Xolos host Lobos with playoff hopes on line for both

Tijuana hosts the Lobos while Monterrey pays a visit to Veracruz to open Matchday 15.

Three matchdays remain on the Liga MX calendar and only three teams (Morelia, Querétaro and Veracruz) have been mathematically eliminated. That number could increase significantly after the weekend.

Matchday 15 kicks off on Friday night with a doubleheader highlighted by the Tijuana at Lobos BUAP clash. The opener features title-chasing Monterrey against already relegated Veracruz who will be managed by interim coach José Luis González China who is filling in for Robert Siboldi who fled the sinking Tiburones ship on Monday.

Lobos BUAP vs Xolos

The host Xolos are clinging onto a playoff spot, falling into 8th place after losing at UNAM last weekend. The visitors arrive 5 points behind Tijuana and desperate for a win to keep them in the hunt.

While the Xolos were stymied by the struggling Pumas last weekend, the Lobos got spanked at home by the Tigres, a loss that slowed their run toward the post-season. Coach Francisco Palencia has the Lobos hustling, working hard to paper over their shortcomings (primarily due to a thin roster) and playing with confidence.

Lobos goalie Antonio Rodríguez has had some tremendous outings, covering up defensive errors all season, but the Tigres proved to be too much. The Lobos made it to halftime without giving up a goal but the Tigres’ talent advantage won out as Edu Vargas and Enner Valencia maintained their scoring form.

While Palencia will likely order his midfield line deeper to protect the back four, he will hope striker Leo Ramos can quickly rediscover his scoring touch. Ramos missed nearly two months with a broken arm suffered in Matchday 8 against América and his 5 goals still leads the team.

Tijuana should have been riding high after defeating América in Matchday 13, but they laid an egg against the Pumas. The Xolos only managed 34% possession and only got 1 shot on goal. The loss kept them at 22 points and dropped them from 6th to 8th place, with Puebla (20), Toluca (18) and Lobos (17) nipping at their heels.

The Xolos need forward Gustavo Bou to step up and provide some offense alongside Ariel Nahuelpan whose physical presence has been a big part of Tijuana’s success this season. Goals will be at a premium because the Xolos currently have a -1 goal differential and that could be a problem as the playoff race heats up.

The Xolos defense has been reliable, but they will be wary of Ramos while also looking to contribute to the vertical attack preferred by coach Oscar Pareja. Tijuana will want to turn Estadio Caliente into a race track and push the ball forward at every opportunity, while the Lobos will want to slow the tempo, keep possession and make it a low-scoring game. But that can be hard to do on the artificial turf and I expect at least 3 goals in this game.

Monterrey at Veracruz

On paper, this game should be a rout. Monterrey crushed Santos last weekend (4-0) and earlier advanced to the Concacaf Champions League Final with a 10-2 aggregate win over Sporting Kansas City.

Veracruz has yet to win this season, has scored only 6 goals in 14 games to produce a -23 goal differential and their coach resigned on Monday.

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The Rayados have 26 points, good for third place, so they’ll want to pick up points to secure their playoff seeding. Veracruz would seem to be the perfect opponent for that. With a win or a Puebla loss, the Rayados clinch a playoff spot, but they must avoid looking ahead to Tuesday’s first leg of the CCL Final against crosstown rivals Tigres.

The Tiburones are an absolute mess. They now have 0 points after FIFA ordered a sanction because of the club’s failure to pay training fees to a Uruguayan team whose player they had acquired. Veracruz has already been relegated but they want to avoid the ignominy of finishing the season with 0 points. Interim coach José Luis González China must try to inspire his disheartened players who probably are counting the days to summer vacation.

In short, this should be a rout on the pitch as well.