Five reasons why Boca Juniors are champions of Argentina again
Boca Juniors confirmed their second Argentine league title in the last three campaigns (32nd overall). The standard has risen in Argentina, but Boca were able to keep their heads above the others for roughly two-thirds of the campaign, and here are five reasons why.
1. Guillermo Barros Schelotto's leadership
There's an exciting generation of Argentine managers coming through at the moment. Barros Schelotto isn't the best tactician, but his leadership skills were central to Boca's ethos throughout the championship.
After defeat away to defending champions Lanus -- Barros Schelotto's old side -- on the opening weekend, the manager picked his team up. A policy of small rotations between matches began; a 14-game unbeaten run in the league followed.
When Boca next tasted defeat, at home against Talleres de Cordoba in the first match after the summer break, there was a nervous reaction. Carlos Tevez, the team's most visible on-pitch leader, had left for Shanghai Shenhua at the turn of the year, and it was understandable, after a match in which Boca had been picked apart on the counter-attack, that questions were asked.
But Tevez's absence freed Barros Schelotto to switch to his favoured 4-3-3, and Boca would lose only once more all season: a 3-1 home defeat to River Plate. The change in system, allied with the manager's leadership, proved decisive.
There was a period during the final third of the season in which it seemed no-one wanted to win the league. Or rather, it seemed as if Newell's Old Boys and San Lorenzo, Boca's two closest challengers, didn't want to win the league.
Both sides developed a habit of dropping points on the same weekend as Boca, ensuring the leaders' cushion remained. River and Banfield put together impressive runs of wins during the same spell, but were coming from too far back to make a difference.
River's title challenge eventually sputtered out as the demands of the Copa Libertadores group stage and the title run-in became too much for a thinly-stretched squad; Banfield simply had too much ground to make up, for all of their collective brilliance before two defeats in their final two matches. But Boca just kept doing enough.
It wasn't always pretty (a 0-0 draw away to eventually relegated Atletico de Rafaela was the ugliest point; in total there were five draws in their last 11 games), but Boca maintained an advantage in the table, and with it a psychological edge. When River were held 0-0 by Rosario Central -- a result which meant victory in their game in hand against Atletico Tucuman wouldn't put them top -- that factor became too strong to overcome.
3. Big game performances
Allied to that ability to grind out points even when having an off day was the fact that in the big games, Boca came up trumps. The Argentine league this season has seen every team play everyone else once (home or away), with an extra reverse fixture against their biggest rivals (in Boca's case, River).
The Big Five were resurgent this season -- they all finished in the top seven -- but Boca dominated. They lost that home game to River in May, but five months previously, in one of his last games for the club, Tevez had inspired them to a 4-2 away win over the same opponents. Racing had been dispatched in La Bombonera by the same scoreline a week previously; the week before that, Boca got a 2-1 away win over San Lorenzo. During the title run-in, they hosted an in-form Independiente and brushed them aside 3-0.
The fact that some fairly uninspiring draws against less illustrious opponents were followed quickly by these wins underlines Boca's success. Their best performances came in the biggest games, against their direct rivals (both historic and present day), and those wins allowed them to maintain breathing space at the top of the league.
4. Fine home form
Boca lost more games at home than away -- two to one -- but drew far fewer, and ended up with a record of 11 wins, two draws and two defeats from 15 home matches; only Estudiantes and Racing took more points at home.
Aside from the number of points won in La Bombonera, though, it was the manner of their early season victories on home soil which gave belief to the side. Six of their first seven home games of the season were won by two goals or more.
5. A terrifying forward line
Those goals were smashed in by the fifth element in Boca's title charge: a blistering forward lineup.
Cristian Pavon's form wide on the right has reportedly earned him a €22m transfer to Zenit St. Petersburg, and the transformation of left winger Ricardo Centurion -- after previous disciplinary issues, including early in his loan spell at Boca -- has been perhaps the best indicator of Barros Schelotto's man management skills. Centurion's move from Sao Paulo could now be made permanent, and there's talk of Jorge Sampaoli considering him for the national team, too.
The star, though, was Dario Benedetto. He arrived from America de Mexico with many fans doubting whether he could fill the Boca No. 9 shirt. He didn't make a mark in the first three games, but came to life in the fourth with an outstanding hat trick (including a backheeled opener and a 35-yard screamer for his second) and a brilliant backheeled assist for Centurion in a 4-1 hammering of Quilmes.
Benedetto ended the season with 21 goals from 24 appearances, and Boca will do well to hold onto him. This team, though, could be going places and if they can keep Benedetto on board, fans will be optimistic when they return to the Copa Libertadores next year.
Sam Kelly is based in Buenos Aires and has been one of ESPNFC's South America correspondents since 2008. Twitter: @HEGS_com