Liga MX: Unbeaten Cruz Azul faces resurgent León; Rayados host Pumas

LEON, MEXICO - AUGUST 11: Luis Montes of Leon celebrates after the second goal of his team during the fourth round match between Leon and Queretaro as part of the Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Leon Stadium on August 11, 2018 in Leon, Mexico. (Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images)
LEON, MEXICO - AUGUST 11: Luis Montes of Leon celebrates after the second goal of his team during the fourth round match between Leon and Queretaro as part of the Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Leon Stadium on August 11, 2018 in Leon, Mexico. (Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Week 5 action resumes Saturday night with surging León visiting the scuffed-up pitch of Estadio Azteca to take on Cruz Azul and concludes with a very attractive match-up at Estadio BBVA Bancomer – league-leading UNAM visiting the Rayados of Monterrey.

Cruz Azul will hope to cement its claim that it should be considered a title contender, with dreams of hoisting the league trophy for the first time in 21 years.

Sunday’s slate features only two games, but both should be bang-up contests: Tijuana at Toluca and Tigres at Santos.

León at Cruz Azul

The Cementeros are one of Liga MX’s two remaining undefeated teams but they will be tested by a León club that has turned its season around since a disastrous start.

Cruz Azul survived a tough test at Tijuana last week, overcoming the ejection of defender Pablo Aguilar (he will be replaced by Igor Lichnovsky tonight) and finding a last-minute goal to earn a 1-1 draw. The Xolos were the first team to score against the Cementeros so León will have to be scrupulous in attack.

León striker Mauro Boselli has yet to score in league play (he has 3 goals in Cup play) but he will occupy the attention of the Lichnovsky-Julio César Domínguez tandem in the middle of the Cruz Azul defense. Luis “El Chapo” Montes will come up against Iván Marcone, Cruz Azul’s bulldog midfielder who patrols in front of the back four.

The key to the match might be how León’s wide midfielders – Yairo Moreno and Maxi Cerato – fare against Cruz Azul fullbacks Adrián Aldrete on the left and Gerry Flores on the right. Aldrete and Flores have been key contributors on offense with runs down the flanks while looking to delivery centering passes for the sturdy Cementeros attack force.

Coach Pedro Caixinha’s preferred pairing up front has been Martín Cauteruccio and Édgar Méndez with Elías Hernández and Roberto Alvarado looking for space in support. León’s new central defense pairing of William Tesillo and Andrés Mosquera will be put to the test in front of keeper Rodolfo Cota.

Pumas at Monterrey

The undefeated Pumas take on the underperforming Rayados in the game on the Week 5 schedule. After a rampaging start to the season, UNAM struggled against last-place Pachuca last week in a disappointing 0-0 tie.

Monterrey was tipped by many observers to be a title contender but the Rayados have been slow to find their rhythm. Routed last week by América after being reduced to 10 men, Monterrey will hope to get into a comfort zone in the club’s second home game of the young season.

Although Stefan Medina will be missed at right fullback, Monterrey’s bigger problem has been finding the net. A team that boasts Avilés Hurtado, Rogelio Funes Mori, Dorlan Pabón and Rodolfo Pizarro should be averaging more than 1.25 goals per game.

Look for the Rayados to test young UNAM fullbacks Alan Mozo and Rosario Cota. The central defense pairing of Alan Mendoza and Alejandro Arribas has held up well in front of keeper Alfredo Saldívar.

The Pumas attack has been multi-pronged, benefiting from a rejuvenated Pablo Barrera at right-wing and new acquisitions Carlos González and Felipe Mora up front. Matías Alustiza has also provided a spark off the bench. The key to the match, however, might be in midfield where UNAM’s Víctor Malcorra and Kevin Escamilla will be hard-pressed to keep Pizarro and Jonathan Urretavizcaya under control.

If the game comes down to a shooting match, I like Monterrey goalie Marcelo Barovero to come out on top.

Puebla at Necaxa

Necaxa has won both its home games and lost both its road games, a trend that will not get them to the playoffs. Puebla has lost both its road games so that could bode well for the Rayos.

Coach Marcelo Michel has fashioned an appealing offensive approach conducted by Mati Fernández but Necaxa has suffered when dispossessed. Too often, goalie Hugo González has been asked to break up 1-on-1 opportunities but that is the inherent weakness of a high-risk attack.

