1. Signing of the season?
I know there have only been two games played, heck Universidad de Chile and Cobreloa have only played one, but Unión Española are looking mightily impressive. Add in their first round Copa Libertadores matches and they couldn’t have started the season much better. At the heart of their good play has been River Plate loanee Mauro Díaz. Stationed on the left of the midfield three he has personified La Furia Roja’s expansive and high-paced play.
The Santa Laura side attempt to use every inch of the pitch to stretch the opposition. The full-backs are pushed high and wide while the wide forwards in the 4-3-3 play as inverted wingers but look to hug the touchline opening gaps in defences before coming in to combine with the midfield and striker Emmanuel Herrera (or Sebastián Jaime).
Díaz, part of the fluid midfield three, is industrious, energetic, tenacious but uses the ball intelligently, belying his 20 years of age. He is giving allowances to join in attacks but also provide coverage to a defence that has its pressure points especially with no natural holding midfielder (Braulio Leal is the closest to playing that role).
Jean Paul Pineda and Sebastián Saavedra also deserve a mention. Pineda has consistently troubled full backs with his pace and trickery so far while Saavedra looks to be another promising and gifted attacker.
It was Universidad de Chile last year, Deportes Iquique last week but now it’s the turn of Unión Española and Mauro Díaz to entertain.
2. Flores flourishing for Palestino
New Palestino boss Daniel Carreño looks to have pulled a transfer coup which may rival José Luis Sierra’s signing of Mauro Díaz. Recruiting Robert Flores from Bulgarians Litex Lovech looks to be the best of his array of signings since taking over from Gustavo Benitez.
An opening day defeat to Universidad Católica was followed by a home point at Huachipato yet it was the 2-1 defeat at ‘home’ to UC that brought about the most promising performance as El Tricolor controlled the first half at looked threatening in the final third with number 10 Flores at the heart of everything. He threaded Nicolás Canales, Carlos Pérez and Jason Silva together into an exciting attacking unit complete with pace, movement and an understanding which brought about fluidity.
The attacking play wasn’t as predominant against Huachipato but Flores took it on himself to trouble Los Acereros with his constant drifting picking up positions to collect the ball in space. You can see the way he goes past opponents why he has played for Nacional in his native Uruguay, River Plate in Argentina and has been on the books at Villarreal (playing for their ‘B’ side). He is intricate in everything he does; from his control to his balance to his passing. And unsurprisingly the second equalising goal was down to his brilliant assist. Collecting the ball in the corner he swayed one way throwing the defender and took the ball the other before having the composure to roll the ball into his team mates’ stride.
3. Finisher wanted. Report to La Florida
Two games, one goal, one point. It is not how Audax Italiano envisioned their start of the Apertura even without last years top goal scorer Facundo Pereyra and captain Matías Campos Toro. While there is no doubting Campos Toro’s quality, after all he is a Chilean internationalist and completed a move to La Liga (loaned back to Católica until the summer); it looks like Pereyra may be the biggest loss. The Argentine hit 11 Clausura goals before a move to Mexican side San Luis.
Despite other departures Los Tanos still possess Bryan Carrasco, Cristian Canuhé, Marco Medel et al set up in an attacking 3-4-1-2, although at times it can come to resemble 3-2-3-2. And when they go forward they are fun to watch, especially right-winger Bryan Carrasco who has signed for Udinese but will not move until the summer. Despite positioned as a wing-back he is more comfortable playing as a winger and it shows as he plays high up the park terrorising defenders and firing in crosses screaming for a connection. However this is where Italiano are let down; goals. Without Pereyra they rely on 18-year-old Felipe Mora – who does look like a striker in the making. Quite a burden for a teenager to replace the top goal scorer.
Manager Omar Labruna may still be searching for the right striking combination, and with options available within his squad we may see Audax hit the goal trail. If not all their attacking guile and creativity will be wasted.
4. Some things never change
Universidad de Chile win. But it was not as straightforward as the score (3-1) suggests against Deportes La Serena. Without Gustavo Canales who agreed on a move to China (again) on the eve of the match Jorge Sampaoli had to reconfigure his side with Pedro Morales tasked with ‘leading the line’ but would attempt to play a similar role to Gustavo Lorenzetti in the 4-0 win at Flamengo. With fellow debutant Junior Fernándes on the right of the forward line La U struggled in the final third. Unfamiliarity can be offered as a possible excuse but that idea may have to be dismissed considering it was a third debutant Raúl Ruidíaz who came on to score the first and set up the second.
With goal scoring starts for Ruidíz and Fernándes the performance of Marcelo Díaz will have gone unnoticed. Or maybe it was noticed but everyone has just drawn accustomed to the diminutive schemer consistently putting in excellent displays. Stationed at the base of his midfield he used his positional sense to protect the defensive three and allow for Charles Aránguiz and the wing-backs to push higher up the pitch. Yet it is when he is in control of his ball he is at his best. Controlling his game. Never wasting a pass (we won’t mention the semi-final second-leg against Católica) he is always available for a pass forwards from defence, backwards from attack or side-ways from midfield. You can liken him to a traffic conductor but instead of keeping the traffic moving he is keeping his game moving. Tying him down on a new contract was inspired business. A vital player who just happened to score the third.
5. You are now leaving Santiago . . .
Universidad Católica left Santiago this weekend and returned without three points. An unwelcome record has followed the team into the new year. In the 2011 Clausura UC played 11 away games winning only three. Each one in Santiago. This season they have played two away games and won one. Guess where? You have to go back to the 2011 Apertura on the 30th of April for the last time Católica won out-with Santiago in the league.
And it’s not as if the Primera División is diluted with Santiago team. Out of the 17 other teams just over two-thirds come from the ‘provinces’.
It is a trend that must be worrying manager Mario Lepe who again came under criticism after the 2-1 defeat to Santiago Wanderers – who despite the name are based in Valparaíso.