Derby weekend is upon us again in Argentina, the product of one of the most ludicrous and yet inspired league and AFA decisions of recent years: bring together all of the country's tensest, most anticipated and often viciously competitive games and play them in the space of little more than 48 hours. As a result, spectators from Buenos Aires, Avellaneda, La Plata, Rosario, Colón and across Argentina will be baying for blood as if they were back in Rome's Colosseum, although admittedly for those teams who are missing their clásico in the top flight the round loses a little of its shine – with no disrespect at all meant to the hardy faithful of new 'derby' rivals Barracas Central and Sarmiento de Junín.
As ever, it is the Superclásico that takes centre-stage tomorrow as Boca Juniors visit River Plate in the Monumental. The two giants boast similar records so far in the Copa Superliga, with each in the play-off spots of their respective zone having only suffered one defeat; but it is a common complaint of many Xeneize fans that while that situation still has observers purring over Marcelo Gallardo's men, Boca on the other hand are said to be under-performing and on the brink of crisis.
The simple solution, then, is to change the narrative, although few of us would have expected that shift to involve kit colours and a mysterious 'Shaman.'
Yes, you read correctly. For the first time certainly in the modern era and very possibly in history, Boca will line up against their arch-nemesis without the famous blue and gold. During the week the club put in a formal petition to use in Núñez an alternative yellow strip, which enjoyed an auspicious debut last Sunday as the club downed unbeaten Estudiantes.
“In the halls around here there's talk of a shaman,” an anonymous Boca source affirmed to Olé. “Someone has been working on those things in which football believes for a while. Their recommendation was clear: 'On Sunday, wear the yellow.'”
Mystical shirts or otherwise, Boca certainly did show an improvement in their dress rehearsal prior to the Superclásico, keeping a dangerous Estudiantes side tethered throughout and taking all three points through Luis Advincula's goal. But River too are in good form, and in turn would not mind a repeat of their last outing when they were awarded no less than three penalties to beat Gimnasia 4-0 – this, remember, is the last week without the loved and loathed VAR technology.
Another team on the up are Racing Club, whose Avellaneda showdown away to Independiente is scheduled for Saturday night. The much-maligned Fernando Gago seems to have found his groove on the Academia bench, with three victories, an entertaining draw away to River and 10 goals in the club's last four games giving plenty of room for optimism for the upcoming test. The home team, meanwhile, have struggled for form, winning just once in their opening six games, but have history on their side: in the last two decades Racing have managed a grand total of three victories against their rivals when playing outside their El Cilindro home.
Elsewhere Gimnasia and Estudiantes, who starred in by far the most entertaining derby of 2021, a 4-4 draw lit up by Luis 'Pulga' Rodríguez's marvellous hat-trick, also face off on Sunday just before the Superclásico begins. Rodríguez has since left, but Gimnasia's horrendous record remains, as they look to break a painful run of 12 years without a clásico win. The Pulga, meanwhile, will be in action for Colón against in Santa Fe's derby on Saturday, a match that brings together two teams brimming with confidence and pushing for the play-offs at this early stage.
In Rosario, meanwhile, it is a tale of two coaches: Newell's Old Boys' Javier Sanguinetti, in charge for his first clásico; and Kily González, who could well be out of a job should Rosario Central lose at home in the early Sunday kick-off. And if superstition can really make the difference, as Boca believe it can, watch out for one Frank Darío Kudelka. The current Huracán boss has never tasted defeat against the Globo's Buenos Aires rivals and fellow participants in the so-called 'Biggest neighbourhood derby in the world' San Lorenzo, and will be in no mood to give up that record in Bajo Flores on Saturday when the teams lock horns.
There is no doubt about it, a fine weekend of football is upon us, with no shortage of tantalising clashes to keep us occupied until Sunday night and beyond.