Liga MX: Matchday 11: All eyes on Estadio Azteca for SuperClásico

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 24: Pablo Aguilar of America (L) fights for the ball with Alan Pulido of Chivas (R) during the quarter finals first leg match between America and Chivas as part of the Torneo Apertura 2016 Liga MX at Azteca Stadium on November 24, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Miguel Tovar/LatinContent/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 24: Pablo Aguilar of America (L) fights for the ball with Alan Pulido of Chivas (R) during the quarter finals first leg match between America and Chivas as part of the Torneo Apertura 2016 Liga MX at Azteca Stadium on November 24, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Miguel Tovar/LatinContent/Getty Images) /

The SuperClásico! El Clásico de Clásicos!

Yes … it is Chivas-América week and the Liga MX derby brings down the curtain on Matchday 11, with kickoff slated for 6 pm Sunday.

A few other weekend clashes should be of great interest – Cruz Azul at Pachuca, Santos at Necaxa and Tigres at Querétaro – but the lion’s share of attention will be paid to the battle at Estadio Azteca.

Chivas at América

Both teams stumbled in Copa MX action during the week – América suffered shock elimination at the hands of second division Juárez – and must refocus on the task at hand. The Águilas and Chivas fought to a 1-1 tie last season in Week 10 in Guadalajara and América won 2-1 (also a Week 10 match) the last time the two rivals squared off in Estadio Azteca.

América coach Miguel Herrera has been taking heat for throwing a few of his players under the bus after the Copa fiasco. In particular, “El Piojo” singled out youngster Jorge Sánchez for his missed penalty kick during the shootout. The feisty coach has also been quick to blame referees when things go wrong. There are whispers that patience is running out and a poor result against the Chivas could spell disaster for the head coach.

Chivas coach José Cardozo ratcheted up the tension ahead of the SuperClásico during a post-match press conference Wednesday night.

Despite losing to the Pumas at home for the first time in 36 years and being eliminated from the Copa MX, Cardozo chose to mock América for its loss to Juárez. When asked if his players would be emotionally down heading into the derby, Cardozo said: “Losing should have a greater affect on our opponent because they lost to a first division team. If anybody is going to be down, it would be them.”

América sits in second place only 3 points behind leader Cruz Azul while the Chivas sit outside the playoff spots after giving up a last-second equalizer to Querétaro in Matchday 10. Guadalajara is desperate to make the postseason after missing out the last two seasons, including a 17th-place finish last season.

The Chivas have been one of the league’s best road teams this season, posting a 3-1-1 mark while the Águilas have yet to lose at home (3-1-0) and have a decided 10-3 goal differential when playing in the Colossus of Santa Ursula.

The Chivas are likely to be missing midfield stalwarts Orbelín Pineda and Michael Pérez, as both have yet to recover from leg injuries suffered earlier this month. Pineda has been a creative force in midfield while Pérez had been his typical bulldog self on defense until the injuries. Without these two key players, Cardozo has to hope his youngsters – especially Alan Cervantes – are up to the challenge. On the positive side, striker Alan Pulido appears to be back in good form and if he doesn’t start he will be ready when called upon.

América is still without wunderkind Diego Lainez who has not recovered from a bad ankle knock he took in practice but coach Herrera has plenty of options to choose from. The microscope will be on Herrera if and when he has to make tactical adjustments during the game. Herrera is not known as a good game manager.

Another key will be the performance of goalies Agustín Marchesín (América) and Raúl Gudiño (Chivas). I expect both to be tested early and often. The battles out wide are key for the Chivas since Guido Rodríguez and Mateus Uribe are likely to control the middle of the pitch for América. Isaac Brizuela and Walter Sandoval will have to spread the Águilas defense and hope Cervantes and Fernando Beltrán can occupy the Águilas midfield pair and keep them from leaping forward into attack.


León at Veracruz

Toluca at Atlas

Neither of these games are particularly attractive.

León has been in free fall while Veracruz has proven to be a scrappy rival that won’t go down to defeat easily though the Tiburones have 6 losses already. León upset Necaxa in a midweek Copa match on the road, a contrast to its 1-1-3 road record in league play that includes a minus-7 goal differential. New coach Ignacio Ambriz hs his work cut out for him but the Esmeraldas must win if they aspire to a postseason appearance.

Third-place Toluca has played poorly against lesser competition all season but a road win vs Atlas will solidify their position near the top of the table. Atlas has been outscored 1-16 on the year. The Diablos must collect all 3 points here because they face a stretch of four straight playoff contenders in October.


Tigres at Querétaro

One or both of these teams could drop out of playoff position this weekend though the host Gallos Blancos might be satisfied with a tie the way the Tigres played Wednesday in their Copa match.

