Los Rayos de Necaxa visit the Tigres in a top-of-the table impact game Saturday night at Estadio Universitario outside Monterrey.
Who could have predicted that these two teams would both be in the top four when they faced off in a Matchday 7 contest? What’s more, Necaxa could conceivably move into second place with a win, while the second-place Tigres want to keep pace with league-leading Monterrey.
Of course, everybody expected the Tigres to contend for the title this year after a disappointing Apertura 2018, but Necaxa finished 16th last season and didn’t make a big splash in the transfer market (other than jettisoning striker Víctor Dávila), despite massive roster turnover.
Last year’s match-up (Week 7, Aug. 25, 2018) was not without its controversy, as ref Erick Yair Miranda invented a penalty that allowed the Tigres to tie the match in minute 90. (Incidentally, ref Miranda was suspended after another particularly atrocious game 6 weeks later, and only recently returned to reffing Liga MX matches.)
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Veracruz 0, Tigres 2
The Tigres dominated the match but could not find a way past Tiburones goalie Sebastián Jurado. Finally, in minute 87, defender Francisco Venegas came to the rescue. He scored again in minute 90+2 to seal a well-deserved victory. The Tigres peppered Jurado, taking 24 shots in all, forcing 7 saves from the Veracruz keeper.
Necaxa 3, Chivas 3
Necaxa felt lucky to come away with points in a game they should have sealed on a penalty kick in minute 77. Angel Sepúlveda muffed the freebie that should have given the Rayos a 3-1 lead thanks to 2 goals by Brian Fernández. Instead, the Chivas found new life and scored twice, taking the lead in minute 89 on a Ronald Cisneros goal. On the final play of the game, Fernández lofted a free kick into the box and Carlos Guzmán flicked his head and knocked a miraculous winner into the corner to earn the tie.
Rodríguez – Sánchez – Salcedo – Meza – Venegas
Dueñas – Carioca – Quiñones
Gignac – Valencia
I don’t think midfielder Guido Pizarro will be back in the line-up (calf strain) and central defender Hugo Ayala’s availability is in doubt. Super sub Jurgen Damm is also on injury row, while fellow striker Edu Vargas might be back from sickbed. Coach Tuca Ferretti does have winger Javier Aquino at his disposal.
Guzmán – Peña – Alvarado – Calderón
Fernández – González – Gallegos – Sepúlveda
Barragán – Herrera
The central defense tandem of Alexis Peña and Ventura Alvarado will have to be much improved over last week or the Tigres will cut them open. The pair was awful against the Chivas (Alvarado had an own goal and committed a penalty). Brian Fernández has been on fire so expect the Tigres to focus their defense on him. Felipe Gallegos has been a dynamo since being inserted into midfield after playing at fullback last season.
Tigres: Striker André-Pierre Gignac is likely salivating at the chance to take on the Necaxa back line. He has been in form for much of the season. Look for him to take aim at Hugo González from all angles.
Necaxa: Eduardo Herrera has looked rather good in red-and-white stripes since coming over from Santos during the winter break. He has created space for his mates up front and is often effective as a post. If he can occupy Tigres defenders, he’ll open up space for the midfield snipers, like Fernández.
The Tigres are wounded, but they have a significantly higher payroll than Necaxa which provides quality bench players. If the Tigres find time and space on the flanks, I suspect goalie González will be under siege. Necaxa will need to stay poised and be prepared to play from behind. That scenario, however, will open up the flanks for the Tigres on the counter.