Some initial storylines from the Superliga

We’re now four rounds into Argentina’s newly-branded Superliga competition, which is a little premature to predict a champion (although there are some candidates) but not so much for seeing some managerial changes (three changes at San Lorenzo, Estudiantes, and most recently Defensa y Justicia). Furthermore, some storylines are starting to emerge from the opening matchdays:

  • The leaders at last tournament’s end have carried on.  Three of the clubs in the top five — Boca Juniors, River Plate, and Banfield — were also in the top five at the end of last season’s Primera División championship.  If the table were reorganized by point totals based on expected goals, those three clubs would be in the top four.  The two other sides who finished last season in the top five — Racing Club and Estudiantes — are much further down in the table; Racing are in mid-table, but Estudiantes are down in the lower third of the charts and have already seen a coaching change.  Again, it’s too early to predict the final outcome of the competition, but we might be back to a Boca-River showdown for the title.
  • Darío Benedetto is the best of what’s left.  Argentina’s Primera has always been a selling league (but also to some extent a destination league for other South American players), but there seems to be fewer high-performing young players in the competition than the recent past.  If you look at the top twenty players on last season’s xG charts, only four of those players transferred to overseas clubs during the summer: Sebastián Driussi, Lucas Alario, Nicolás Blandi, and Gustavo Bou.  Blandi and Bou are 27 and went to clubs in Uruguay and Mexico, while Driussi (21) and Alario (24) went to Europe.  Benedetto, 28, made close to 100 appearances for Mexican clubs and the difference in quality between him and other players continues to be evident from last season.  He’ll continue to be the most dangerous striker in Primera by default, at least until a younger talent comes onto the scene.
  • Maxi Romero could be an emerging talent.  Vélez Sarsfield are in need of goalscorers (you could say that they’re also in need of defensive backs and a goalkeeper, too) to reduce the relegation risk, and one such scorer has emerged in Maximiliano Romero.  Nineteen years young, Romero has four goals (tied for second so far) and has generated more xG from open play than players other than Benedetto and Franco Soldano. There’s more than a little uncertainty in player performance at that age, but it will be interesting to see how Romero develops throughout the season.  It would be best if Vélez could hang on to him beyond the current season, but I don’t know how secure or precarious their financial situation is.
  • Patronato de Paraná is the biggest overachiever, but need to watch their defense.  Patronato have been the surprise outfit in Superliga with three wins from their opening four matches.  Sebastián Ribas looks like their most dangerous striker, but in fact most of his chances from set pieces (highest xG from set-pieces in Primera).  Almost two-thirds of their expected goals come from three players — Ribas, midfielder Martín Rivero, and striker Matías Quiroga. Patronato have won three matches despite giving up a high number of xGs and goals.  They have the lowest goal difference among teams in the top eight, and the only negative expected goal difference among the same group of clubs.  Currently they are flying high above the relegation zone, but a reversal in fortunes could narrow that gap significantly.
  • Argentinos and Chacarita need to create goals.  The two promoted clubs from Primera B Nacional have had poor starts to the new season as both teams have scored three goals and won zero matches between them. It hasn’t helped that the previous season in B Nacional concluded three weeks before the Superliga started. Nevertheless, both teams will have to find a way to win matches and that will mean that they will have to create chances.  Argentinos and Chacarita have the two lowest offensive xG in the division (1.8 and 2.5 goals, respectively), and Argentinos have lost six points from winning positions already.