Liga MX: Jornada 9 – Monterrey hosts Guadalajara as Liga MX hits midway point

MONTERREY, MEXICO - AUGUST 12: Celso Ortiz of Monterrey fights for the ball with Carlos Salcido of Chivas during the 4th round match between Monterrey and Chivas as part of the Torneo Apertura 2017 Liga MX at BBVA Bancomer Stadium on August 12, 2017 in Monterrey, Mexico. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
MONTERREY, MEXICO - AUGUST 12: Celso Ortiz of Monterrey fights for the ball with Carlos Salcido of Chivas during the 4th round match between Monterrey and Chivas as part of the Torneo Apertura 2017 Liga MX at BBVA Bancomer Stadium on August 12, 2017 in Monterrey, Mexico. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/LatinContent/Getty Images) /

Monterrey entertains the Chivas on Saturday night as the Apertura 2018 season resumes after the disappointing FIFA break (El Tri lost both of its matches). Also Saturday, unbeaten Liga MX leader Cruz Azul visits a slumping Necaxa club while América hosts Morelia in Matchday 9’s most attractive game.


Toluca at Veracruz

The Diablos Rojos travel to the port city eager to develop momentum for the stretch run now that key players are returning to fitness. Skipper Rubens Sambueza came on as a second-half sub in a 2-1 win over Santos in Toluca’s last league match. The Clausura 2018 MVP missed four games with a muscle pull.

Veracruz seemed to have steadied the ship in Matchday 6 with a road win over Tijuana but then were trounced 4-1 by Cruz Azul last time out. The Tiburones are desperate for points in hopes of escaping the relegation zone and despite their poor record, they have won a reputation of playing hard regardless of the score.

Look for Toluca to press forward as the Choriceros start focusing on playoff seedings. The midfield pairing of Sambueza and William da Silva could be dangerous, but Toluca will need a striker to step up and start delivering. Enrique Triverio, maybe?


Puebla at Querétaro

Coach Rafa Puente has the Gallos Blancos playing well, crushing Morelia 4-1 in Matchday 8 in arguably the best road win for any club this season. Querétaro is led by Brazilian striker Camilo Sanvezzo (5 goals), while 17-year-old midfielder Marcel Ruiz has shown tons of promise. At the back, goalie Tiago Volpi remains one of the league’s best.

Puebla has been maddeningly inconsistent as witnessed by the Camoteros shocking 2-1 win over Monterrey two weeks ago. Yet the Poblanos lost at home to woeful Veracruz earlier in the season. Puebla has a potent attack up front – led by Lucas Cavallini and Ale Chumacero, but their 5-man back line does not always seem to be working in unison. Goalie Nicolás Vikonis has faced an ungodly amount of point-blank shots already this season.

Tigres at Pachuca

An intriguing match-up, to say the least. The Tigres have underachieved so far yet find themselves in position to ease into the playoffs. They have been hurt by injuries and red cards, so the sooner that central defender Juninho returns to full fitness the sooner equilibrium will return to the Tigres’ lines.

Pachuca, on the other hand, have been coming on strong and have not lost in any competition since Aug. 4. The Tuzos are still learning to play since skipper Erick Gutiérrez was sold to PSV Eindhoven late last month but youngsters Erick Aguirre and Víctor Guzmán are coming into their own. They both acquitted themselves well with the national team in Tuesday’s loss to Team USA. And once late signing Leo Ulloa becomes more familiar with his new mates, the Tuzos should become more dangerous on offense (only 10 goals in 7 league matches).

It will be interesting to see if Tigres coach Ricardo Ferretti suffers any hints of a hangover after losing twice as interim coach for El Tri during the FIFA break.

Morelia at América

For several weeks, Morelia was playing great disciplined soccer and appeared to be preparing to become the biggest surprise of the Apertura 2018 after losing last season’s third-leading scorer Raúl Ruidiaz who transferred to the Seattle Sounders. Then Querétaro marched into Estadio Morelos and completely undressed the Monarcas in a 4-1 rout.

Coach Roberto Hernández has had two weeks to lift his team’s spirits and gameplan for Miguel Herrera’s powerful América squad. Morelia better rediscover its discipline on defense – skipper Gabriel Achilier must take charge – and its efficiency with possession or the Águilas could repeat the spanking the Monarcas got last time out.

Morelia’s back line got caught out by Querétaro’s passing and ball movement so América will likely rely on the elusive wing pair of Cecilio Domínguez and Andrés Ibarguen while Oribe Peralta looks for space between defenders. It will be interesting to see if Coach Herrera sticks with Roger Martínez up front or if he turns to Henry Martín who has found the net in three straight games.

The midfield wrecking crew of Mateus Uribe and Guido Rodríguez will try to overpower their Monarcas counterparts. Morelia typically fields a 5-man midfield with Rodrigo Millar, Aldo Rocha and Diego Valdés pressing up high.

