Boca favorite for Clausura title
Etymologically speaking, both Argentina and the Rio de la Plata itself derive their names from the word for silver. In the world of South American soccer, the silver medal of second place is becoming something of an uncomfortable reality in Argentina as its league begins to fall further behind neighboring Brazil's.
Having only had one team in the last eight of 2011's Copa Libertadores -- South America's premier continental competition -- and two in its little brother, the Copa Sudamericana, criticism of the league was only compounded by an Apertura of disappointing quality.
Boca Juniors ran away with the title in the first of 2011/12's short tournaments, but didn't need to elevate themselves too far above the ordinary to triumph by an astonishing 12 points in a season of just 19 games.
Having been once more stripped of its brightest young stars, the league is currently suffering a lull as the next generation of wonderkids are yet to swagger into view, while arguably the most talented young player in the country -- Lucas Ocampos -- is plying his trade
Franco Vazquez is the latest young talent to depart for Europe -- in the shape of Serie A side Palermo -- in what has otherwise been a very quiet transfer window in Argentine soccer.
The two highest profile arrivals are both players returning to the Argentine league after unsuccessful spells in Italy. Unusually, neither are eligible to feature in the local league due to FIFA rules regarding the amount of clubs anyone can represent in a season; Santiago Silva (Boca Juniors) and Lucas Pratto (Velez Sarsfield) will therefore only take part in their clubs' Libertadores campaigns.
Paradoxically, this enforced squad rotation may prove very useful given the significant extra workload that competing in South America's Champions League equivalent entails. With distances larger than flying from Chicago, Illinois, to London, England, and just days before being back on domestic duty at the weekend, it tests the deepest of squads, but Silva and Pratto will always be fresh for their respective teams.
Its biggest challengers in the championship race should come from a resurgent Estudiantes side -- who has bizarrely re-signed so many old players that it could field 10 of the 11 players that won them the 2009 Libertadores -- as well as Racing Club and Independiente, based in nearby Avellaneda.
At the other end of the table, things are a bit more complicated.
Due to Argentina's confusing relegation system -- based on an average of points amassed over the past three seasons -- clubs are more punished for being poor over long periods than short-term blips. The results of this are that clubs like River Plate, who less than 12 months ago finished in a league position that would have qualified them for the Copa Sudamericana, can go down whereas the whipping boys of the most recent campaign, Banfield, won't be relegated this June due to an excellent 2009/10 season that included an Apertura title win.
Tigre and Olimpo are two of the division's smaller clubs, and both look frankly doomed to a direct return to the Primera 'B.' Who will occupy the two relegation playoff places is less certain, but among those in contention is San Lorenzo, one of the country's five grandes. Having brought in a number of new faces, it now requires at least a top-half finish to try to avoid a promoción playoff, but new manager Leonardo Madelón doesn't have a track record to suggest he will guide them to safety.
All Boys, Unión de Santa Fe, and Arsenal de Sarandí are all clubs who will be fighting for their lives along with Madelón's side, as well as Newell's Old Boys, who face almost certain relegation in 2012/13 even if it does manage to survive this campaign.
What this system does mean is that no game is ever meaningless, and for the cluster of sides destined to finish in midtable, it gives them an incentive to never play at anything less than 100 percent. Some of these sides will be looking to break away from this anonymity, with Colón and Atletico Rafaela the most likely surprise packages while San Martín, Belgrano and Godoy Cruz may be forced to be content with stability.
The unpredictability of the Argentine league, twinned with a gaggle of top clubs fighting it out on the continental stage, means that it is harder than ever to pick a winner for the 2012 Clausura; for the sake of the supporters and the health of the Argentine soccer though, the quality needs to return to the gold standard of old.