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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 27-01-2024 09:22

Argentina's Copa de la Liga Profesional returns – and anything could happen

As we saw last year, the format of Argentina’s Copa de la Liga Profesional owes itself to the odd surprise. Forecasting what could happen is a fool’s game – and so here are some predictions.

After being starved of football for the past two months, finally the wait is over. Argentina's best 28 teams are back in action as the Copa de la Liga Profesional kicks off this weekend.

Hold on a minute, I hear you cry. The Copa? Didn't that just finish in December? A very astute observation. The powers-that-be decided to reshuffle the calendar for 2024, meaning the hybrid group-play-off competition kicks off the year and the league tournament will follow afterwards. 

A little confusing, to be sure, but also probably the most reasonable way to structure this already bewildering, bloated top-flight calendar, allowing the league champion to be crowned at the end of 2024 as should be the case.

That is still yet to come, though. First, eight teams must try and battle through to the knockout stages of this current competition and then face off for the right to make it through to the final in early May. 

As we saw last year, the format owes itself to the odd surprise: few could have predicted Rosario Central's march to glory, while three Grandes – Boca Juniors, San Lorenzo and Independiente – fell in the first stage and did not even make the play-offs, ceding their spots to unheralded challengers like Godoy Cruz and eventual finalists Platense.

As such, forecasting what could happen over the next few months is little more than a fool's errand. But that has never stopped us before.

Read on to find out exactly what is going to happen in the upcoming Copa de la Liga…

 

WINNER: Newell's Old Boys

Let's be honest, opting for either Boca or River here would be extremely dull and predictable. And if Central could go all the way last year, why not their fierce Rosario rivals? Newell's fell just short of the play-offs in 2023, hampered above all by poor form in front of their own fans – after winning their first two home games, they had to wait until the final weekend, with elimination already assured, to seal a third victory. That is unlikely to occur again, and the return of Ever Banega will give an added boost to a young, hungry side that should be competitive this term.

Honourable mentions: Estudiantes, Belgrano, Rosario Central.

 

DISAPPOINTMENT: Talleres

Mapping a Talleres season is a little like catching smoke in a bottle. The Córdoba club's fortunes seem to vary wildly from year to year, or indeed in an even shorter time-frame: a case in point was in 2023, when after finishing second behind River in the Liga, they slumped to ninth in their group and comfortably outside the play-offs. And having lost key players like Diego Valoyes, Michael Santos and now Rodrigo Garro over the last 12 months, another underwhelming Copa campaign seems the most likely outcome.

Honourable Mentions: Argentinos Juniors, Huracán, Platense.

 

TOP SCORER: Gabriel Ávalos (Independiente)

Independiente have not exactly been a force to be reckoned with recently, but they do get the ball to their target man with pretty respectable regularity. Martín Cauteruccio helped himself to 11 Liga goals in 2023, six of which came from the spot, and ex-Argentinos man Ávalos should pose an even greater threat after a fine season in La Paternal last time round.

Honourable Mentions: Lucas Passerini (Belgrano), Miguel Merentiel (Boca Juniors)

 

BREAKOUT TALENT: Claudio Echeverri (River Plate)

Does Echeverri still count in this category? For all the talk over the teenage wonderkid and new Manchester City signing, he still has just one single senior start to his name. Echeverri will begin the season in Venezuela with Argentina's U23 team and relations are still strained with River, but he has all the ability to dominate the Copa if given the chance.

Honourable mentions: Tomás O'Connor (Central), Baltasar Rodríguez (Racing).

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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