Mexico’s biggest rivalry match saw the birth of a new star, while the chase for the final liguilla spot intensified in round 11.
Gudiño Grabs the Attention in Clásico Nacional Draw
On Sunday night, the Clásico Nacional between América and Chivas ended in a 1-1 draw. Playing at the Estadio Azteca with the chance to go top of the league with a win, América will be disappointed with the result. Although they took the lead in the 59th minute via a rare goal from forward Alan Pulido, Chivas will view the draw as a valuable point gained in the race for the 8th and final liguilla spot.
The star of the night was undoubtedly Chivas keeper Raul Gudiño, who made three stunning saves from América striker Oribe Peralta to keep the home side scoreless. Although he could do nothing about Andrés Ibargüen’s deflected equalizer in the 81st minute, Gudiño stood on his head once again in extra time. After América received a penalty kick, they seemed set to win the Clásico Nacional in the game’s dying moments. However, Guidño guessed correctly on Mateus Uribe’s spot kick, diving to his right to preserve the draw for his side.
In the wake of such an impressive performance, Gudiño will now be looked upon as the future of Mexican goalkeeping. Standing at 6’5 and boasting European experience with Porto and APOEL Nicosia, the 22-year old Gudiño looks set for a long career with the Mexican National Team. With current number 1 Guillermo Ochoa a full eleven years younger than Gudiño, the Chivas keeper could be Mexico’s starting keeper at Qatar 2022.
Basement Dwellers Atlas and Lobos Show Signs of Life
One of Liga MX’s greatest strengths has long been its parity. As many as 10 teams enter every season with title aspirations, while even the weaker sides are capable of defeating the big boys on a given day. However, this parity was at risk of being destroyed after the league decided this past March to abolish relegation for the next two seasons. The team who finished last in the relegation coefficient at the end of those two seasons would be able to pay a hefty fee to the league ($6.3 million) to keep their spot in the top division.
With teams in the lower reaches of the table now not concerned by automatic relegation, many worried that they would lose their competitive edge. For much of this season, it seemed that these fears had been realized, as a few teams were languishing at the foot of the table without displaying the quality expected of Liga MX sides.
The worst of these teams had been Atlas, who came into round 11 with only one league goal all season. However, los Zorros managed two against Toluca, good enough for a 2-0 win that gave them their first victory of the season. Although the win did not take Atlas off the foot of the table, fans of one of Mexico’s most historic clubs will hope that the victory is a sign of things to come under new coach Guillermo Hoyos.
After avoiding relegation last season with the famed $6.3 million payment to the league, Lobos looked certain to finish at the bottom of the relegation coefficient once again up until a few weeks ago. A 4-2 loss to Pumas in round 8 left Lobos with only four points from their first nine matches. Yet, they have picked up maximum points from their last two games, winning 1-0 at León before defeating Morelia 3-1.
The improved form of Atlas and Lobos will delight their fans. However, league executives should be even more excited, as these recent results help to validate the league’s decision to temporarily do away with relegation.
Fight Is On For Final Liguilla Spot
With only six games left until the end of the Apertura 2018 regular season, the liguilla picture is starting to become clearer. The first seven liguilla spots seem secured, with 7th placed Tigres enjoying a three-point advantage over 8th placed Pachuca. Although there could be a few teams, especially Pumas and Toluca, moving out of the liguilla places by season’s end, the battle for 8th is likely to be the big storyline with regards to liguilla qualification over the remaining weeks of the season.
Pachuca’s 3-1 win over league leaders Cruz Azul has them in 8th place after 11 rounds, the first time the Hidalgo-based side has occupied a liguilla spot all season. After starting the season with three straight losses, new head coach Pako Ayestarán has his team playing their best soccer as the season heads into the final stretch. Ayestarán will take encouragement from Leonardo Ulloa’s goal against la Máquina. Signed in the middle of this Apertura from Leicester City, Ulloa came into this weekend’s match off the back of a hat trick in the Copa MX against Cafetaleros.
Los Tuzos’ other main forward, Franco Jara, has also improved his goal-scoring output in recent weeks. Jara struck three times in recent matches against Chivas and Tigres to earn his side four points. Jara’s six goals on the season in all competitions is already twice the number he managed in league and cup during the Clausura 2018. Pachuca will be further boosted by their remaining schedule. Four of their remaining six matches are against teams in the lower third of the table (Veracruz, Atlas, Necaxa, León).
Behind Pachuca sit three sides also on 15 points (Chivas, Querétaro, Tijuana). Although Pachuca look the most likely of these sides to seal the final liguilla spot, Tijuana cannot be discounted. Tijuana’s Estadio Caliente is statistically Mexico’s toughest stadium to visit. Before losing their Copa MX round of 16 match to Cruz Azul, Tijuana had only lost 1 of their last 20 home games. Crucially for Xolos, their next home match is against direct liguilla rival Querétaro in round 12. If Xolos manage to win that match, the momentum they pick up could propel them into the liguilla.