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The River Plate yoyo
River Plate are playing two championships in one and until Sunday’s shock 2-0 home defeat by modest All Boys they had as good a chance of winning the Clausura title as they do now of relegation.
In the craziest of Argentine league championships, results are impossible to predict and playing away is an advantage. There have been 50 away wins and 41 at home so far in 13o Clausura matches this term.
River, with a record 33 Argentine league titles, began the 2010/11 season in August in trouble, worried about their low relegation points average which is measured over three seasons. They have never been relegated.
They slipped in and out of the bottom four places in the table of averages until a fourth place finish in the Apertura championship standings in the first half of the season kept their heads above water.
They have had a better Clausura and would have gone top if they had obtained the expected victory over All Boys, promoted last year, at the Monumental that their pedigree demanded.
Defeat, instead, has resurrected the spectre of relegation as other results helped conspire to edge them back down towards 17th place in the averages, which is one of two relegation playoff berths. The bottom two of the 20 teams are relegated automatically.
Worse still is that they are not favourites to win next Sunday’s “superclasico”, the big match against arch-rivals Boca Juniors at the Bombonera, even if their away form as a team built to defend and counter-attack, also a break with tradition, has been better. Their three defeats were at home.
Boca, who started the season poorly, have gone four matches without defeat, overcoming the tension that has let them down at home, but they will be wary of River’s away successes against two of the other members of Argentina’s “Big Five”, Independiente and Racing Club.
The tide turning at Boca has coincided with a return to goalscoring form for Martin Palermo, who went the first 10 matches without finding the net, a worrying run in his last season before retiring.
Now he is on a good run with a goal in each of Boca’s last three games. Sunday’s 2-0 win at Argentinos Juniors was typical of a man renowned for the bizarre.
The goalkeeper parried his first effort and the ball came back low towards him with Palermo stooping and almost falling forward awkwardly to head it at knee height between the keeper’s legs into the net.