Millonarios v Deportivo Pasto
Millonarios’ first half of the year has been impressive but a lack of composure and an inability to take chances means a 2022 full of promise has left fans frustrated and disappointed. They have a very solid, well balanced effective set up but in the key moments it has fallen apart.
The Bogota club finished top of the league stage of the ‘apertura’ tournament (13 wins, 3 draws, 3 defeats) but were a major disappointment in the finals, winning just 1 of their 6 games. In March they crashed out of the Libertadores in the qualifying round following a silly red card in a game they were in control of.
Millonarios have the strongest defensive unit in Colombia and only conceded 11 in 20 games in the league stage. Against inferior rivals they give up very few chances and Pasto are, on paper, very much an inferior side.
Classy, left-footed playmaker Ruiz had the highest expected assist (xA) number in the league with 6.68 but only 2 of the chances he created were converted and this has been the problem.
Millonarios tried Diego Herazo (6 goals), Jader Valencia (3) and Ricardo Marquez (5) but none provided the cutting edge needed in the big games to sustain a title challenge. The signing of veteran striker Luis Carlos Ruiz should solve this problem. Ruiz scored 11 in 18 games for struggling Cortulua and will hope to take this high quality side to the next level.
Pasto, as seemingly is always the case, have had a big turnover of players during the off season. They are a side who bring in a lot of players on short term deals and hope that it clicks. Sometimes they find the right balance and can compete in the top half of the table but this month’s recruitment doesn’t suggest they will improve on their 16th place finish from the first half of the season.
Experienced striker Duvier Riascos (8 goals, 2 assists in 16 games) has been carrying the side but looks almost certain to leave and they have nobody to replace him. The forwards in the squad made a combined 35 appearances but only Arboleda found the net with a single goal.
Millonarios will rightfully be strong favorites for this one with home advantage, a strong defense, creative midfield and a fresh goal threat with Ruiz up top.
La Equidad v Santa Fe
While their city rivals Millonarios comfortably sat top of the table, Santa Fe spent most of the 2022 apertura struggling in the bottom half. Inconsistent form meant despite a late rally, they ultimately finished in 10th position outside of the playoffs.
Argentine Martin Cadetti was appointed manager at the end of 2021 and he looked to his homeland for reinforcements. Argentine forwards Fernando Coniglio and Ezequiel Aguirre were signed but both had a very poor season and have followed the manager to the exit just six months later.
Experienced players including Leonardo Pico, Yulian Anchico, Harold Gomez, Francisco Meza and Jhon Velasquez have also been released with new boss Alfredo Arias looking to shake things up.
Santa Fe is typically an organized, collective, hard-working side that is tough to beat. So far in 2022 that has not been the case and they have had one of the worst defensive records in the league (26 conceded in 20 games). Fans will hope the signing of central defenders Aja and Perea can help tighten things up at the back.
Very much a work in progress but with the quality to improve on their disappointing 10th place finish.
While Santa Fe has performed below expectations, La Equidad has been significantly greater than the sum of their parts. Despite a very small fan base, the Bogota club consistently overachieved thanks to smart recruitment and the disciplined approach instilled by talented boss Alexis Garcia.
La Equidad finished 7th in the league stage and then gave a good account of themselves in the playoffs with impressive wins against Tolima and Envigado. The club set up and named after an insurance company in the 1980s play a style of football befitting of their less-than-romantic backstory.
They play a compact 4-5-1 and look to hit on the counter with pace out wide. Physical, combative and ugly out of possession with lots of pace and directness when they get the ball. La Equidad had one of the best defenses in the league with Uruguayan midfielder Pablo Lima dictating things.
I can see the hosts edging this one in what I expect to be a fairly ugly encounter. The visitors have a higher ceiling this year but I think their well-drilled, efficient La Equidad will get the better of a Santa Fe still looking to define their identity.
Atletico Nacional v Cortulua
Medellin giants Atletico Nacional lifted their seventeenth Colombian league title just a few weeks ago beating Tolima 4-3 in an incredibly dramatic final. They finished 7th in the league stage but were unbeaten in the playoffs (3 wins, 3 draws) and progressed to the final top of Group A.
The final win was a moment of vindication for some of the high profile stars who had been criticized for their inconsistent contribution earlier in the season.
Scorer Jarlen Barrera was inconsolable at the final whistle while returning star Giovanni Moreno and interim manager Arriero Herrera gave an honest, emotional press conference. Gio Moreno said he would only stay if Herrera was given the job. ‘El Flaco’ left the club this week and Herrera is expected to follow with the season about to begin.
Atletico Nacional are significantly stronger than Cortulua and will be protagonists at home at the Atanasio Giradot. Defensively they have settled with Jhon Duque winning a spot at the base of the midfield alongside the very impressive Sebastian Gomez. This gives the side a very strong foundation for the plethora of attacking talent to shine.
The tireless, inventive Mantilla; classy, dynamic Andrade; explosive, dangerous Pabon; creative, talented Guzman and mercurial, scheming Jarlan all interchanging behind the focal point Duque. This Nacional team is good and if they can stay on track they are likely to continue improving.
Not much was expected from Cortulua this season and so far they have failed to meet those low expectations.
With 21 goals they have one of the more dangerous attacks in the bottom half of the table but 11 of those were scored by Ruiz who just left on a free. Johar Mejia (22), who scored 9 in 20 for second division Bogota FC, has come in and Feiver Mercado (32) has had a good pre-season. Cortulua will need one of the two to step up if they are to compete in the clausura.
Alexis Castillo Manyoma (19) is the star of the side but the club are looking to sell him this summer if possible. The dynamic, creative attacking midfielder was impressive at the Toulon Tournament with Colombia U20 and will be key. However, while his performances have been good since promotion, he hasn’t had the same output in terms of goals and assists since making the step up. Atletico Nacional will be strong favorites for this one and while off-the-field distractions could be a factor, I don’t think this Cortulua side have the attacking tools required to punish the verdolaga at home.
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