Juan Roman Riquelme of Boca Juniors looks on during the Emirates Cup match between Arsenal and Boca Juniors. Boca open the Argentine Primera 2012 Clausura season against Olimpo on February 10, 2012. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Boca Juniors kick off their title defense in the Argentine Primera on Friday, when they take on basement dwellers Olimpo.
During the Apertura, Boca Juniors went undefeated. Velez Sarsfield had a very solid team, Colon's defense was strong and Racing were led by Diego Simeone, but all three teams finished 12 points behind the blue and gold. This season, Boca are dealing with massive expectations, while none of their rivals have fallen off. They're involved in Copa Libertadores and Copa Argentina, and there's talk of a treble. Surely they can't go undefeated again, but they're favorites to come close.
Colon won't be as bad at home as they were last season, while Racing will score more goals. Velez looked great in their Copa Libertadores opener, while Estudiantes La Plata can't possibly finish near the bottom again. They have all of the stars from their Copa Libertadores triumph in 2009 (yes, including Juan Sebastian Veron), and they had a mid-table goal differential in the Apertura. Godoy Cruz will score in buckets again.
It will take a much stronger season for Boca to run away with the title again this season. Luckily for them, they start at home, against an average opponent, on a week where they didn't have to play in the Copa Libertadores.
Boca Juniors vs. Olimpo
Friday, 7:15 p.m. ET
Boca Juniors have a defense so good that they rely on the aging and temperamental Juan Roman Riquelme, as well as a random group of average strikers to score enough goals to guide them to victories. They've actually signed a fantastic striker in Santiago Silva, but can't use him until next season as he's already been registered for two teams this season. Dario Cvitanich scored five goals last campaign, but the team needs more from Pablo Mouche and talented youngster Nicolas Blandi.
Olimpo is at the bottom of the relegation table, and they're quite a way from safety. They'll do extremely well to get up to 18th from 20th to get into the relegation playoffs and out of the straight drop zone. Don't expect them to get off to a good start on Friday.
Prediction: Boca 2-0 Olimpo
Lanus vs. San Lorenzo
Friday, 7:15 p.m. ET
San Lorenzo resemble last year's River Plate team quite a big, except you probably haven't heard about it if you're not a fan of Argentinian football, simply because they're not River Plate. They have huge fan support and a strong squad, but they're sitting in a relegation playoff spot. Their campaign starts with a stiff test against Lanus, an almost certain top-half side.
Lanus performed slightly below expectations last season, finishing in sixth place in 29 points. They strengthened their flanks in the offseason with the additions of wingbacks Gaston Diaz and Maximiliano Velazquez in the offseason, while also strengthening their attack with the signing of Santiago Salcido. Captain and central midfielder Diego Valeri is the engine of the team, and is one of the better players in the domestic league. Lanus is missing one key player, Italian legend Mauro Camoranesi, with an injury.
San Lorenzo's attack was abysmal in the Apertura, so the signing of Carlos Bueno from Mexican side Queretaro could be a massive one. Bueno has been one of the top performers in Mexico over the last couple of tournaments and will almost certainly boost his new team's attack. Their veteran midfield and defense has the talent to keep the team up, they just need to play better than they did in the last tournament.
While the visitors will be desperate for points, Lanus has the better squad and is better than their Apertura home record.
Prediction: Lanus 2-1 San Lorenzo
Estudiantes La Plata vs. Newell's Old Boys
Saturday, 5:00 p.m. ET
Estudiantes and Newell's both finished well down the table in the Apertura, but both are expected to be much better in this half-season. Estudiantes simply under-performed and had a worse table position than their goal differential indicated they should have, while Newell's have a new manager.
Newell's still don't have the squad to compete with the big boys, but Gerardo Martino is expected to push the team up into a mid-table spot, which will keep them well clear of the relegation places. Martino successfully guided Paraguay to the 2010 World Cup and the final of the 2011 Copa America, and his teams were extremely well-disciplined.
Juan Sebastian Veron isn't entirely healthy, and without him Estudiantes struggle to break teams down. If Martino has done enough in pre-season to get his team to buy into his system, they could get off to a poor start with a scoreless home draw. Gaston Martinez, Mauro Boselli and the returning Enzo Perez should be able to squeak out one goal, though.
Prediction: Estudiantes 1-0 Newell's
Velez Sarsfield vs. Godoy Cruz
Sunday, 5:00 p.m. ET
Do you like goals? You should probably watch this game. Velez, through some miracle, have retained the services of eventually European-bound Juan Manuel Martinez while adding a talented striker in Ivan Obolo. In their first game in the Libertadores, they defeated Defensor Sporting -- a team with a supposedly strong defense and good home record -- 3-0 in Uruguay.
Meanwhile, Godoy Cruz scored 28 goals in the Apertura, making them the top scorers in the country. Ruben Ramirez was far and away the division's top scorer with 12 goals, and while he's unlikely to match that number, he will still score a number of goals this year. Ariel Rojas, Diego Villar and Alvaro Navarro will aid Ramirez in a potent attack. Their defense is shoddy, but who needs defense?
Goals. Goals everywhere.
Prediction: Velez 3-2 Godoy Cruz
Belgrano de Cordoba vs. All Boys - Saturday, 5:00 p.m. ET
San Martin de San Juan vs. Indepediente - Saturday, 7:15 p.m. ET
Argentinos Juniors vs. Union de Santa Fe - Sunday, 3:00 p.m. ET
Atletico Rafaela vs. Banfield - Sunday, 3:00 p.m. ET
Racing Club vs. Tigre - Sunday, 5:00 p.m. ET
Colon de Santa Fe vs. Arsenal di Sarandi - Monday, 8:00 p.m. ET