Morelia can’t come out tentatively and must be prepared to chase back and provide cover against the skilled América offense. This could be a match with both teams trading counterattacks.

Guadalajara at Monterrey

Both clubs are coming off disappointing losses in their last outings and each has a key player coming off injury.

The Chivas lost 3-1 at home to Pachuca in Matchday 8, ending a 5-game winning streak. It appeared that Guadalajara had overcome early season woes and was on track to claim a playoff spot, but questions remain about who the Chivas will look to for goals. Alan Pulido missed a few game due to injury but he was available for international duty with El Tri, as was strike partner Ángel Zaldívar.

More important will be the status of midfield dynamo Orbelín Pineda. The 22-year-old was held out of Tuesday’s Mexico-USA match after he picked up a knock in training. Coach José Cardozo desperately needs him in the middle of the pitch but he might not want to risk him with 9 games remaining.

Monterrey was stunned by Puebla last time out, giving up an injury time winner. The Rayados have appeared uninspired for long stretches of the season but they sit in 2nd place, a testament to the individual talent on the roster because the team has not clicked yet.

Monterrey midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro picked up an injury against Puebla and he was dropped from El Tri’s roster as a result. His status for Saturday’s game is critical because his ball handling skills in the center of the field takes pressure off wing forwards Dorlan Pabón and Avilés Hurtado. In addition, skipper José María Basanta limped out of practice this week and his absence in the middle of the Monterrey back line could leave a big hole. If he is held out, expect César Montes to take his spot.

There have been some murmurs in Monterrey over the team’s inconsistent play and coach Diego Alonso is starting to hear some criticism.

Cruz Azul at Necaxa

The unbeaten league leaders are expected to coast past the struggling Rayos even though Necaxa has played well at home (2-2-0). But Cruz Azul coach Pedro Caixinha has pulled all the right strings through the first half of the season and since the Cementeros desperate to return the playoffs he will not ease up now.

Cruz Azul’s offense runs though Elías Hernández and his 19-year-old sidekick Roberto Alvarado who will test the width of the Rayos defense. They also have capable (though not so productive) targets up front in Martín Cauteruccio, Milton Caraglio and Édgar Méndez.

On defense, Cruz Azul has gotten strong performances from Pablo Aguilar and Julio César Domínguez while Iván Marcone has been a truly pleasant surprise as a deep-lying midfielder shielding the central defenders. When called upon, goalie Jesús Corona has been outstanding as the Cementeros have given up just 3 goals all season.

Necaxa must rediscover its offensive rhythm and to do so Mati Fernández will have to be on his game. His awareness and passing guides the young Rayos’ attack and Necaxa’s forwards can’t afford to waste scoring opportunities. If Necaxa is careless with the ball, Cruz Azul will zap them on the counter and Rayos keeper Hugo González might get an unwanted workout.

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Lobos BUAP at UNAM

UNAM turned around its fortunes last week with a big win at León and they will look to maintain the momentum against relegation-threatened Lobos. The Pumas have an explosive attack though Carlos González has been in a slump while Felipe Mora has found his scoring touch. Expect Pablo Barrera to press forward and send frequent passes toward his teammates up front.

The Lobos probably won’t provide too much of a test for the Pumas defense (they’ve only scored 4 goals in 8 games) and I predict they’ll park the bus in front of goalie Antonio Rodríguez in hopes of keeping the score manageable.

León at Santos

Definitely the best game of the day, visiting León must shake off a disappointing home loss to the Pumas in Matchday 8. Santos is 3-1-0 at home this season and their offense will provide a stern test for the visitors.

Up front, Mauro Boselli, Yairo Moreno and Maxi Cerato must go hard at the youngsters on the Santos back line. If midfield general Luis Montes is given time and space, he will exploit any weaknesses he sees.

For Santos, defenders José Abella (24 years old), Jesús Angulo (20) and Gerardo Arteaga (19) all trained with El Tri this past week, though Arteaga is unlikely to start against León. They each are growing in confidence and maturity, but they must prove themselves week-to-week in Liga MX.

At the other end of the field, the Santos attacking trident of Julio Furch, Jonathan Rodríguez and Brian Lozano have sparkled. Expect them to make life miserable for León’s central defense pairing of William Tesillo and Andrés Mosquera. León will be without defensive midfielder Pedro Aquino (red-carded against the Pumas) and his absence could be exploited by Rodríguez.

Tijuana at Atlas

Atlas is coming off a shattering Copa MX loss to second division Zacatepec and are winless in the league. New coach Guillermo Hoyos will tinker with the line-up to see if he can shake things up, but we aren’t expecting any miracles.

Tijuana has seen a promising season fall apart despite a high-energy attack, because its scorers can’t find the net. A late goal against Necaxa in the last game may have saved coach Diego Cocca’s job, but the clock is ticking.

The most interesting part of this match might be the duel between two good young goalies – 21-year-old José Hernández for Atlas and 24-year-old Miguel Lajud for Tijuana.