Two teams going in opposite directions match wits in Estadio Universitario outside Monterrey.
The Pumas arrive at their Matchday 13 appointment in turmoil. The team was eliminated from the Copa MX on Wednesday by a second division team and their coach was accused of assaulting a fan after the game (though partially exonerated later). At the same time, their league fortunes are dwindling; they find themselves mired in 14th place, 6 points out of a playoff spot.
Seven weeks ago, coach Bruno Marioni was the toast of the campus. The Pumas had defeated América, fans were excited again … then came a four-game winless streak and UNAM was headed toward the cellar again. Last weekend’s 2-1 win over Guadalajara was supposed to inject new life into the Pumas, but no dice. On Wednesday, FC Juárez knocked UNAM out of the Copa MX with a stunning 2-0 win.
Although the Tigres were thumped by América last weekend, they are still in second place, 6 points clear of third place Monterrey. And on Wednesday, the Tigres routed Santos in a Concacaf Champions League semifinal match.
Coach Tuca Ferretti’s squad continues to play consistently well without leading scorer André-Pierre Gignac, still rehabbing a knee ligament sprain, but the schedule is getting denser. After the Saturday night date with UNAM, the Tigres visit Santos on Wednesday in the return match of the Concacaf Champions League semifinals. The Tigres have a 3-0 advantage.
Back in the league, it’s a simple recipe for the Tigres: win home games. That will go a long way toward securing a top seed in the playoffs.
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Last league match
América 3, Tigres 0
The home team scored 4 minutes after kick-off and the Tigres never really recovered. América played harassing defense the rest of the match, then scored twice in the final 21 minutes to ice the game. The Tigres simply couldn’t find a way to break down the Aguilas defense and in the second half they seemed to lose interest, preferring to save energy for the midweek CCL match against Santos.
Pumas 2, Guadalajara 1
Defender Luis Fernando Quintana scored just before the half to give UNAM a 2-1 lead and the Pumas held off the Chivas throughout the final 45 minutes to win their first game since Feb. 17. Despite the win (against at admittedly inferior foe), the Pumas did not put on a convincing show and they paid for their poor form just three days later against Juárez.
Chaka – Venegas – Meza – Torres Nilo
Pizarro – Carioca
Aquino – Zelarayán – Quiñones
Coach Ferretti might rotate his line-up resting some of the regulars who played twice this past week. This could mean second-line defenders like young Francisco Venegas and Francisco Meza get a chance to play and veteran Jorge Torres Nilo could spell Jesús Dueñas at left back.
Mozo – Quintana – Arribas – Domínguez
Barrera – Iniestra – Escamilla – Malcorra
Mora – González
Coach Bruno Marioni could also opt for a few second-choice players but he’ll be desperate to keep playoff hopes mathematically alive so can’t afford to take too many chances. Instead, he’ll be more assertive with his substitution pattern, especially if the Tigres take an early lead.
Tigres: Winger Javier Aquino has had yet another injury-riddled season and if the Tigres hope he’ll be a major contributor come playoff time, they’ll give him playing time and hope he produces.
Pumas: Right back Alan Mozo is running out of time to impress El Tri coach Gerardo Martino ahead of this summer’s Gold Cup. If he can press forward and participate in play development, the Pumas stand a good chance of winning, but he must be alert to counter-attacks.
All talk around Pumas camp the past few days has been about the crushing loss to Ascenso MX club Juárez in the Copa MX semifinal. Some players might be playing for their jobs these next five weeks. That can be an unhealthy atmosphere for some teams. The Tigres know winning at home can secure a top seed in the playoffs and the Pumas are a wounded animal right now.