Still, despite a high-powered line-up, coach Tuca Ferretti has not been able to get the best out of his team from week-to-week. Their defense has been solid (second-best in the league) but their talented attacking players have underperformed (only 14 goals in 10 games). It does not help that shifty winger Javier Aquino is out injured.

Pierre-André Gignac has been deadly when given the opportunity, but his strike-mates occasionally seem disinclined to look for him. Lucas Zelarayán and Edu Vargas have been disappointments this season, while Enner Valencia and Julián Quiñones have not played up to their potential either. Ferretti absolutely must start getting some consistency out of his offense.

Querétaro relies on Brazilian Camilo Sanvezzo for scoring and the Gallos Blancos might be catching a break since Tigres skipper Juninho will not be centering the defense after picking up a red card last week. Gael Acosta and Daniel Villalva must contribute if only to take pressure off the Gallos Blancos defense because Tigres will try to control tempo and maintain possession.

This game also features top-notch goalies and Tiago Volpi (Querétaro) and Nahuel Guzmán (Tigres) are capable of keeping scoresheets clean.

Cruz Azul at Pachuca

The league-leading Cementeros take to the road determined to keep piling up points though their record away from home is unimpressive (only 3 goals in 4 games). Until winning at Tijuana on Tuesday in a Copa match, Cruz Azul had not won an away game since Aug. 1 (also a Copa match, at Zacatepec) and have not won a league game on the road since beating the Chivas 1-0 on July 28.

Pachuca has struggled to score and Tuzos coach Pako Ayestarán might turn to Leo Ulloa after the Argentine striker produced a hat trick in Tuesday’s Copa match. The Tuzos have been steady though not spectacular on defense but Pedro Caixinha’s Cementeros have been opportunistic all season long.

This promises to be a low-scoring match and one goal could do it.

Santos at Necaxa

Necaxa is unbeaten at home but they are coming off an absolutely terrible performance in a Copa MX loss on Tuesday. Rayos coach Marcelo Michel did not use his first-choice line-up but he can’t be pleased with the lack of effort shown by several players.

One player who fought hard after coming on as a sub is Brian Fernández and he will be in the starting line-up along striker Víctor Dávila. Along with Mati Fernández, these three figure to be Necaxa’s point of attack.

Necaxa has been vulnerable to the counter all season and Santos is one of the league’s best quick-strike team. With Julio Furch as a target for outlet passes and the duo of Brian Lozano and Johan Rodríguez always on the lookout to press forward, Santos could be the first visiting team to win at Estadio Victoria in league play.

The key to the game will be Necaxa’s possession. If the Rayos can control the ball and avoid bad turnovers, they could pull off another surprise. If they are careless, or if Santos’ capable defense shuts down Necaxa’s quick-passing attack, the Rayos might be forced to start looking ahead to next season rather early.

Tijuana at Monterrey

The Xolos have won three straight 1-0 games and they visit Estadio BBVA Bancomer at the right time as the Rayados camp looks like a hospital.

Monterrey lost Alfonso González last month and Jonathan Urretaviscaya 10 days ago. Both are out for the season. Forward Avilés Hurtado suffered a hamstring injury two weeks ago and Rodolfo Pizzarro is playing on one leg. The Rayados were built to outscore opponents but their firepower has been significantly diminished.

Tijuana suffered a tough loss to Cruz Azul in a Copa match this week, but Diego Cocca’s men know another win puts them right in the middle of the playoff race. Miller Bolaños and Erick Castillo will be called upon to race at the big Monterrey center backs while Nacho Rivero and “Pulpo” González will be free to take aim from distance.

Depending how the first half hour plays out, the Rayados might sit back and play for a tie, hoping to collect points one at a time until more healthy bodies are available.

Puebla at UNAM

It’s time to take a closer look at the Pumas. Despite an early season slump and a few stumbles in the Copa, coach David Patiño has his young club in the Copa quarterfinals and in 4th place in the league. UNAM boasts the third highest scoring team and the fourth-best defense.

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UNAM will attack, attack, attack and Puebla will likely park the bus in hopes of keeping it close while looking for a way to get forward with Lucas Cavallini and Christian Tabo. Puebla goalie Nicolás Vikonis can expect to face at least a half-dozen shots on goal, especially since young fullbacks Alan Mozo and Alan Mendoza have become much more comfortable pressing forward down the flanks and getting involved in attack.

Since none of the top 6 teams play each other this week, UNAM can’t afford to squander points in a game they are favored to win. One concern will be striker Matías Alustiza who was carted off late in Wednesday’s Cup match with an apparent hamstring injury. That means Carlos González must step up.

Morelia at Lobos BUAP

If Morelia has any hopes of being involved in the playoff discussion, they must win Sunday. Lobos has been in the bottom two almost all season and they seem destined for relegation in May.