A month into the season, Pachuca coach Martin Palermo seemed destined to be sacked. Since then, the Tuzos have dug out of trouble.
Seven coaches have lost their jobs during the current Liga MX season and, early on, one of the likely candidates for termination was Martín Palermo. His Pachuca team was floundering in 16th place after a discomfiting 2-1 loss at Querétaro on Matchday 4.
Pundits opined that Tuzos management was having second thoughts about the Argentine coach who they had hired only seven months earlier. Two months later, Palermo has Pachuca jostling for a high playoff seed.
The Boca Juniors legend took over a struggling Tuzos team three games into the Clausura 2019 season. Palermo showed a steady hand, guiding the young Pachuca team to a 7-4-3 record, including an 8-0-0 record at Estadio Hidalgo.
The Tuzos qualified for the playoffs with a No. 7 seed and had the second-seeded Tigres on the ropes in the quarterfinals. Pachuca had a 2-1 lead with 6 minutes remaining in the second leg only to see André-Pierre Gignac perform some magic. The Tigres survived the Tuzos’ upset bid and went on to win the Clausura 2019 title.
Pachuca ownership flashed some cash over the summer, bringing in a new goalie (Rodrigo Rey) and a few offensive threats, so Tuzos fans expected an improved team and more home wins.
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Instead, León marched into Pachuca and thrashed the Tuzos 3-1 in the opener and two weeks later Morelia claimed a 2-1 win at Estadio Hidalgo.
Then came the disappointing loss at Querétaro which was fueled by a red card shown to Edwin Cardona after a reckless retaliation. The team was 0-1-3 and Palermo’s line-up choices were being questioned.
Fans were upset that favorites – especially academy products – were not getting playing time, as Palermo was relying on veterans. The Tuzos had also just acquired Rubens Sambueza – a mercurial playmaker – and pundits wondered if Palermo could manage the locker room. Cardona and Sambueza too often lack discipline and it seemed risky to expose the young Tuzos roster to headstrong veterans.
Pachuca responded with a 4-0 rout of Puebla on the road and an easy 3-1 home win over Atlas, both without Cardona. Since then, the Tuzos have gone 3-2-1, winning their last three games heading into the October FIFA break with striker Franco Jara providing scoring punch. Pachuca manhandled Tijuana 4-1, outscored the Chivas 4-2 and brushed aside Cruz Azul 2-0.
Jara leads the team with 7 goals, while Víctor Guzmán has rediscovered the form that earned him a spot with El Tri, knocking home 5 goals for the Tuzos.
Palermo has settled on a 4-4-1-1 line-up with Cardona roaming behind Jara, the lone striker. In midfield, Sambueza has built a solid partnership with Jorge Hernández, flanked by Guzmán and either Romario Ibarra or Jonathan Copete.
The defense has been stabilized since Palermo decided to move Erick Aguirre from midfield to left fullback. Oscar Murillo is steady as ever and veteran Gustavo Cabral is Palermo’s preferred choice alongside the Colombian in central defense. Raúl López is top choice at right fullback.
Pachuca returns to action on Oct. 19 when FC Juárez pays a visit. Since the Tuzos served their bye during Matchday 13, they will not have played a competitive match in three weeks.
After that, Palermo and Pachuca will have to deal with Toluca, Monterrey, league-leading Necaxa, the defending champion Tigres and the Pumas.