Part of the fault lies in the failure of Rayos midfielders to track back quickly and Puebla will look to hit Necaxa on the counter as often as possible. Alejandro Chumacero and Jose Francisco Torres will be called upon to break out and find Lucas Cavallini, Francisco Acuña and Christian Tabó and put Necaxa defenders Leobardo López and Ventura Alvarado on their heels.

The Rayos need Víctor Dávila to rediscover his scoring touch, while Dieter Villalpando and Brian Fernández have been effective when touching the ball around the box. Necaxa will be challenged to find space against a disciplined Puebla defense.

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América at Querétaro

On paper, this should be a rout. The Águilas punished a very good Monterrey team last week, while the Gallos Blancos were spanked 4-0 at León. América has scored exactly 3 goals in 4 of its past 5 games while Querétaro has been shut out twice and scored once in its other two league matches.

América coach Miguel Herrera has a plethora of choices in attack – Roger Martínez and Oribe Peralta have been the favored pairing up front with Andrés Ibarguen and Diego Lainez wreaking havoc from the wings. And now with Cecilio Domínguez and Renato Ibarra back from injury, Querétaro will be hard-pressed to ground the high-flying Águilas attack.

The Gallos Blancos will hope that goalie Tiago Volpi is not short on confidence after he was shelled by León but the back four of Hirma Mier, Luis Romo, Miguel Samudio (an ex-Águila) and Jaime Gómez will be desperate for help from midfielders Aldo Arellano and Marcel Ruiz.

Lobos BUAP at Pachuca

Last-place Pachuca hosts the Lobos in the weekend’s least attractive match. Although the Tuzos have looked fine in Cup play, they have yet to score during open play in the league. Last weekend’s 0-0 draw at UNAM was a big surprise and earned Pachuca its only point of the season.

The Lobos have faced only one team from the top of the table (a 2-1 loss at Santos to open the season) so the Puebla-based club mist steal points if it is to remain above the relegation fight.


Tijuana at Toluca

Both clubs are staring up from the middle of the table despite having expectations of battling for home-field advantage in the playoffs. Toluca is without midfield general Rubens Sambueza but is coming off an upset of the Tigres on the road. Tijuana has settled for ties at home in its past two games.

Toluca will hope Alexis Canelo finds his scoring touch (he has been very ineffective this season) while working in tandem with Enrique Triverio. William da Silva and Luis “Quick” Mendoza will be called upon to pick up the slack created by Sambueza’s injury absence. Rodrigo Salinas and Cristian Borja have been big contributors from fullback and their forays will be relied upon to pin Tijuana back.

The Xolos must learn how to turn their clever, rapid-fire passing attack into goals. Diego Cocca has tinkered with his line-up but must decide who will lead the forward line. He has Erick “El Cubo” Torres, Miller Bolaños and Juan Martín Lucero have gotten starts, while the speedy Erick Castillo is ready to volunteer his services too. Twenty-one-year-old Jesús Angulo has proven capable of contributing too.

Goalies Alfredo Talavera (Toluca) and Miguel Lajud (Tijuana) could be the stars of this game.

Tigres at Santos

The Tigres have lost two straight but they will be in contention come playoff-time. Their roster is simply too deep for a prolonged slump. That roster will be put to the test at Estadio Corona as coach “Tuca” Ferretti will have to replace Javier Aquino and Guido Pizarro, both of whom were red-carded last week against Toluca.

Defending champs Santos has had 10 days since the stunning resignation of coach Robert Siboldi to overcome the turbulence. The club actually won last week at Guadalajara despite the obvious turmoil.

At home, Santos is always tough and Julio Furch, Johan Rodríguez and Brian Lozano will test the veteran back line of the Tigres which has been uncharacteristically unreliable this season. Part of the reason is the slow return to full fitness of skipper Juninho, but Hugo Ayala has been shaky too.

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The key battle in this match will be in midfield where the Santos duo of Osvaldo Martínez and José Juan Vázquez can create havoc for any opponent. Jesús Dueñas and Rafael Carioca will seek to counter with possession and patience, while Juergen Damm aims to occupy the right flank and find André-Pierre Gignac and Lucas Zelarayán in the box with crosses. Ismael Sosa and Eduardo Vargas will have to deliver if called upon to replace Aquino.