This week officially marks the opening of 'itchy-trigger-finger season'. Well, officially according to IBWM anyway. We really should give you some stats here, but the knives are well sharpened in South America. Sam Kelly reports from Buenos Aires.
Another week, another club left without a manager. The weekend was an uneventful one in Argentina, with few goals and a surfeit of draws to balance out the excitement of the previous round. All the same, there was a change of managers in midweek, as Wednesday brought the completion of the fourth round of matches (yes, the weekend just gone was round eight, you've not missed anything) when Estudiantes and Gimnasia La Plata met in the clásico (derby) of the city that's the capital of Buenos Aires Province.
This time it's Gimnasia's Diego Cocca who's left office, after coming increasingly under pressure following woeful results so far this season for the relegation strugglers. Accepting that, '[the managers] are always the easiest to get rid of, so we normally end up going... if the results don't come our way,' he resigned immediately after the match.
That makes it four managers gone in the last nine days, but for the three clubs who lost their bosses last week there was some better fortune during the eighth round of matches at the weekend. Both Independiente and Colón won with their caretaker bosses, whilst Huracán – with Miguel Ángel Brindisi in the manager's seat for the first time – were only prevented from doing so by a curse which appeared to been cast on all four of Sunday's matches, seeing them all end level.
That included a maddening draw for River Plate, who after a turgid first half took the lead through Mariano Pavone very early in the second against Quilmes, but conceded an equaliser from a sloppily defended free kick in stoppage time, after allowing the visitors almost no sight of goal for the whole match. Rogelio Funes Mori put on a typical display, wasting chance after chance, but not managing to put any at all in the net on this occasion. A win would have taken River just a point off first place, so the late equaliser was a real kick in the teeth.
The player to really catch the eye during that match was, ironically, the one who gave away the free kick from which Quilmes' late equaliser came. Erik Lamela has only come into the team in recent weeks, and was disappointing in the previous weekend's defeat to Newell's Old Boys, but he was the best player on the pitch on Sunday, tearing down the left wing, cutting inside and linking up well, and doing it all whilst constantly landing defenders on their backsides. Diego Buonanotte's performance on the right was in stark contrast; he's still got the technique, but seems to have totally forgotten how to pick a pass.
Buonanotte is to be charged with three counts of manslaughter by public prosecutors back in his hometown of Teodelina in Santa Fe Province, as a result of the car crash on Boxing Day last year which saw his three best friends killed whilst he was at the wheel. Given all that he's got going on off the pitch at present, it has to be asked whether it's really wise to let him continue to play rather than seeking help for him to get his head sorted at present. He certainly doesn't seem to be adding as much to the team as he initially did on his return to the first team following his recovery in April.
The other main result was a 1-0 win for Estudiantes over Boca on Saturday, which combined with Wednesday afternoon's win in the clásico means it's been a much improved week for Seba Verón's team, who return to the top of the league after a dip in form in previous weeks. The only good news for Boca came on Monday: Juan Román Riquelme returned to normal training with the team after an injury that's kept him out for getting on for four months. He'll be eased in gently though, and isn't expected to play before Boca take on Huracán in La Bombonera in just over two weeks' time.
All Boys couldn't follow up their famous win over Estudiantes of a week previously, and lost to Lanús, albeit narrowly, but are still doing well enough in the relegation table to be well out of trouble for the moment. The effect this is having on River is that although the giants are managing the title tilt they needed to lift themselves clear of the drop zone, they're still far from safety at present thanks to All Boys' performance. The fact that Tigre have started picking up points doesn't help either; woeful in the first three weeks, they're now unbeaten in five matches after a 0-0 draw with Racing on Sunday.
In the weekend coming, one of those two sides will have to drop some points, because Tigre are the visitors to All Boys' ground on Saturday. River will have to improve their finishing though; they'll be away to Banfield, who are only a point behind them in the Apertura table. The new leaders are at home to the team in third with Estudiantes hosting San Lorenzo, and second-placed Vélez Sarsfield have a potentially tricky road trip to Rosario to take on Newell's Old Boys.
With Quilmes – bottom of the Apertura and the only side left without a win – at home to challengers Arsenal, it might not be much longer before we see another change of manager. Only time will tell.
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. In addition, you can hear Sam discussing Argentine football with the the team at Cafe Calcio! here.