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Chilean Primera División 2021 Season Preview

Chilean Primera División 2021 Season Preview

By Adam Brandon.

Originally published on Chilean football newsletter Pichanga. Sign up here!


This season sees 17 teams battle it out in the top flight of Chilean football. The ANFP are looking to reduce the league back down to 16 teams again, so three teams will be relegated once again this season with just two promoted from Primera B, as was the case last year.

The season got underway today (Saturday) with an 11 am kick-off local time between Curicó Unido and newly promoted Deportes Melipilla. Curicó ran out 2-0 winners after two early goals.

It is worth noting that many sides might be without some key players on the opening weekend of the season. This is mainly due to the fact Chile played Bolivia (Chile won 2-1) on Friday night in a friendly with many domestic stars in action.

Other sides open their seasons without key men due to suspensions hanging over from last season or injuries.

The highlights of the opening weekend include:

  • Colo-Colo taking on last season’s runners up Union La Calera
  • Santiago Wanderers against Unión Española, which sees Ronald Fuentes managing the side he was unfairly dismissed from towards the end of last season.
  • The battle of the champions on Sunday as Primera B winners Ñublense take on Universidad Católica who are looking to make it an incredible four titles in-a-row.

TEAM-BY-TEAM GUIDE

Audax Italiano

A 2-1 win over La Serena on the last day of last season ensured Audax kept their top division status for another year. After a decent start to the campaign last season they gradually slid down the table and were left sweating on the final day.

A change in management, the pandemic (looked like they were getting momentum just before it struck) and a drink-driving tragedy caused by star striker Rodrigo Holgado during lockdown didn’t help – the Argentine striker got off with a light sentence and will controversially lead the line again this season.

Colombian-Chilean Joaquin Montecinos was their key men for much of last season, producing moments of magic drifting in from the right and will be one to watch this year.

They will look to challenge for the Sudamericana spots, but the squad does not look any stronger than last season and another season finishing in the bottom half possibly awaits under manager Pablo Sanchez.

Key Players: Joaquin Muñoz (GK), Joaquin Montecinos (RW), Rodrigo Holgado (CF)

U23 Talent: Nicolas Fernandez (RB), Massami Gutiérrez (RW/LW)

Cobresal

Cobresal head into the new campaign hoping the sale of influential playmaker Marcelo Cañete won’t be too hard to overcome. There were signs against Palestino in the Sudamericana last week that they will remain very competitive at home.

Manager Gustavo Huerta likes this Cobresal side to keep possession in most matches and few sides can match them for passes completed and the way they quickly rotate the ball.

The worry is that without the quality of players such as Marcelo Cañete and Juan Carlos Gaete that they will lack quality in the final third, but they should have enough to stay up. Tall Venezuelan, goal-scoring winger Brayan Hurtado has been signed to help compensate the loss of Gaete it seems.Much will depend on how new signings Carlos Maidana, Ivan Smith and Matias Donoso settle, Donoso won the title with Cobresal back in 2015. Meanwhile 16-year-old attacking midfielder Yodilan Cruz impressed in his couple of cameos at the end of last season and could be one to keep an eye on.

Key Players: Ivan Smith (CM) Carlos Maidana (AM) Matias Donoso (CF)

U23 Talent: Pablo Cardenas (RB/DM), Yodilan Cruz (AM) Brayan Hurtado (LW)

Colo-Colo

This season is unlikely to be as poor last season where El Popular were almost relegated for the first time in their history. However, things have already started disappointingly this campaign as they saw the Chilean Super Cup slip from their grasp last weekend.

The sending off of Maxi Falcon at the end of that match is a real worry for boss Gustavo Quinteros who will start the season with the centre of his defence looking weak. Los Albos are still looking to recruit in this position with Falcon suspended for the first month of the season. Quinteros appears to be unhappy with the efforts in the transfer market of the Colo-Colo directors regarding this.

New signings Juan Carlos Gaete, Martín Rodríguez, Miiko Albornoz y Leonardo Gil give Colo-Colo improved starting XI options and greater depth especially on the left side of the team which was weak last season. But that’s the minimum you’d expect from the club with the biggest budget in the league.

Outgoings include club legends Esteban Paredes, Matias Fernandez and Jorge Valdivia together with Carlos Carmona too meaning they have reduced the average age of their significantly.

Many will be looking to see how many chances Quinteros gives to the youth talent coming through such as Joan Cruz and Luciano Arriagada, especially given the success of Jeyson Rojas at right-back last season.

