Why relegation really could be the best thing to have happened to River Plate

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Saturday is South America day, and here's I Like Football Me 's Euan Marshall with his take on the week's big issues in the region.

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After their historic relegation from the Argentine top-flight and the carnage that ensued afterwards on the streets of Buenos Aires, it was business as usual for River Plate as they kicked off their Primera B campaign at home to Chacarita Juniors on Tuesday night.

Despite it being a cold and wet winter evening, the supporters were out in force at the Monumental in Nunez, and the noise was deafening as the home side came out on to the field. The match itself was fairly interesting without any real moments of controversy or magnificence, and River ended up winning 1-0 thanks to an early headed goal from Uruguayan centre back Juan Manuel Díaz.

What was more interesting was the sudden change in attitude from the River Plate faithful, from the outrage and shame at the end of last season, to this new-found optimism, with some supporters even claiming that relegation was the best thing that has happened to their team in the last three years. It may sound a little bit strange, but they do actually have a point.

As most big sides do when they get relegated, River are hoping to use this season to rebuild their weary squad and return to the big-time stronger than they ever were. This work has started already, with several disappointing first-team players from last year already shown the door as they attempt to construct a fresh and confident squad.

In the opposite direction they have managed to recruit some genuine quality players to help them win promotion, like strikers Fernando Cavenaghi and Alejandro ‘Chori’ Domínguez, the latter the very same who led the line for Valencia in last season’s Champions League. The general view is that these guys have joined in an attempt to win some major brownie points with the fans, as they look to fire River back into the Primera A and write themselves into the club’s history in the process. Whether that is true or not, the fact is that their squad is now far better than any of their rivals in the Primera B, and probably even a large number of squads in the top-flight.

River’s main problem last year was that they played far too cautious, trying their best not to lose matches to escape relegation. Of course this ultra-negative style failed miserably as they scored very few goals and failed to win any of their last seven league matches.

However if Tuesday night’s game is anything to go by, it looks like River have sorted themselves out on the field and will play a much more attacking and high-tempo style this year. They are playing a considerably simpler 4-4-2 shape with Cavenaghi and Domínguez up front, and they are pressing higher in midfield and linking up well in attack.

‘Chori’ Domínguez looks like he will be the main man for los Millionarios this season. He failed to score against Chacarita on Tuesday, but he was getting on the end of crosses and in truth he was rather unlucky not to come away with a hat-trick after having a goal disallowed for offside, one cleared off the line and then a great strike come back off the post.

Another potential advantage of this season in la B is that if they do win immediate promotion, due to Argentina’s unorthodox relegation system they would find themselves in a very secure position for seasons to come. To understand this you will need some idea of this complex system, and I will try to explain as succinctly as possible.

In Argentina, relegation is determined by an average table, known as the Promedio, which takes each team’s performance over the last three years and gives an average of points per game. It was designed so that the big sides would not be too heavily penalised for having one bad season, and consequently it makes it difficult for the newly-promoted sides to stay in the division.

However, in River’s case, if they return to the Primera A for the 2012-13 season they can still count on their fairly impressive 2010-11 points tally to help them with their average, which would mean they would not have to worry about relegation for quite a while. It’s confusing, I know.

A warning though, everyone is talking about this season for River and assuming they will run away with the division and seal promotion at a canter, but the Primera B is not as straightforward as it sounds. It is a league full of physical, determined, and tough-to-beat sides. To make things worse, the larger clubs face a lot of very tricky away trips to Argentina’s provinces, where support is fanatical and results are scarce. As a result of this there are a lot of big teams (albeit nowhere near as big as River Plate) who have found it very difficult to get out of the Primera B, most notably Rosario Central.

River’s title credentials will be properly tested on Sunday, as they travel to Mendoza to take on Independiente Rivadavia.

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Follow @euanmarshall on Twitter and at I Like Football Me .

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