The last round of Liga MX matches before the October international break saw two Mexico City giants win high profile away matches, while Monterrey rivals Rayados and Tigres continued to disappoint.
Pumas break drought in Guadalajara
Going into this season Pumas had not won at Chivas in 36 years. Although the university club are one of Mexico’s big four teams, Chivas coach Jose Saturnino Cardozo may have been thinking about this winless streak when he stated that Pumas were not a big team during a press conference in the lead-up to this match.
However, Pumas made the Paraguayan tactician eat his words on Saturday night, earning a 2-1 win that leaves Chivas’ liguilla hopes hanging by a thread.
After going down to an Isaac Brizuela strike in the 6th minute, Pumas managed to equalize ten minutes later through mercurial Chilean winger Martín Rodríguez. Rodríguez then crossed for fellow Chilean Felipe Mora to head home the winner in the 66th minute. The goal was Mora’s second in as many league matches, and puts him on six for the season. That is just two away from the eight he managed during the Apertura 2017, his best goal-scoring season in Mexico.
In addition to highlighting his rich vein of form, Mora’s strike reaffirmed how Pumas have improved since the sale of former star striker Nico Castillo. After establishing himself as one of Liga MX’s best forwards, Castillo was sold to Portuguese giants Benfica this summer. Castillo was not replaced with one forward but rather two: Mora and Paraguayan marksman Carlos González. After 12 matches this season, González and Mora have nine league goals between them, close to surpassing the 11 Castillo scored last season.
Although they are not one of the favorites for the title, Pumas will make the liguilla. Once there, they are unlikely to capitulate like they did in their embarrassing 6-2 aggregate defeat to América in last season’s quarterfinals.
América record statement win
Although they outplayed archrival Chivas in last week’s Clásico Nacional, América could only get a draw from that match, with Mateus Uribe missing a last minute penalty. The frustrating result kept América in second place in the table, but did little to lift the pressure on coach Miguel Herrera. However, this week’s superb 3-2 win at Tigres’ Estadio Universitario should lift the weight off of Herrera’s burly shoulders.
América’s victory highlighted the danger they pose for opponents at dead ball situations. All three of América’s goals came from set pieces. Incredibly, all three of América’s goals in their last away match, a 3-2 win at Puebla, also came from set pieces. The scorers for América against Tigres were Bruno Valdéz, Emanuel Aguilera and Guido Rodríguez. Valdéz and Aguilera are center-backs, while Rodríguez is a defensive midfielder who rarely ventures forward in open play. Nevertheless, these three players have combined for seven league goals this term, accounting more than a quarter of América’s league leading 24.
América’s set-piece prowess is even more critical to their success in the context of the struggles of their forwards. No América player has scored more than five goals this season. Leading scorer Oribe Peralta was suffering a five-month goal drought in league play until he struck against Pachuca in round 3.
The victory at Tigres, combined with the positive performance against Chivas, constitutes an impressive reaction following América’s shock Copa MX elimination at the hands of second division side FC Juárez. América still sit behind Cruz Azul, but they will have a chance to take first place when the two sides face each other in the Clásico Joven in round 14.
Apertura title won’t end up in Monterrey
With the two biggest budgets in Liga MX, Monterrey and Tigres have consistently challenged for domestic and international titles in the past few years. Even though the two sides can call on players of the caliber of Rodolfo Pizarro and André-Pierre Gignac, the northern clubs appear to be at their lowest collective ebb in years.
Both sides lost to Mexico City powers this weekend. Tigres fell 3-2 at home to América, while Monterrey lost 2-1 at Cruz Azul. The results leave Monterrey and Tigres in 6th and 7th place in the table, respectively. Although they are both still likely to qualify for the liguilla, their performances so far this season suggest that neither side will win the Apertura 2018 title.
After seasons of exciting counter-attacking football failed to bring home a league title, Argentinean coach Antonio Mohamed left Monterrey this summer to take over Celta Vigo. His replacement, Diego Alonso, has struggled to implement his more possession-based style, with Monterrey struggling for attacking fluency. The side’s top scorer is center-back Nico Sánchez. Up front, big names such as Jonathan Urretaviscaya and Áviles Hurtado have flattered to deceive, while forward Rogelio Funes Mori has struggled with injury.
The situation is not much better at Tigres. Since a 1-0 win over Tijuana in round 2 extended their home unbeaten streak to 29 matches, Tigres have lost two of their last five league games at home. The team has had to deal with intense speculation throughout the season that head coach Ricardo Ferretti would take the Mexico National Team Job. The conjecture seems to have affected the side’s performance, as they now sit just two points ahead of ninth placed Morelia.
Even if Monterrey and Tigres make the liguilla, their league position will create problems for them in the postseason. If the liguilla were to start today, Tigres would face América in the quarterfinals, while Monterrey would face reigning champion Santos Laguna.