Liga MX: Slumping Pumas look to right ship against León

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - AUGUST 25: Juan Iturbe (L) , Martin Rodriguez (C) and Kevin Escamilla (R) of Pumas reacts after the 7th round match between America and Pumas UNAM as part of the Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Azteca Stadium on August 25, 2018 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - AUGUST 25: Juan Iturbe (L) , Martin Rodriguez (C) and Kevin Escamilla (R) of Pumas reacts after the 7th round match between America and Pumas UNAM as part of the Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Azteca Stadium on August 25, 2018 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Week 8 offers only two games pairing teams currently in playoff position but the most intriguing match is the Pumas visit to León on Saturday night.

Elsewhere in Liga MX, Cruz Azul will try to maintain its unbeaten record against Veracruz while the surging Chivas welcome a revived Pachuca club to Guadalajara.


Querétaro at Morelia

The unspectacular Gallos Blancos visit the Monarcas on a bit of a high, compiling a 3-1-0 record in their past 4 matches in all competitions. The club’s 1-0 victory over León in a Wednesday Copa MX match put Enrique Meza’s boys in position to win its group and they looked good in a 1-0 road win over UNAM 10 days ago.

Morelia is a steady force whose only blemish is a season-opening loss at Toluca. Since then, the Monarcas have demonstrated tactical discipline and a killer instinct when opponents lose concentration.

Fourth-place Morelia needs a win to head into the FIFA break in the top four spots while the Gallos Blancos must overcome their road woes to sustain their postseason hopes. This game could be a staid, 1-0 affair.

Monterrey at Puebla

The visiting Rayados have been arguably the league’s most underperforming team, their roster full of talent failing to produce the offensive explosions expected of them. They seem to do just enough to win, but that won’t work in the playoffs.

These two teams have faced each twice in Copa Mx play already this season (Monterrey winning at home 2-1 and fashioning a 1-1 tie at Puebla), but those games won’t impact how handicappers look at this contest. The Camoteros have been inconsistent and a bit shaky on defense.

Despite their misfiring offense, the Rayados could hit the FIFA break in great shape if they can hit the target. Expect Puebla goalie Nicolás Vikonis to be tested early and often.

Necaxa at Tijuana

This could be a high-scoring affair in the border city, but not because of the offensive prowess of the Rayos and Xolos. These two teams are among the six clubs that have given up double-figure goals in 7 matches thus far.

Necaxa likes to push forward en masse, often leaving its back line exposed. The Rayos midfielders don’t always track back with any real commitment. To add to the vulnerability, Rayos keeper Hugo González has not always held up well when facing sustained pressure.

Tijuana – especially at home – seems to enjoy flowing attacking possessions, even sustaining pressure in their offensive third. The Xolos problem is getting the ball into the net. Coach Diego Cocca has failed to find a reliable strike force despite having Miller Bolaños, Erick “El Cubo” Torres, Eryc Castillo and Juan Martín Lucero to call upon.

The artificial surface at Estadio Caliente would seem to fit the style of play for both teams which could suggest a fast-paced game. Tijuana will have to cut off Necaxa’s complex midfield passing system and shut down Mati Fernández while the Rayos must fall back in order when they lose possession.


Veracruz at Cruz Azul

The Cementeros hit the road coming off their first loss of the season, a midweek 1-0 setback at Atlas in a Copa MX match. Although the game would seem to be easy pickings since Veracruz gives up a lot of goals and has the league’s worst goal differential, Cruz Azul has not played well on the road this season.

Cruz Azul must find some production from its strikers and avoid an over-reliance on winger Elías Hernández. Although Martín Cauteruccio has shown some promise, he has been reliant on services. Édgar Méndez has been mostly unimpressive (I have yet to see him beat a defender 1-on-1) and Milton Caraglio has proven more effective as a decoy.

On defense, the Cementeros are extremely efficient so Veracruz (5 goals in 7 matches) must capitalize if and when they get a chance. On paper, this should be a mismatch, but the Tiburones have demonstrated toughness and resilience, even when trailing in matches (which has been often).