Key Players: Maxi Falcon (CB), Brayan Cortes (GK), Leonardo Gil (CM)

U23 Talent: Jeyson Rojas (RB) Pablo Solari (RW) Luciano Arriagada (CF)

Curicó Unido

Last season was a rollercoaster for Curicó. For the first half of the campaign, they were fighting near the top of the league and looked a decent bet for a Libertadores place.

Their good form was built on their solid defence, coached by Nicolás Larcamón and it was form good enough to steer them clear of relegation worries on the average points table.

However results and performances tailed off, Larcamón left for LigaMX and a lack of an impact from new manager Martin Palermo saw Curico drop out of the continental places completely. They even sailed very close to the wind relegation wise.

Curicó had the oldest squad by average age in the league last season and there appears to be a concerted effort to reduce that in this transfer window. They did lose their most talented young player Matias Cavalleri though and he will be difficult to replace.

Overall the squad looks weaker than most in the league so it could be a difficult season ahead for Palermo and his men. It feels like much will depend on their defence holding up.

Key Players: Franco Bechtdholt (CB), Leandro Benegas (CF), Pablo Parra (AM),

U23 Talent:  Adrian Sanchez (CM), Felipe Ortiz (AM/RW), Gabriel Harding (CF)

Deportes Antofagasta

Los Pumas have developed a habit of performing well for half a season then fading away. The worry ahead of this season is that they may struggle to get going. Juan Jose Ribero has taken over the reins and he was relegated last season with Coquimbo.

Looking at their performance levels last season, they often got more out of games than they deserved. And judging by their performance in the 1-0 defeat to Huachipato in the Sudamericana last week, this could be the season where Los Pumas can be found scrapping around the bottom rather than fighting at the top.

There are some talented attacking talents in this squad though so much will depend if their coach can get them functioning as a team again. Under Hector Tapia they looked like a side relying on moments from individuals.

The permanent signing of Andres Souper from Católica should earn the club a decent sum of money in the future too if he fulfils his potential.

Key Players: Eduard Bello (AM), Andres Robles (DM), Jason Flores (LW)

U23 Talent: Andres Souper (AM), Ariel Uribe (AM), Byron Nieto (RB)

Deportes La Serena

Having looked nailed on for relegation for much of last season they went on a storming 10-game unbeaten run under Miguel Ponce who replaced Francisco Bozan around the midway point. However, in the end La Serena stumbled over the line to secure their top-flight status for another season and needed a last-minute O’Higgins penalty against Colo-Colo to avoid a relegation playoff.

Strong links with agent Fernando Felicevich has been key to ensuring this is a relatively decent squad for a side only in their second year back in the top flight.

It’s a big season for Cuban-Chilean Cesar Munder on-loan from Universidad Católica and maybe the last chance for veteran Chilean international Matias Fernandez to prove he’s fit enough to be part of a squad at this level. He’ll be hoping to reestablish an old connection with Humberto Suazo whose goals will continue to be key. Survival will be the priority.

Key Players: Zacarias Lopez (GK) Lucas Fasson (CB) Humberto Suazo (CF)

U23 Talent: Enzo Ferrario (CB) (Lopez and Fasson both qualify here too)

Deportes Melipilla

After their surprise promotion from Primera B, Melipilla will simply be looking to avoid relegation in their first campaign in the top flight since 2008.

Los Potros from a small town just outside Santiago have made 14 new signings including winger Jose Luis “Ribery” Muñoz and midfielder Alejandro Camargo who have a lot of experience at this level.

New signings were needed as the step up for last season’s squad would have been far too much, but they now have the challenge to form a cohesive side.

Their manager John Armijo has an impressive record since taking charge and it’ll be interesting if he can execute his vision of attacking football and high pressing with this group of players at this level. Armijo is known for his strict discipline and focus on fitness – he once worked with Marcelo Bielsa.

Anything other than a relegation straight back to Primera B would be a surprise to most and with the smallest budget in the league it is not difficult to see why. Much will depend on the form of key players from last year such as Nicolas Peranic and top scorer Gonzalo Sosa while the signing of Venezuelan Carlos Suarez looks a smart move.

Key Players: Nicolas Peranic (GK), Alejandro Camargo (DM) Carlos Suarez (DM/CM/AM), Gonzalo Sosa (CF)

U23 Talent: Aaron Astudillo (RB)

Everton

Everton played out an incredibly average campaign throughout last season, which meant little to get excited about but also kept them away from danger for the most part.

This season will see them look to build on their solid foundations. They are under new management in the shape of Argentine Roberto Sensini. If things click then they could be in for a good season, although nobody is quite sure what to expect from Sensini who started his managerial career in Serie A in 2006, but now hasn’t managed for five years.

