an ugly challenge from Godoy defender Jorge Curbelo. Lamela told the press that referee Federico Beligoy had told him if he got any blood on his kit, he'd be given a second yellow card, even though Beligoy somehow only thought the challenge itself deserved a booking for Curbelo.
Seba Verón quickly came out to suggest that whilst he'd been in England, he'd seen 'thousands' of such tackles, and that you just had to put up with it. There was no shortage of players who had bad things to say, including Curbelo's clubmate David Ramírez who asked, 'how many times have I got home with a cut like that and not said a word? … River are loving this, because it means no-one's talking about how badly they're playing.' Néstor Ortigoza, the tough-tackling but smooth-passing Argentinos midfielder who was a member of Paraguay's World Cup squad, was even harsher; 'he's acting like a maricón.' That's either 'wimp' or 'poof', depending how you want to read it.
San Lorenzo – and former River – manager Ramón Díaz was a little less outspoken than he often is, and perhaps a little fairer. 'He'll have to get used to it, because he's young and he's going to get hit a lot during his career.' Martín Palermo, Boca's striking legend, was surprisingly the most sympathetic. 'We need to take care with exposing these kids to this, because they'll end up becoming disillusioned.'
With only Walter Acevedo on hand to play deep in midfield for River and try to quell Racing's Colombian playmaker Giovanni Moreno – who's on fire in his first term in Argentina – River will be hoping they can focus more on the game tomorrow. Two weeks ago Moreno was on duty with Colombia and thus missed Racing's loss in their biggest derby away to Independiente. Last week he marked his return with two goals in a 2-1 win over Argentinos. Whether he's on fire again on Acevedo somehow manages to keep him quiet on his own, the weekend promises plenty of fireworks right across the division.
Sam also writes for Soccernet and When Saturday Comes, and you can follow all the day-to-day action at his blog Hasta El Gol Siempre during the Argentine season.