Shoved unceremoniously from the top of the Argentinian pile by less-heralded outfits in recent seasons, the forthcoming Clausura 2010 is an opportunity for traditional heavyweights River Plate, Boca Juniors, Racing Club, San Lorenzo and Independiente to redress the balance. takes a look ahead at a campaign which, as well as crowning kings, will decide which teams suffer relegation to the second tier.

The champions
Apertura 2009 winners Banfield have had relatively little time to savour their first league crown in the professional era, and will be hit by the loss of leading scorer Santiago Silva to Velez Sarsfield. However, coach Julio Cesar Falcioni has managed to hold on to other key figures, such as the Colombian James Rodriguez and Uruguay’s Sebastian Fernandez.

The club also moved swiftly to bring in former Boca defender Jonatan Maidana, on loan from Ukraine’s Metalist Kharkiv, to replace the retired Sebastian Mendez, with Ruben Ramirez joining from Racing Club to try and fill Silva’s shooting boots. Doubts remain, though, on the squad’s ability to maintain a league challenge while competing in the Copa Libertadores.

The favourites
Another outfit set to battle on two demanding fronts are Clausura 2009 winners Velez. The club have been boosted by the return of Uruguayan forward Silva - a real revelation during his loan spell at Banfield - and the fact that coach Ricardo Gareca has been able to keep the core of last year’s squad together. The likes of Lanus, Estudiantes, Colon and Newell’s Old Boys, all of whom pushed hard for Apertura 2009 glory, must also dig very deep as they chase glory on both the continental and domestic stage.

Avellaneda outfit Racing Club, under coach Claudio Vivas, former assistant to ex-Argentina supremo Marcelo Bielsa, look to have strengthened well and will be determined to banish the spectre of relegation. Fellow big names Independiente are aiming to build on a promising Apertura 2009 campaign, while San Lorenzo are chasing that elusive ingredient for league success: consistency.

River Plate, who recently appointed former player and coach Daniel Passarella as club president, are putting their faith in graduates from their youth ranks to banish memories of a disappointing 2009. For arch-rivals Boca Juniors, meanwhile, the air of uncertainty following the resignations of coach Alfio Basile and manager Carlos Bianchi remains.

The relegation candidates
This edition of the Clausura will also determine who goes down to the second division, with relegation in Argentina decided at the end of each Clausura by teams’ points average over the last three years: in this case 2007/08, 2008/09 and 2009/10. Among those sides in the greatest danger of dropping into the Primera B Nacional are Chacarita, Gimnasia La Plata, Godoy Cruz, Racing Club and Atletico Tucuman.

The major signings
Once again frugality was the watchword for Argentinian clubs, though a general lack of funds did not prevent some very astute signings. Racing Club, for example, recruited a proven goalscorer in Claudio Bieler from Copa Sudamericana holders Liga de Quito, in addition to the trickery and explosive bursts of Argentina Juniors’ Gabriel Hauche. Rosario Central, for their part, have brought in a former club idol in the shape of well-travelled forward Luciano Figueroa, currently still sidelined by a knee injury which dogged his time in Serie A with Genoa.

Rosario will be weakened by the loss of Jesus Mendez, their star performer in the recent Apertura, to Boca, while River have signed Paraguayan starlet Rodrigo Rojas from Asuncion side Olimpia to strengthen their midfield. Independiente have added a hefty dose of creativity to their roster with the signing of Boca’s Leandro Gracian, with San Lorenzo hoping new striker Emiliano Alfaro, last season’s Uruguayan league top scorer, can transfer that form to the other side of the River Plate. Copa Libertadores holders Estudiantes have strengthened with the signings of ex-San Lorenzo keeper Agustin Orion and midfielder Jose Sosa, who joins from Bayern Munich.

The players to watch
With the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ looming large on the horizon, competition is fierce for a berth in Diego Maradona’s finals squad. Among the many contenders, the likes of Nicolas Otamendi and Emiliano Papa (Velez), Juan Sebastian Veron and Clemente Rodriguez (Estudiantes), Diego Pozo (Colon) and Martin Palermo (Boca) will be determined to cement their places in El Diez’s plans.

Other men to watch throughout the campaign are Uruguay’s Joaquin Boghossian (Newell’s), veteran goal-getter Esteban Fuertes (Colon), promising youngsters Daniel Villalva and Rogelio Funes Mori (River) and that most majestic of midfield string-pullers, Juan Roman Riquelme of Boca.

Have your say
Who do you think will win the 2010 Clausura? Which sides will struggle in vain to avoid relegation? Click of ‘Add your comment’ to make your opinion known, remembering to keep your posts clean, respectful, on-topic and in English.