Argentine attacker Juan Cuevas was a standout talent in Chile in the second half of last season and he’ll enjoy linking up with new signing Cecilio Waterman. The emergence of youngsters Sebastian Pereria in defence and Gary Moya in midfield mean they have a nice blend of youth and experience in the side now.

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Key Players: Cecilio Waterman (CF), Juan Cuevas (CF/RW), Rodrigo Echeverria (various positions)

U23 Talent: Sebastian Periera (CB) Gary Moya (CM), Alex Ibacache (LB)

Huachipato

Huachipato may prove to be the most intriguing side to watch this season. They are set to be the most youthful side in the league. Manager Juan Luvera had the side playing some great attacking football at the end of last season after taking over from the defensive-minded Paraguayan Gustavo Florentin.

It is worth noting that this is the side with the least amount of squad churn and they looked a very cohesive unit in their 1-0 win away to Antofagasta in the Sudamericana last week. Their youthful centre-back pairing is one of the most solid in the league.

The signing of 19-year-old striker Cesar Huanca from Iquique is an interesting move having lost their top scorer for the past two seasons, Juan Sanchez Sotelo, to Palestino. How successful that move is may determine the success of this side which is likely to create plenty of chances for the promising Chilean youngster.

Key Players: Cristian Cuevas (LB) Claudio Sepúlveda (CM) Nicolas Ramirez (CB)

U23 Talent & Key:  Igancio Tapia (CB) Cesar Huanca (CF) Joaquin Gutierrez (RB)

Ñublense

Primera B champions Ñublense are back in the top flight for the first time since 2013. They were the standout side of the second tier last year despite seeing their manager Jaime Garcia battle for his life for weeks towards the end of the season due to a Covid-19 infection.

Fifteen new signings mean Garcia has a lot of new players to integrate into his side. It is debatable as to whether or not such a big influx of players was required,. Some key men from last season’s triumph have left including Ivan Rozas.

However, it is usually the case that teams coming up from the league below in Chile do struggle without significant change so it’ll be interesting to see how midfielder Federico Mateos takes to the step up in class.

They have notably gone after some names that have been written off early at the big two (Provoste from CC and Guerra from La U) together with some consistent performers at this level (Cordero and Cerezo). How much they can get out of veteran forward Roberto Gutierrez may determine their success at this level.

Key Players: Federico Mateos (CM) Fernando Cordero (LB), Roberto Gutierrez (CF)

U23 Talent: Branco Provoste (CM) Nicolas Guerra (CF)

O’Higgins

Following their strong showing in the second half of last season, O’Higgins will be hoping to replicate that form in 2021. Dalcio Giovagnoli has proven to be a very adept coach at this level and has managed to help star midfielder Tomas Alarcon reach another year in the past six months or so.

There hasn’t been much squad churn during the Chilean summer transfer window and they have managed keep hold of most of their key players. This could be an interesting year for O’Higgins who look to return to the era almost a decade ago now where they were a protagonist at the top of Chilean football.

However, the squad probably doesn’t have enough depth at this point to stay near the top and compete there so another mid-table finish is more likely. The lack of signings may point to the manager being confident in the youth coming through — this is always a club where it is worth keeping an eye out for young talent.

Key Players: Augusto Batalla (GK), Tomas Alarcon (CM) Ramon Fernandez (AM)

U23 Talent: Antonio Diaz (LB) Ivan Rozas (CM) Matias Sepulveda (CM/AM)

Palestino

Rarely featured in polls for potential title contenders, but Palestino should be considered a dark horse. The main area of the side that was considered weak last season was defence and they have strengthened that area significantly.

WyScout’s xG model had them as the biggest under-performers last year, which suggests it may not take much for them to turn performances into results especially with proven goalscorer at this level Juan Sanchez Sotelo signed from Huachipato.

Moreover, their form under Jose Luis Sierra was better than champions Católica in the second half of last season and few sides can match their creative output.

It is worth noting Carlos Villanueva is set to miss the opening weeks of the season through injury although the signing of Misael Davila should help offset the loss in creativity.

Key Players:  Pablo Alvarado (CB), Agustín Farías (DM) Luis Jimenez (AM/CF), Carlos Villanueva (AM),

U23 Talent: Vicente Fernandez (LB), Bruno Barticciotto (CF),

Santiago Wanderers

This Wanderers side showed real potential at times last season in their first season back up. This together with the appointment of Ronald Fuentes as manager means Wanderers could be one of the best teams to watch in Chile this year.

In center-back Daniel Gutierrez they have one of the biggest talents in the country and a player Fuentes will enjoy working with. Fuentes’ first matchday squad of 2021 features no fewer than 12 players under 23.

