Published on July 18th, 2014 | by John Lyons0
Champions Colo Colo hot favourites for more title success
You would have to be brave to bet against Colo Colo retaining their Chilean football crown in the Apertura, which kicks off tomorrow.
The albos finally won their coveted 30th title by taking the Clausura and have managed to maintain the bulk of their squad.
In fact, they´ve arguably got a much better one now with the additions of World Cup goalscorer Jean Beausejour, O´Higgins goalkeeper Paulo Garcés and the experienced Claudio Maldonado.
They could lose influential midfielder Esteban Pavez to Eduardo Berizzo´s Celta Vigo, but even that would bring them Chilean international striker Fabián Orellana in a swap deal.
Colo Colo get the season underway with a visit to promoted San Marcos de Arica tomorrow (12.30pm) and will be fully expected to launch their title defence with three points.
While it´s been a fairly quiet off-season for the albos, the other two members of Chile´s big three, Universidad de Chile and Universidad Católica have both been busy.
La U have brought in former Católica boss Martín Lasarte and the Uruguayan´s job will be to put them back in the hunt for trophies following a turbulent time in the post-Jorge Sampaoli era.
Signings of the calibre of Gustavo Canales (Unión Española), Benjamin Vidal (O´Higgins) and Cristián Suárez (Cobreloa) show that la U mean business and there´s still the possibility that World Cup crossbar man Mauricio Pinilla will sign from Cagliari.
However, the almost-certain departure of skipper José Rojas to the United Arab Emirates is a blow, while fellow centre-back Igor Lichnovsky has left for Porto.
With all the comings and goings, it´s difficult to see the azules challenging for the Apertura title. Their best bet may come in the Clausura, especially with Colo Colo dividing their attentions between the league and the Copa Libertadores.
Universidad Católica also have a new man at the helm – former Boca Juniors boss Julio César Falcioni. The Argentinian´s mission will be to turn the Cruzados from nearly men into trophy winners.
The possible departures of goalkeeper Cristopher Toselli and centre-back Enzo Roco to Spanish football would be setbacks, though Católica have also been busy in the transfer market.
They will be hoping Erick Pulgar (Antofagasta) and Matías Cahais (Racing, Argentina) improve the defence, while strikers Mauro Óbolo (Godoy Cruz, Argentina) and David Llanos (Huachipato) hit the goal trail.
As usual, you can expect Católica to be there or thereabouts, but it´s likely to be more of the thereabouts.
Last season´s Apertura winners O´Higgins have suffered a massive blow with the loss of boss Eduardo Berizzo to Celta Vigo and that means former Fulham striker Facundo Sava has big shoes to fill.
Chilean international Pedro Pablo Hernández followed his old boss to Celta, while goalkeeper Paulo Garcés will be another big miss after joining Colo Colo. Sava will do well to put O´Higgins in title contention.
Unión Española won the Torneo de Transición in 2013, but have lost their way since then.
They´ve shown ambition with the captures of ex-Flamengo defender Marcos González, former Universidad Católica midfielder Milovan Mirosevic, surprisingly let go by the Cruzados, and Colo Colo´s Mathias Vidangossy.
You can expect them to improve on their ninth-place finish in the Clausura.
Santiago Wanderers have brought in ex-Palestino boss Emiliano Astorga and he has been reunited with his former striker Roberto Gutiérrez, who had been playing for Atlante in Mexico after leaving the árabes.
Gonzalo Barriga (O´Higgins) and Marco Medel (Audax) are among their other signings and you can expect Astorga to get his side well organised.
Palestino, meanwhile, now have Argentinian Pablo Guede in charge and he faces a major challenge in keeping the árabes in the top half dozen places in the league. The return of midfielder Jason Silva from his loan at Colo Colo is a boost.
Jaime Vera has left Iquique to take the reins at Antofagasta and he will be counting on the likes of Rubén Farfán (Universidad de Chile), Matías Jadue (Universidad Católica) and Gerson Martínez (Iquique) to impress.
Francisco Castro and Marcelo Jorquera (both U de Chile) will be keen to make a big impact at Iquique, now managed by Héctor Pinto.
Manager Mario Salas will be determined to continue the impressive job he did at Huachipato last term, while Ivo Basay is the new boss at Ñublense. The Chillán outfit have brought in the likes of Juan Gonzalo Lorca (Antofagasta), Boris Sagredo (Santiago Wanderers) and Luis Pavez (Unión Española), but will miss free-scoring striker Luciano Vázquez and keeper Lucas Giovini.
Giovini has returned to Unión La Calera, while striker Jean Paul Pineda (Rangers) is another signing for the club now managed by Argentinian Ariel Pereyra.
Universidad de Concepción have brought in Curicó Unido´s Diego Churín to give them more firepower and will seek to continue their fine Clausura form.
Cobresal have Copa Sudamericana football to look forward to this term and controversial goalkeeper Nicolás Peric (Rangers) could be a key signing.
Cobreloa will be hoping for goals from Rodrigo Gattas (Unión La Calera) and it will be interesting to see how Jair Reinoso (The Strongest, Bolivia) performs.
Former Huachipato boss Jorge Pellicer is now in charge at Audax Italiano and he returned to his old club to snap up goalkeeper Nery Veloso. Striker Marcos Sebastián Pol (Santiago Wanderers) will be hoping to make a big impact.
Fernando Díaz is in the hotseat at San Marcos de Arica and they´ve made a host of signings in a bid to hold their own in the top-flight. Carlos Labrín (Huachipato) and the much-travelled Kevin Harbottle (Iquique) are among the raft of new additions.
Fellow new-boys Barnechea have a big test on their hands. Manager Hugo Vilches has made some notable signings, including Óscar Hernández (Unión Española), Nicolás Suárez (Palestino) and Álvaro Salazar (Colo Colo).
This weekend´s opening fixtures: Saturday – San Marcos de Arica v Colo Colo (12.30pm), Universidad Católica v Antofagasta (3.30pm), Santiago Wanderers v Barnechea (6pm), Audax Italiano v Unión Española (8.30pm). Sunday – Palestino v Cobreloa (12.30pm), Unión La Calera v O´Higgins (3.30pm), Huachipato v Ñublense (3.30pm), Iquique v Universidad de Concepción (3.30pm), Universidad de Chile v Cobresal (6pm).