By Mike Rice.
Alianza Atletico are the unlikely leaders at the top of the Liga 1 table in Peru after a 100% record through their first five games.
Currently sitting top with 12 goals for and four against, they are level with Deportivo Municipal who have played a game more.
The season started a week after most due to a number of issues in the league, which saw a relegation and two sides being reinstated late on, and left an odd number of teams in the league — 19.
The league had been centralised for two seasons due to the pandemic with all games being played in Lima, but now, clubs have finally returned home and the fans of Alianza Atletico have been delighted to see their side in such good form.
Hinchas de #AlianzaAtletico se alistan para viajar a Trujillo y alentar al Vendaval del Norte 💪⚽💜 pic.twitter.com/4uMGwEsS65
— Alianza Atletico (@AlianzaAtletico) March 15, 2022
The reason Alianza Atletico are such unlikely leaders is their brush with relegation last season. They finished the accumulative table surviving on goal difference, their -15 bettered Binacional and San Martin who had -18 and -21 respectively.
Their summer window here in Peru was quite active and have made significant changes to their first 11.
Diego Penny has been brought in from San Martin. The experienced goalkeeper who had a stint with Burnley making just two appearances between 2008 and 2010, brings experience and control to the back line.
Aldair Perleche was brought in from Cienciano at right-back, Joaquín Aguirre from Ayacucho in left-back; while central defender Maximiliano Amondarain was one of the international signings from Cerrito in Uruguay.
These players especially have changed the way the team defend, and the addition of Luiggi Alburqueque, an academy player and just 19-years-old has created a promising defensive line.
Two Peruvians provide excitement on the wings with Franco Zanelatto and Kevin Ruiz proving to be difficult for defenders to cope with.
Zanelatto, on loan from last season’s champions Alianza Lima who signed him from San Martin this summer, has one goal and one assist; while Kevin Ruiz has two goals to his name so far.
The two, often with another new signing, Róger Torres, as the number 10 provide the creative outlet and have been exciting to watch so far.
Adrián Fernández has taken most of the headlines so far with the Paraguayan forward signing from Portuguesa FC in Venezuela scoring three times already.
The 29-year-old makes it 10 out of 11 players making their first appearances for the club this season, a huge turnover.
What makes this all the more impressive is the fact they are back playing in Sullana. Their home stadium, which has a capacity of 1700, is a formidable place to go. Not so much for the atmosphere but for the weather.
Set in the north of the country, it is one of the hottest places to play in the country, so much more than what players would have to deal with in Lima over the past two seasons.
Over the years people in Peru speak of the conditions teams have to play in outside of Lima, with altitude and temperatures so different in such a diverse country ecologically. Sullana has an average temperature of 27 degrees centigrade and there are no floodlights so games must be played under the intense heat.
Many of these players though do not have the experience in Sullana to make it comfortable for them so quickly.
Credit must go to the manager, Marcelo Vivas, who has turned this group of players into a team so quickly.
Players like Zanelatto for example had not been playing professionally before the league was centralised to Lima, so has not experienced football in these different conditions until this season.
With some of the big sides struggling, like last season’s champions Alianza Lima who have one win and two draws from their opening six games, the league is wide open at the moment.
The decentralised format has made many happy for clubs to return to their homes, and it has also provided extra difficulties for all to adapt to and bring back more of the uncertainty and unpredictability of Peruvian football.