Clausura 2023 heading toward stretch turn
Another Liga MX weekend is here and the good news for fans is that the two most unappealing games of the Matchday 9 calendar are already behind us.
Last night, Necaxa and Quéretaro played to an insipid 1-1 draw, while UNAM scraped by last-place Mazatlán FC 2-1 thanks to the nullification of what would have been an equalizer in stoppage time for the hard-luck hosts.
The win likely staved off the dismissal of Pumas coach Rafa Puente because even a draw against the cellar-dwellers probably would have brought the axe down.
In Aguascalientes, Necaxa nearly suffered the humiliation of being the first team to lose to the Gallos Blancos at home since 2019.
Instead, Querétaro saw its ignominious road winless streak climb to 51 even though they played 52 minutes with a man advantage. Making it even more agonizing, Querétaro’s Álvaro Verda clanged the post with a shot in minute 90+2
Saturday showdowns promise excitement
Both remaining undefeated Liga MX teams feature on tonight’s schedule with Tigres (5-3-0) hosting the surprising Chivas, and América (4-4-0) paying a visit to Atlas.
The second-place Tigres are again expected to be without top striker André-Pierre Gignac (thigh strain), making their early-season acquisition of last season’s Liga MX Golden Boot winner Nicolás Ibáñez quite prescient. Ibáñez scored the lone goal in last week’s 1-0 victory over Atlas.
The precocious Chivas find themselves in sixth place (4-3-1), contending for the Liga MX crown a year ahead of schedule. First-year coach Veljko Paunovic has “El Rebaño Sagrado” playing efficient, tactically sound fútbol with newcomer Víctor Guzmán providing the offensive inspiration.
Third-place América has hit its stride, winning three straight and four of five while outscoring opponents 15-5 in its past five matches.
Striker Henry Martín leads Liga MX with 9 goals and is among the league leaders with 3 assists while coach Fernando Ortiz continues to tinker with his back line, looking for the ideal pairing in the center of defense, particularly since goalie Oscar Jiménez has been hot-and-cold as the successor to Memo Ochoa.
Welcome back to Liga MX ‘Tuca’!
Kicking off the Saturday fireworks is FC Juárez at Cruz Azul.
After yet another atrocious start, the Cementeros brain trust fired Rául Gutiérrez and kicked the tires on a few big-name managers while interim coach Joaquin Moreno led the club to two wins, dragging “La Máquina Azul” out of the cellar.
On Wednesday, “Tuca” Ferretti – the all-time winningest manager in Liga MX history and famous for emphasizing discipline and defensive fundamentals – was hired to take charge in La Noria.
“Tuca” – with 31 years of experience and seven Liga MX titles on his résumé – is expected to guide the Cementeros out of the wilderness and back into playoff position. With nine games remaining, Cruz Azul (2-1-4, 13th place) could well repeat last season’s late-season charge into a home game on Wildcard Weekend.
The coach with the permanent scowl will debut with Cruz Azul against FC Juárez, the team he walked away from last summer.
As for the Bravos – a permanent resident of the Relegation Zone since joining Liga MX back in 2019 – the Hernán Cristante-led team has been a pleasant surprise. The Border Braves have been in the Top 10 most of the season and are currently ensconced in 8th place and have given up just 3 goals in their past 4 games (2-2-0).
Liga MX fans will be treated to another triple-header on Sunday.
There’s a high noon kickoff in Toluca where the Diablos Rojos – fresh off a 5-0 trouncing of Santos Laguna – host an inconsistent Atlético de San Luis side.
Later, Puebla visits Santos Laguna and defending Liga MX champs Pachuca will be in Tijuana to try and tame the Xolos.
Matchday 9 comes to an end on Monday night with a tantalizing contest pitting 7th-place León against table-topping Monterrey. The Rayados will take the field at the Camp Nou with a 7-game win streak at stake.