It's that time of year again, when the world realises there's more to Argentine football than Maradona and violence - it's Superclásico Sunday. A few weeks ago both River Plate and Boca Juniors were in such abysmal form it would have been difficult to pick a favourite, with managerial changes in the air and recriminations in the dressing room. Boca Juniors coach Alfio 'Coco' Basile tried to resign but the board wouldn't let him leave, River Plate coach Nestor Gorosito offered his resignation and the outgoing regime accepted without hesitation.
Three back to back wins, including one over title contenders Velez and Boca Juniors are moving up a congested table they are now only 5 points off top spot. A self-imposed press silence from coach Coco only ended this week in the run up to the game. An air of quiet confidence is emanating from Casa Amarilla and freak training ground injury aside they should start with the same team which defeated Tigre last weekend. Riquelme has sat out some training this week but these are merely precautionary measures we're assured.
Both coaches are no strangers to the intensity of this game and the associated hype that accompanies it. At River Plate where things are in a constant state of turmoil new/old coach Leonardo Astrada is still searching for his first win since taking over and the team's first victory in a month and a half. A veteran of over 20 league meetings as a player, 2 red cards and numerous Summer Tournament 'friendlies'. As coach he won the 2004 Clasura. The same year River met Boca Juniors in the Copa Libertadores semi-final, after drawing 2-2 over the two legs they eventually lost 5-4 on penalties at the Monumental. Astrada, River to the core admitted indulging in some schadenfreude of his own during the final in which Boca surprisingly lost to Once Caldas of Colombia 'When Boca lost the final of the Libertadores it made me very happy. I was at home with some friends, it would be a lie to say there was not any celebrations'. The coach's last squad included talent such as Marcelo Salas, Maxi Lopez, Javier Mascherano, Marcelo Gallardo and the prolific Fernando Cavenaghi - how times have changed.
Comments from various sources coming out of the Monumental in the run-up to Sunday's game are saying that a win in the Superclásico wont make up for the dross that's been on show over the previous 2 campaigns, but a first triumph since 2007 would be a massive confidence boost and buy Astrada some valuable time. Time may not be on the coach's side with River's presidential elections looming on 5th December his days could already be numbered regardless of form. Presidential candidate Rodolfo D'Onofrio has received the backing of idol Enzo Francescoli, who knows what the mandate of the next president will be. Another candidate Daniel Passarella has publicly backed Astrada, more than he's done for Cristian Fabbiani - when asked why El Ogro wouldn't be in his team he referred to him being 'out of form, overweight and constantly on the cover of gossip magazines' (he's recently tied the knot with model and ex-tennis player Victoria Vanucci - proof if ever it were needed that true love is blind). Fabbiani though should have more immediate concerns on his mind - making the starting eleven on Sunday, his inclusion is far from assured and it'll be two from Gallardo, Ortega and Fabbiani helping out Buonanotte.
For the Brits who've been tempted to swap the sterile Premier League for this game as a result of British Airways recent ad campaign we can only hope it's an improvement on the previous two. At the very least there'll be an atmosphere, we used to have that at English games too.
See who's distracting Fabbiani: http://www.politeapplause.com/polite_applause/victoria-vanucci-is-the-hottest-ex-tennis-player-in-the-world/#