As the Libertadores Cup returns, Boca Juniors have finally rediscovered some form.
If a week is a long time in politics it can be an eternity in football. Last Sunday when Rodolfo Arruabarrena walked off the pitch many thought that he would not be back as coach of Boca Juniors. His team had continued their dismal early season form with a 1-0 defeat at home to Atletico Tucuman, in a game which had been touted as make or break.
Seven days later, though, Arruabarrena might feel entitled to ponder ‘crisis, what crisis?’ Boca kept faith with him – after all, he did complete the league and cup double at the end of last year. In midweek he won himself some breathing space with a 1-0 win away to San Martin, and on Saturday his side looked back to their best at home to Newell’s Old Boys, running in three quick goals and easing to a comfortable and impressive 4-1 win.
What a difference a week makes! Especially when it features the abandonment of a panicky three centre back formation that never looked trustworthy, and when the star player finds some form. Previously lethargic, Carlos Tevez sparked to life. It may be significant that he was partnered by the speedy Sebastian Palacios, whose pace forced back the opposing defensive line and helped create space for Tevez. There is food for thought there for Arruabarrena, as he ponders whether Dani Osvaldo should be re-instated once he has recovered from injury. Either way, the return to form sets up Boca nicely for midweek when, like all the Argentine sides, they begin their Copa Libertadores campaign.
Boca’s match is the most eye catching of the week. They travel to meet Deportivo Cali of Colombia, who completed their second consecutive 5-1 home league win at the weekend. Cali have a hugely promising crop of youngsters, spearheaded by the strike partnership of the rangy Harold Preciado and the talented Rafael Santos Borre. Indeed, they are so rich in young strikers that they have allowed the powerful Miguel Murillo to go on loan to Penarol of Uruguay, where he is already forming an interesting combination with Diego Forlan.
Cali have interesting youngsters all over the field, but on Wednesday night their veteran captain Andres Perez will be of huge importance. The central midfielder, now 35, has extensive experience of Argentine club football, and he should be looking to use his positional sense to squeeze the space between the lines in which Tevez likes to pick up possession. With so many young players on both sides, this duel of the over-30s could be key to the outcome of what looks like a fascinating match.
Cali versus Boca is preceded by another Libertadores clash between clubs from Argentina and Colombia. On Tuesday Huracan are at home to Atletico Nacional of Medellin, interesting outsiders for the title. If the 2016 competition might have come just a little bit too early for some of the Cali team, the same does not apply to Atletico Nacional, who boast a deep squad under an experienced coach in Reinaldo Rueda.
Huracan are probably the weakest of the six Argentine representatives in this year’s competition, but away wins are usually preciously rare commodities in the Libertadores. Coming back from Buenos Aires with three points would be a declaration of intent – since compatriots Once Caldas won the title in 2004, only once has the trophy eluded the big two of Brazil and Argentina. A win would emphasise that Atletico Nacional aim to crash the party. Come home empty handed, though, and the pressure will be on Rueda and his men a week on Tuesday, when they play their first home game against Sporting Cristal of Peru. Beat Huracan, then, and the Colombian champions are among the tournament favourites. Lose, and they could face a mini crisis. That is the rollercoaster that Reinaldo Rueda faces – one which Rodolfo Arruabarrena of Boca Juniors knows all about.