An epic Clásico Capitalino was the centerpiece of round 7 of the Liga MX Apertura 2018, while other sides kept their positive momentum going.
Wild Clásico Capitalino Leaves Pumas Reeling
In another edition of one of Mexico’s most heated rivalries, Pumas were hoping to beat América for the first time since the first leg of the Apertura 2015 semifinal, and break a run of three league matches without a win. Los Felinos got off to the perfect start, with Chilean Felipe Mora angling home a header inside 17 seconds. Pumas dominated the early stages of the game, with América coach Miguel Herrera’s experiment with a back three leaving his side looking confused defensively.
Although Oribe Peralta equalized for América in the 32nd minute, Las Águilas were down to 10 before the end of the first half, with Roger Martínez receiving his marching orders for an elbow on Alejandro Arribas. Even with the man advantage in the second half, Pumas played passively, allowing América to control the match. However, los Universitarios received a huge break in the 68th minute, when América center-back Bruno Valdez was sent off for a studs-up challenge on Pablo Barrera. Now with a two-man advantage, Pumas scored what looked almost certain to be the winner in the 73rd, with Carlos González heading home a Martín Rodríguez cross.
Nevertheless, Pumas continued to cede possession and territory instead of keeping the ball and seeing the match out. They were punished in the second minute of extra time, as América winger Andrés Ibargüen was allowed to lift a cross into the box for substitute Henry Martín, who headed past Alfredo Saldívar.
The result leaves Pumas coach David Patiño in danger of losing his job if his side cannot win at León in round 8. On the other hand, the draw saw Miguel Herrera improve his unbeaten record against Pumas as América coach to 12 matches. Yet, América’s comeback should not obscure their poor season so far, as they sit on the same number of points (11) as a Pumas side that are in crisis.
Morelia Continue To Fly Under The Radar
Before the start of the Clausura 2017, Monarcas Morelia were the favorites to descend to the Ascenso MX. With relegation a near certainty midway through the Clausura, former Morelia defender Roberto Hernández took over as head coach. However, Hernández’s last head coaching job had come back in the Clausura 2013 with Toros Neza, and many pundits believed he would not be able to save Morelia.
However, Morelia improved enormously under Hernández’s stewardship, and completed a remarkable salvation in the last minute of the final league game of the season, with a Raul Ruidíaz header keeping them up. The Peruvian forward’s strike also qualified Morelia for the Clausura 2017 liguilla in 8th place.
Since Ruidíaz’s famous goal, Hernández has kept Morelia competitive with a budget that is less than half of what league heavyweights América, Monterrey and Tigres have at their disposal. Monarcas finished 4th in the Apertura 2017 and 8th in the Clausura 2018, making two more liguilla appearances.
La Monarquía look well placed for another liguilla appearance this season, which would be their fourth straight. They currently sit 4th in the table on 12 points, ahead of both América and Tigres. In round 7, Morelia fought back from a two-goal deficit away to Monterrey, managing to tie the match at 2 through a Carlos Vidal strike in the 87th minute. Even in an imposing stadium like Monterrey’s Estadio BBVA Bancomer, Morelia managed to dominate possession (62%) and had more shots on goal (7 to 6) than their wealthier opponents.
Morelia’s exploits so far this season are even more impressive given that Ruídiaz was sold this summer to MLS side Seattle Sounders. Without the two-time Liga MX golden boot winner, Monarcas were expected to struggle to find goals. However, Morelia are the fourth-highest scoring side in the league, with 11 goals. With a more balanced attack, Morelia look set to confound the experts and qualify for another liguilla.
Querétaro and León Show Volatile Nature of Liga MX
The format of Liga MX is different from many European leagues. Instead of playing one long season of more than 30 matches, Mexico has two short seasons of 17 games followed by playoffs (known as the liguilla), with a champion being crowned in each.
Due to the reduced number of matches in a season, the fortunes of a team can change drastically within a couple of matchdays. This is particularly true when midweek fixtures are followed by another round of matches at the weekend. This is what happened last week, with round 6 being played on Tuesday and Wednesday and round 7 taking place Friday through Sunday. During these two rounds, Querétaro and León both took maximum points, and greatly improved their chances of making the liguilla.
Before round 6, reports emanating from León suggested that coach Gustavo Díaz would be fired if los Esmeraldas failed to beat América at home. Fortunately for the Uruguayan tactician, his side overcame América 2-0, with a double from forward Mauro Boselli. In their next match, León pulled out a 2-1 win from one of the toughest stadiums to visit in the league, Toluca’s Estadio Nemesio Diez. The results see León rise to 11th in the table, and they are now only outside of the last liguilla spot on goal difference.
Querétaro’s awakening in the past week has been more surprising. Ronaldinho’s former club battled relegation all last season, and came into the season with a new coach in the shape of Rafael Puente Jr. Although Puente Jr. achieved a miraculous promotion with Lobos BUAP, he was let go before the end of the Clausura 2018, with Lobos eventually being relegated. Although Puente Jr.’s Querétaro got off to a slow start this season, with only one win from their first five matches, back-to-back wins against Pumas and former employers Lobos have put Gallos Blancos in 7th place. Even though Querétaro and León have impressed in recent matches, the unpredictability seen in Liga MX means that other sides could easily find form and pass them before seasons end.