Liga MX: Pachuca spanks league-leading Cruz Azul; Atlas wins

PACHUCA, MEXICO - SEPTEMBER 29: Victor Guzman (L) of Pachuca fights for the ball with Adrian Aldrete (R) of Cruz Azul during the 11th round match between Pachuca and Cruz Azul as part of the Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Hidalgo Stadium on September 29, 2018 in Pachuca, Mexico. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images)
PACHUCA, MEXICO - SEPTEMBER 29: Victor Guzman (L) of Pachuca fights for the ball with Adrian Aldrete (R) of Cruz Azul during the 11th round match between Pachuca and Cruz Azul as part of the Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Hidalgo Stadium on September 29, 2018 in Pachuca, Mexico. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

A wild first two days of the Liga MX weekend saw two major upsets.

Cruz Azul is at risk of being knocked off the top of the table after getting spanked by Pachuca Saturday night and Matchday 11 provided a couple of firsts: the first win of the season for Atlas and the first home loss of the season for Necaxa.

Elsewhere, both Monterrey teams won: the Tigres looked solid in defeating Querétaro on the road while the Rayados splashed past Tijuana in a steady rain.

Pachuca 3, Cruz Azul 1

The Tuzos looked impressive at home, manhandling the league-leading Cementeros with a new-look line-up. Coach Pako Ayestarán sent out a 3-4-2-1 alignment that seemed to confuse Cruz Azul and midfielder Víctor Guzmán ran rampant in the first half, assisting on all 3 goals.

Leo Ulloa opened the scoring in minute 8 for Pachuca, rising above Pablo Aguilar to head home a perfect chipped cross by Guzmán. The Tuzos shut down the middle of the pitch, and Cruz Azul settled for sending long balls forward from the back line, showing little patience.

Raúl López also wreaked havoc with the Cementeros defense, teaming up with Guzmán to dominate the right flank. His deep runs and accurate crosses pinned back Cruz Azul and led to several corner kicks.

In minute 22, Cruz Azul fullback José Madueña was shown red after a rash challenge. Pachuca widened its lead off a corner kick 9 minutes later when defender Miguel Tapias collected a pass from Guzmán at the top of the box and fired a low shot that deflected off Aguilar and into the net. The 21-year-old Tapias was playing only his 4th first division game and he looked solid in the 3-man back line alongside veteran Oscar Murilllo and 22-year-old Alexis Peña.

Pablo López scored in minute 43, blasting home a left-footer after gathering in a pass from Guzmán after Erick Aguirre made a dummy run in front of the pass, pulling the Cruz Azul defenders into the middle and leaving López all alone at the back post.

Aguilar narrowed the deficit just before halftime with a header off a corner kick, but the Cementeros could not get any closer and they are now in danger of falling out of first place. If América wins the SuperClásico Sunday night, they will catch Cruz Azul at 23 points but take over first on goal differential. Pachuca moved into 8th place with the win.

Cruz Azul had only given up 5 goals heading into Saturday’s game, but the Tuzos beat Jesús Corona three times before the break.

The game was the first Liga MX match since February 2006 in which both coaches were from Europe. Ayestarán is Spanish and Cruz Azul coach Pedro Caixinha is from Portugal. On Feb 11, 2006, Spaniard Juan Manuel Lillo and his Dorados of Sinaloa tied the Chivas 1-1 with Dutchman Hans Westerhof coaching Guadalajara.

Necaxa 0, Santos 1

Julio Furch scored off a header in minute 24 and Santos goalie second-choice keeper Carlos Acevedo made the goal stand up with a sparkling performance in place of Jonathan Orozco.

Dieter Villalpando – who had an awful game and was replaced at halftime – made a blind, cross-field pass that Santos midfielder Jesús Isijara accepted. The former Necaxa player dribbled to the touch-line then lofted a cross to the back post that Furch nodded home for his 8th goal of the season.

By then, Acevedo had already made three brilliant saves and he made four more before the final whistle. Necaxa let fire 19 shots and enjoyed 66% possession, but too often seemed intent on looking for the perfect through pass instead of yo-yoing the ball from side-to-side and looking for space in the Santos defense. But to be fair, the visitors remained disciplined with their marking and the central defense pairing of Matheus Doria and Hugo Nervo were strong in the air.

With the win, Santos moves momentarily into 2nd place, pending the results of Sunday’s matches. Necaxa remains in 15th place.

Atlas 2, Toluca 0

Atlas stunned 3rd-place Toluca and doubled its goal tally, sending the Estadio Jalisco faithful into ecstasy with its first win of the season.

Jefferson Duque headed in the opener in minute 32 and Ulises Cardona finished off a nifty counterattack in minute 78 with the clincher. In between, Toluca captain Rubens Sambueza was ejected for mouthing off to the ref.

Atlas came into the game having scored only 1 goal in the first 10 games of the season and Toluca appeared to think they could play at half-speed and collect 3 points. Striker Alexis Vega was particularly wasteful, misfiring on two clear scoring opportunities when the game was still scoreless. He went on to squander two other chances.

With the loss, Toluca tumbles from 3rd to 5th and the Pumas need only a tie Sunday to leapfrog the Diablos Rojos.

Querétaro 0, Tigres 2

Striker André-Pierre Gignac scored twice in the second half to lead the Tigres to a critical road victory and strengthen their hold on a playoff spot with 6 games still remaining. The game was evenly matched though the Gallos Blancos only managed to get 1 shot on net.

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Gignac struck in minute 49, trapping a rebound of a Julián Quiñones shot just above the penalty spot, then cooly slotting home before the defense could recover. His second goal – and league-leading 8th of the season – was a beauty. He timed his run from midfield perfectly, split the two centerbacks and ran onto Chaka Rodríguez’s lead pass, dribbled toward the box then rifled a shot that grazed the inside of the near post.

Monterrey 3, Tijuana 0

The injury-riddled Rayados opened with a 5-man back line and a lone striker but they had more than enough to beat the visiting Xolos in a driving rain. The game was called in minute 83 as the puddles dotting the field made it impossible to continue playing.

Rogelio Funes Mori fired home from a sharp angle in minute 11 to give Monterrey the early lead they needed. Nico Sánchez converted a penalty in minute 57 and Jesús Gallardo closed the scoring in minute 76, getting a big assist from the poor field conditions. A Tijuana back pass hit a puddle and stopped and before goalie Miguel Lajud could get to the ball, Gallardo swooped in and converted the gift.

Monterrey moved into 4th place with the win, while Tijuana saw its 3-game win streak snapped, falling into 10th place though even on points with 8th-place Pachuca. The Xolos’ goal differential (minus-4 through 11 games) could end up costing them a playoff spot.

Veracruz 0, León 4

The Esmeraldas found the perfect answer to their recent woes and they made the league’s worst defense pay. Mauro Boselli scored 4 minutes into the match, Luis Montes added a brace and Walter González also found the back of the net.

Veracruz has now given up 25 goals through 11 games (Necaxa is second-worst with 17 goals conceded) and they were never in this match. New León coach Ignacio Ambriz appears to have gotten the attention of the slumping “Panzas Verdes” who had lost 4 straight. León advanced to the Copa MX quarterfinals with a 2-0 road win at Necaxa on Tuesday to end the losing streak, and Friday’s victory in the port city means the club’s postseason hopes are still alive.