Xolos tangle with Zorros in Tijuana while downtrodden Morelia must face mighty América
Matchday 9 offers several attractive contests that could shake up the standings, even result in a coach getting sacked. Unfortunately, Friday’s doubleheader does not hold such allure.
Still, both the Atlas-Tijuana and the Morelia-América matches provide singular elements of intrigue.
After a difficult Apertura 2018 season, Tijuana brought in Oscar Pareja (pictured at top) to guide the Xolos and the former MLS coach has done a commendable job through 8 games (and has the Xolos in the Copa MX quarterfinals).
Last season, Tijuana always seemed to be in a hurry, insisting on a vertical attack. However, the haste produced sloppy play and poor decision-making. It didn’t help that the roster lacked a quality finisher up front.
Pareja has the Xolos playing with poise and discipline such that the team is a genuine playoff contender.
New acquisitions Gustavo Bou and Ariel Nahuelpan are producing in a variety of ways. Bou is proving to be a reliable scorer while Nahuelpan is contributing a physical presence magnified by his hustle and willingness to track back and help the defense.
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Goalie Miguel Lajud continues to grow, earning interest from Team Mexico coach Gerardo Martino. In front of him, Diego Braghieri has added some toughness and veteran savvy to the Xolos back line. The 32-year-old Argentine joined Tijuana during the winter break.
Against Atlas, the Xolos face a floundering team that has lost three matches in a row to fall into the bottom half of the table. Zorros coach Guillermo Hoyos might be feeling some pressure, especially after a disastrous Apertura 2018.
General manager Rafa Márquez is working hard to restructure the Atlas organization, particularly its once-proud academy of which he was a product before going on to star with the Zorros, Monaco and Barcelona. So, Rafa is trying to be patient and results are secondary as long as the Zorros stay above the relegation zone and imprint a style of play that can be shared from the academy to the senior team.
At Estadio Jalisco, I expect the Xolos to stalk the Zorros around the field, pressure them into mistakes and then pounce, just like they did last week against Necaxa. The home fans should have plenty to cheer about.
Eagles vs Butterflies
There would seem to be little drama about this game, but heavily-favored América is starting a 5-game-in-15-days-stretch that includes two Super Clásicos, so coach Miguel Herrera will surely be micro-managing this game.
I don’t think “El Piojo” is too concerned about his team’s inconsistency last month, since management made two acquisitions just before the winter transfer window closed on Jan. 31 and Nico Castillo and Nicolás Benedetti are still learning the program. Both will be expected to be significant contributors through the rest of the season.
The Aguilas have lost three straight road games, but Morelia is a mess at the moment.
The Monarcas fired Roberto Hernández last week and interim coach Gastón Obledo will be in charge against América while ownership recruits a new manager.
Morelia has lost four league matches in a row, but got a slight boost on Tuesday when they advanced to the quarterfinals of the Copa MX by scoring a late equalizer then defeating Puebla in penalty kicks.
I expect Morelia will take a conservative approach and try to keep the score low. Coach Obledo is a bit of an unknown, so we’ll have to see what tactics he favors. It is unlikely he will rely on high pressing because America would likely exploit that rather easily.