Pumas at León

UNAM must rediscover their early season magic or coach David Patiño’s head will be on the chopping block. The Pumas had 10 goals through 3 games but have scored only twice in the past 4 matches. You simply aren’t going to win that way.

Léon has won 3 of its 4 most recent league games, while scoring 8 goals. Striker Mauro Boselli has found his touch after being blanked through the first 5 games of the season. With Rodolfo Cota standing tall in the net, the Esmeraldas pose a tough challenge for the Pumas.

The Pumas are coming off a disheartening result last weekend when 9-man América tied them at the death followed by a 1-0 loss on Wednesday at Necaxa in a Copa match. They also must deal with the absence of central defender Alejandro Arribas who dislocated his elbow late in the game against the Águilas.

If their defense holds up against Boselli, Luis Montes and Dairo Moreno, the Pumas must hope their misfiring forward line fixes their issues. Specifically, Felipe Mora, Matías Alustiza and Pablo Barrera must step forward to turn the UNAM season around.

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Atlas at Tigres

Cellar-dwelling Atlas travels to Monterrey to take on the dangerous Tigres in another match that would seem to be an easy pick for bettors. The Zorros have not scored a goal in 7 league matches but the Tigres have not played up to their potential, going 1-1-3 since a 2-0-0 start to the season.

Atlas did win in the Copa MX midweek, but coach Gerardo Espinoza is desperate for a result in league play. Figuring out how to tame the Tigres will not be easy, especially if wingers Juergen Damm and Javier Aquino are given space to operate.

The Tigres’ defense has struggled at times, but central defender Juninho is nearing full fitness after starting the season on the sidelines with an injury. Even so, coach Tuca Ferretti will not want his Tigres to be the first team to give up a goal to the Zorros.

Pachuca at Guadalajara

Tuzos skipper Erick Gutiérrez left the team for PSV Eindhoven and coach Pako Ayestarán will have to find someone to fill those very big shoes. Gutiérrez has been a key distributor and pace-setter on offense, so line-mates Erick Aguirre and Víctor Guzmán (both of whom received a call-up to the national team for the upcoming FIFA dates) will have to step forward.

Guadalajara snatched 9 points in 8 days last week and suddenly finds themselves in the thick of the playoff discussion. Midfielders Orbelín Pineda and Javier Eduardo López have been in excellent form of late and I’d look for them to keep the Pachuca defense on its heels. Jorge “Burrito” Hernández will have his hands full chasing the Chivas. Striker Alan Pulido will be available for Guadalajara coach José Cardozo, seeing midweek action in Copa play after an injury lay-off.

Pachuca’s forwards must show up. Franco Jara has not played well and new signing Leo Ulloa does not appear ready for 90 minutes, but he could see action.


Santos at Toluca

The host Diablos have appeared discombobulated since losing captain Rubens Sambueza to injury in Week 3 and he won’t be back for several more weeks. Although Willian da Silva has taken a bigger role, he simply can’t impose his will on the match like Sambueza. Still, the larger problem has been inconsistent play from strikers Enrique Triverio, Alexis Canelo and Amaury Escoto. Triverio has been knocked around a bit, but Canelo has been a big disappointment.

The key to this match will be on the flanks where Santos flyers Jonathan Rodríguez and Brian Lozano had wreaked havoc since the playoffs last season. If striker Julio Furch is fit again after missing last weekend’s game, the Toluca defense better be on its toes. Fullbacks Rodrigo Salinas and Cristián Borja have been very effective going forward but if they shirk their defensive responsibilities, Santos will strike.

Toluca keeper Alfredo Talavera will be tested and he might be called upon to come off his line quite regularly to cut off Santos opportunities.

América at Lobos BUAP

Yet another apparent mismatch in Week 8. Quite simply América is loaded while Lobos have one of the most modest payrolls in the league.

Despite the roster shortcomings, Lobos coach Paco Palencia has gotten his team to play above its weight though the results don’t show it.

The Águilas might have to battle overconfidence, so coach Miguel Herrera could experiment with his line-up. Look for Week 7 hero Henry Martín to see action after he scored a late equalizer against UNAM then found the net again in América’s Copa match.