The Gallos Blancos have their backs against the wall, down 0-3 to Necaxa, the league’s best road team.
Víctor Manuel Vucetich is one of the best coaches in Liga MX history, and he faces one of his biggest challenges in his career. His No. 4 seed Gallos Blancos squad must overturn a 3-0 deficit in order to continue their magical run in the Apertura 2019.
Vucetich – aka “King Midas” – took over after Matchday 7 last season, but was unable to turn around the team’s fortunes and Querétaro finished in 17th place. So what does he do? He tweaks his line-up, adds a veteran or two and the Gallos spend most of the Apertura 2019 season flirting with a top 3 finish.
More from Viva Liga MX
- Guillermo Ochoa is out 4-6 weeks
- The Clásico Regiomontano is Heating Up
- Pumas: In Search of Regaining a Top Spot
- Why the United States Is Set to Overtake Mexico on the World Stage
- Erick Gutierrez is out once again
But none of that means anything right now after fifth-seed Necaxa doused the Gallos with cold water in Aguascalientes.
The Rayos visit Querétaro with a 3-0 advantage and a Necaxa goal at Estadio Corregidora Saturday night would require that the Gallos Blancos win by four goals. A 3-0 win would send Querétaro into the semifinals as the higher seed, but a 4-1 result would favor Necaxa due to the away-goal rule.
Vucetich might have to dispense with his disciplined, patient approach on offense, or be prepared to sub in extra attackers earlier than he normally prefers. He might even opt to start offensive-minded players such as Jordi Cortizo or Omar Arellano.
Necaxa will likely sit back and try to absorb pressure from the outset, hoping to frustrate the Gallos Blancos and look to strike on the counter. The Rayos are more comfortable looking for the fast break and flooding forward, so it will be interesting to see if they are hesitant. They might be uncomfortable if they overthink their defensive duties and that could lead to mistakes.
Instead, Necaxa might open the game sitting back and invite pressure, looking to break out with the long ball. Still, the Rayos must avoid getting caught forward chasing that all-important away goal, because the Gallos can be effective on the counter, too.
Coach Guillermo Vázquez must be careful not to go too conservative, and ought not make defensive substitutions too early, because if he needs a goal late he might not have the right scoring options off the bench.
Gallos Blancos striker and leading scorer Ake Loba will be key. His speed gives him an edge against the big Necaxa central defenders, but that means his mates must get him the ball where and when he wants it. Ayron del Valle and Enrique Triverio must be more active up front, while Clifford Aboagye and Jeison Lucumi must be precise with their passing.
Ball possession will be key, but not simply holding the ball (the Gallos had 58% possession in the first match on Wednesday). Querétaro can’t afford to be careless because the Rayos can and will take advantage of odd-man rushes.
Vucetich is a master strategist, so expect him to adjust his tactics after the first 15 minutes or so. He could re-arrange his line-up to create a 3-man back line though his ability to do so could be hampered by Jair Pereira’s fitness. The veteran defender came off in minute 77 Wednesday suffering from a leg ailment and the Gallos are short of central defenders as it is. Luis Romo was a revelation as a holding midfielder early in the season but he has had to move back to defense due to injuries.
Necaxa striker Mauro Quiroga could find himself working solo against the defense, but he is excellent at hold-up play. His job could be less about scoring and more about lengthening possession just to force the Gallos to come back on defense.
The Rayos have been very good at swarming midfield and Felipe Gallegos, Claudio Baeza and Jesús Angulo will be keys to this match. If that threesome can break up plays and turn upfield with possession, they could force Querétaro to chase, thus slowing down their attack by tiring them out.
At the back, Necaxa will likely rely on three central defenders – Fernando Meza, Rodrigo Noya and Alexis Peña. Left back Cristian Calderón is great at leaping into attack (he scored the opener for Necaxa on Wednesday), but Vázquez might try to rein him in.
Goalie Hugo González has had a wonderful season for the Rayos, but he must be on his game, especially early on. The last thing Necaxa needs is an early goal to rile up the rowdy Querétaro crowd and spur on the Gallos.