The most attractive game on the Matchday 17 schedule pits defending champion Santos against the high-scoring UNAM Pumas.
Both teams are angling to finish as high in the table as possible so as to have home-field advantage in the Liguilla, knowing that a loss Sunday could throw a wrench in plans to hoist the Liga MX trophy.
Both Santos and Pumas now know that Saturday night wins by Monterrey and the Tigres means a loss will drop them into 6th place – and maybe 7th if Toluca wins big vs Lobos later Sunday. A 7th place finish means a quarterfinal match-up with No. 2 seed América. Not a pleasant thought. A win results in a 3rd seed, while a tie means Pumas finish 3rd and Santos finishes 4th.
It seems unlikely that coaches David Patiño (Pumas) or Salvador Reyes (Santos) will hold back since the consequences of a loss are so dramatic.
Pumas: 1-0 win at Toluca
The Pumas got a lovely first-half goal from Carlos González off a perfect through pass from Alan Mozo then held off Toluca with rugged defense to earn a tough road win. The Pumas continue to be comfortable – and effective – playing on the counter and they demonstrated it again by turning their 40% possession into 15 shots. Goalie Alfredo Saldívar played a nice game to earn another clean sheet, his 6th of the season (but only one of those came at home).
Santos: 1-1 tie vs América
The champs squandered a chance to move into 2nd place when they failed to hold a second-half lead against the Águilas. Julio Furch scored his 12th of the season with a nice header off a corner kick in minute 50 (after missing a sitter in the first half). Jonathan Rodríguez also missed an opportunity to put Santos up 2-0. Still, Santos showed again that it is a genuine title contender.
Mozo – Arribas – Quintana – Mendoza
Barrera – Iniestra – Malcorra – Rodríguez
González – Mora
Coach David Patiño has been alternation Luis Fernando Quintana and Pablo Jáquez in central defense and he might opt for the veteran Quintana against Santos. The midfield pairing of Andrés Iniestra and Víctor Malcorra will have their hands full with the Guerreros speed up front. Carlos González has been hot but he might have trouble against the strong Santos defense.
Angulo – Nervo – Doria – Arteaga
Vázquez – Martínez
Lozano – Rodríguez – Preciado
I’m uncertain if Jesús Angulo is available to fill the spot vacated by captain José Abella who was red-carded against América. He broke a bone in his hand two weeks back while on duty with El Tri. Maybe we’ll see Gerardo Alcoba, the former Puma, line up against his former mates. José Juan Vázquez had a sub-par game against América but I’d expect him to be the wrecking ball in midfield that torments opponents. Santos’ fullbacks must be ready for lots of running since the Pumas love to attack from the wings.
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Pumas: Defender Alejandro Arribas is the leader of UNAM’s back line and he will have to be on his toes marking the dangerous Julio Furch and making sure the defense is well-positioned to handle the speed and quickness Santos relies on.
Santos: Winger Bryan Lozano got roughed up by América and was rather ineffective. He has a chance to make a difference Sunday since left fullback Alan Mendoza has proven vulnerable against speed. With Furch likely to earn extra attention in the middle of the box, Lozano must take advantage of the space he is afforded.
The Pumas have not been a very good home team this season, and have not won at the CU since Matchday 9 back on Sept. 16. Since Santos is one of only 3 teams that have not lost at home, they will be eager to finish the regular season with a high seed, meaning they must win Sunday. The Pumas have overachieved all season, but I just think the defending champs will find a way to win.