América looks to extend its unbeaten streak to 22, while Cruz Azul is simply trying to salvage its season.
Matchday 3 kicked off Friday night but the more intriguing storylines involve tonight’s games as champs América host Pachuca at Estadio Azteca and struggling Cruz Azul visits the Tigres.
The Aguilas are flying high after claiming their 13th league title in December by closing the Apertura 2018 season with a 19-game unbeaten streak and swatting aside Cruz Azul 2-0 in the Grand Finale. Coach Miguel Herrera has been juggling his line-up this month, dealing with injuries and departures, but has done a masterful job in keeping his boys motivated.
The Azulcremas face an ambitious Pachuca team at Estadio Azteca Saturday night and the Tuzos will be eager to avenge last season’s 3-1 loss at home. Pachuca just missed out on the playoffs last season and ownership brought in some firepower during the transfer window to address their offensive shortcomings.
After receiving a 5-0 pounding from Monterrey in their season-opener, the Tuzos bounced back with a convincing 3-0 win over lowly Querétaro. Saturday’s contest will be a good test of where they stand. Coach Pako Ayestarán hopes his new attack force – featuring Ismael Sosa (Tigres), Víctor Dávila (Necaxa) and Edwin Cardona (Boca Juniors) – will make a dent in América’s formidable defensive wall.
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The Aguilas expect to have midfield dynamo Mateus Uribe back after the Colombian missed the first few weeks of the year with a knock. He’ll join Guido Rodríguez to fortify the middle of the field and the pair will keep close track of Pachuca’s young duo of Erick Aguirre and Víctor Guzmán.
América also should have winger Cecilio Domínguez at their disposal as the club announced they would continue to use the Paraguayan until Argentina’s Independiente pays the fee it owes to complete the agreed-upon trade. Domínguez was all set to go to Argentina 10 days ago, but was summoned back to the club and has been a key contributor to the Aguilas league and Cup win thus far. He might not start, but he’ll surely play.
In Monterrey, Cruz Azul will attempt to find a solution to their early-season blues, but the loaded Tigres line-up will present a daunting challenge. Since their bitter loss to América in the Final, the Cementeros have looked in complete disarray despite boosting their line-up with several key acquisitions.
Coach Pedro Caixinha has seen his team go 0-1-2 to open the season, including a Cup loss this past Wednesday. The Cementeros have lost both games at Estadio Azteca where the team was undefeated last season until the 2-0 loss in the Final.
New striker Jonathan Rodríguez scored both goals in Cruz Azul’s 3-2 Cup loss to León, but he still appears to be adjusting to his new role and his new mates. Midfielder Orbelín Pineda has not offered very much thus far, but I think that is partly because the back line tends to look to pass to the forwards instead of controlling the ball through midfield. That must change is Pineda is to contribute effectively.
The Tigres are determined to restate their claim to title contender status after last season’s disappointing showing when they lost in the quarterfinals of the playoffs after barely qualifying for the postseason.
Striker André-Pierre Gignac has scored in both league games thus far, demonstrating his desire to lead the league in goals for a second straight season. He and the Tigres offense will face a staunch Cementeros defense that has yet to record a shut-out this year after posting 11 clean sheets last season.
Coach Ricardo Ferretti might be a bit concerned about his back line which might get a boost in the coming days as defender Carlos Salcedo appears set to agree to a trade from Eintracht Frankfurt. But tonight, the Tigres will likely rely on the double pivot of Guido Pizarro and Rafael Carioca providing cover for the central defenders.
Elsewhere Saturday, Querétaro hosts Monterrey. On Sunday, the Pumas welcome Atlas, Necaxa visits Lobos BUAP and Toluca travels to Guadalajara to take on the Chivas in the nightcap. On Friday night, Puebla managed a 1-1 tie with visiting Santos and host Morelia sent Veracruz closer to relegation with a 2-0 victory over the Tiburones.