The worry is that this squad lacks older, match-winning talent especially with the departure of Argentine forward Carlos Rotondi who was so often the difference for them last season.

Key Players: Mauricio Viana (GK), Marco Medel (CM), Sebasitian Ubilla (CF),

U23 Talent: Daniel Gutierrez (CB), Alexis Valencia (RW/AM), Jason León (CM)

Union Española

La Furia Roja were one of the busiest side in this transfer window, but they crashed out of the Libertadores at the first hurdle. There will be pressure on them to get off to a good start given the raised expectations following last season’s title challenge. That success came via the work of manager Ronald Fuentes who was then bizarrely sacked with just a handful of games remaining.

The sale of rising superstar Carlos Palacios last week means they are also without the player most of their moves focused around this past year. Jorge Pellicer’s start as boss of UE has been very disappointing in terms of both style and results and his whole plan went through Carlos Palacios so it is unclear how he will proceed now.

Patience from fans and president is unlikely with such a big squad with plenty of talent among it still so Pellicer needs a good start or this could be an early contender for a managerial change.

Key Players: Diego Sanchez (GK), Alejandro Chumacero (AM) Ruben Farfan (RW)

U23 Talent: Thomas Galdames (CB), Victor Mendez (CM), , Vicente Conelli (CF)

Union La Calera

Union La Calera finished fourth in 2019, second last season so the owners may be hoping for glory this year. The sale of Juan Leiva to champions Universidad Católica looks to be a big hurdle to overcome though given he was the heartbeat of this ULC side over the past couple of years. Right-back Yonathan Andia and winger Tomas Rodriguez were sold to La U, harming their options on the right of the side too.

They did beat Colo-Colo to the signing of Octavio Rivero and they also were ahead of the market to sign forward Nicolas Orellana and Simon Ramirez. Veteran playmaker Jorge Valdivia also joins, but how his body will hold up is a big question.

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The appointment of manager Luca Marcogiuseppe sparked a protest from the manager’s association in Chile who believed he didn’t have the right qualifications for the position. Marcogiuseppe does have the right qualifications apparently, but he faces a big task to even equal the job Juan Pablo Vojvoda did last season.

Attempting to balance Libertadores and the league combined with needing half the team to gel under a new manager means another title push seems unlikely this year although depth remains decent compared to much of the league.

Key Players: Santiago Garcia (CB), Gonzalo Castellani (AM) Octavio Rivero (CF)

U23 Talent: Simon Ramirez (RB)Yerco Oyanedel (LB), Esteban Valencia (DM), Jeisson Vargas (CF),

Universidad Católica

Their stunning comeback against Colo-Colo last weekend in the Chilean Super Cup final served to underline UC’s dominance of domestic football in Chile.

They start the season as favourites yet again as they look for an incredible four titles on the trot. There’s little reason why they can’t, even last season under Holan they were rarely at their best yet still won the title with relative ease.

New signings Juan Leiva and Felipe Gutierrez strengthen the midfield and gives them greater depth to compete on more than one front. The experienced players alone make this the strongest side in the country with too many key players to mention really.

In addition to that, they also have a legion of talented young players coming through who have already a taste of success with the first team.

New manager Gus Poyet will be expected to deliver a good run in the Libertadores or/and another league title.

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Key Players: Matias Dituro (GK). Luciano Aued (CM), Fernando Zampedri (CF)

U23 Talent: Gonzalo Tapia (RW), Clemente Montes (LW), Marcelino Nunez (CM)

Universidad de Chile

Despite being very uninspiring for much of last season, La U still managed a top 4 finish thanks in part to having the best defensive record in the league.

They will be relying a lot on their defence again this season with Dudamel looking to play reactively and they’ll also need strikers Joaquin Larrivey and Angelo Henriquez to be clinical again at the other end.

The signing of experienced playmaker Marcelo Cañete excites many but there are questions about whether he fits Dudamel’s style.

Overall this feels like quite a talented squad, which is lacking the right kind of style. Dudamel’s approach has not been popular, but there is no denying this side is more organised than it was under previous recent regimes.

The Venezuelan coach also has a habit of getting the best out of young players and it will be no coincidence if the average age of this squad this season will be significantly lower than in recent years.

Key Players: Fernando de Paul (GK), Luis Casanova (CB), Marcelo Cañete (AM), Joaquin Larrivey (CF)

U23 Talent: Simon Contreras (RW), Mauricio Morales (CM) Daniel Navarrete (RB)

 

Enjoy the season and good luck to whatever team you support!

Originally published on Chilean football newsletter Pichanga. Sign up here!

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