Matchday 7 offers two of the best Liga MX “Clásicos” – a Mexico City derby and the Guadalajara derby – but the weekend begins with an intriguing tripleheader on Friday night.
League-leading Monterrey travels to Morelia to battle the Monarcas in the first game, while Puebla hosts Pachuca and Veracruz visits Tijuana. The Rayados bring their potent offense to the Michoacán capital determined to hold onto their spot atop the table.
Pachuca is the only other team playing Friday night that is in the top half of the table (the Tuzos are in 7th place), but all three games have compelling storylines.
Rayados at Monarcas
The Monarcas are 1-0-2 at home this season and they could be playing to save coach Roberto Hernández’s job. Four coaches have already been axed this season through six weeks.
Sitting in 16th place, Morelia has seen its fortunes shift dramatically in the past 4 months.
This time last season, the Monarcas were in 5th place before a slump forced them to make a late charge that saw them come up just short, missing out on a playoff spot on the final weekend of the Apertura 2018.
Through six games of the Clausura, coach Hernández has lost his touch. The Monarcas are struggling to score and lack the tactical discipline that was the hallmark of their early success last season.
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If Hernández is indeed facing a must-win situation, he drew the wrong opponent. Undefeated Monterrey has been merciless through six games, scoring 17 goals. But the Rayados have not been terribly impressive on the road, posting a 1-1-0 record with 3 goals scored and 2 goals allowed.
Morelia will need to be virtually error-free on defense which is hard to do when you play a pressing style against a quick, counter-attacking team like Monterrey. If the Monarcas can maintain their poise and get to the second half in a tie game, there could be an exciting finish in Estadio Morelos.
Pachuca at Puebla
This game features two coaches who were not in the league when the season started: Pachuca’s Martin Palermo and Puebla’s José Luis Sánchez Solá.
Palermo – a star at Boca Juniors and the Argentine national team – stepped into the Tuzos’ head coaching position in Matchday 4 and has yet to lose in the league, going 2-1-0, including last week’s 2-0 win over Morelia.
Sánchez Solá, a Puebla native, will be back on the Puebla bench for the first time in nearly nine years. “Chelis” takes over for Enrique “Ojitos” Meza who was fired after a Week 5 loss to Necaxa.
Under Palermo, Pachuca is now more of an offensive team with four attacking players up front and Víctor Guzmán – the team’s leading scorer last season – playing in a deeper role while serving as a trailer and a long-distance threat. However, this means Pachuca can be vulnerable at the back, especially if fullbacks Manny García and Raúl López push forward recklessly.
Puebla has been playing a 5-man back line and I suspect “Chelis” will stick with that because of Pachuca’s offensive-minded line-up. Striker Lucas Cavallini will be back from a 1-game suspension which could send sparkplug Matías Alustiza back to the bench and into a familiar super-sub role.
“Chelis” was a very popular coach and he had the undermanned Camoteros in the playoffs a decade ago. That’s too much to ask this season, but this could be a start of a Puebla revival.
Veracruz at Tijuana
The Xolos got off to a terrible start – losing their first two games 2-0 and 3-0 – but has been a very competitive club since then, going 2-1-1 in their last four. The recent surge is primarily due to two late acquisitions – forwards Gustavo Bou and Ariel Nahuelpan.
The two Argentines have added guile and physicality to the Xolos attack and first-year coach Oscar Pareja has instilled a more disciplined tactical approach, as evidenced by Tijuana’s performance last week at Santos in a 1-1 draw.
Veracruz is the only team in the league without a goal through six matches, yet they have been in each and every game. This can, in part, be attributed to the grit and hustle the Tiburones display every week, but it is mostly because goalie Sebastián Jurado has been a revelation between the pipes.
It’s time for Veracruz coach Robert Siboldi to show some urgency, because his team is playing more like minnows than sharks.