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Tijuana can do both, Palencia's Pumas' grit and more things we learned from Liga MX Round 4

11:45 pm AEDT 30/1/17
Club Tijuana Liga MX
Xolos stayed atop the league with a mix of attack and defense while Pumas showed resilience. Goal looks at that and more from the weekend in Liga MX.

For the second consecutive week, it was the defending in Liga MX that actually came out on top. Just three of the weekend's nine matches saw multiple goals and two games ended in scoreless draws.

Despite — and maybe in part because of — the dearth of scoring plays, there was still plenty of things to learn from Round 4. Let's dive in:


TIJUANA CAN DO BOTH 

Tijuana opened the season with a concerning 2-0 defeat at relegation-threatened Morelia, but the alarm bells set off turned out to be false alarms. Now, the team that finished the Apertura on top of the table is back atop the heap in the Clausura. Miguel Herrera's side also has shown an ability to play in a couple different styles.

This week, in a 1-0 victory over Cruz Azul, Xolos showed the desire to attack and chase after a lead that finally came in the 80th minute when Juan Carlos "Topo" Valenzuela headed in Ignacio Malcorra's set piece. 

It was a contrast to last week's performance when Tijuana sat back and absorbed pressure, ceding most of the possession and the chances to Chivas but coming away with a 1-0 victory with a counter-attacking style. This week, notably at home in the Estadio Caliente, it was back to a more aggressive game plan. Sitting back and waiting for the opponent to attack when on the road might be a wise strategy for Herrera to employ in Tijuana, where teams often have struggled away from home. But in the comforts of the Caliente, the league's only venue with an artificial surface, where teams generally must play on short rest and in a time zone they're not used to being in, Tijuana clearly has the quality to impose its own plan of attack. That much was clear after the 6-2 drubbing of Puebla. What we didn't know was whether Herrera would return to that style this weekend or play the same way the team did in Guadalajara.

"He's always optimistic and he tries to let the team understand how he wants us to set up on the field. Tactically, I think we're doing well." forward Milton Caraglio said of Herrera after Friday's win.

The team is doing well in the table, too. The win over Cruz Azul keeps Tijuana as the leader. Of course, the real measure of improvement for Herrera will be whether he can get the team out of the quarterfinals after last tournament's early exit. For now, though, Herrera has his team playing in a way that will keep entertaining and providing goals at home but could avoid a defeat like the one the team suffered in the away leg of the Apertura quarterfinal.


PALENCIA'S PUMAS HAVE GRIT — AND GOALS

A week after scoring a goal in the final minute for a 1-0 win at Leon, Pumas found themselves down 1-0 after just one minute of their match Sunday against Necaxa. That wasn't great news for a team that was yet to score more than one goal in any of its three opening matches, was missing forward Matias Britos because of a re-aggravation of a foot injury, and was playing the notoriously stingy Rayos. Things got worse when coach Francisco "Paco" Palencia had to use one of his substitutes in the 18th minute to replace injured goalkeeper Alejandro "Pikolin" Palacios.

And initially, the Necaxa defense lived up to its reputation, stifling Pumas' attempts at an equalizer in the first half. Pumas continued to attack, though, moving the ball wide to Jesus Gallardo and Pablo Barrera on the wings and looking for Nicolas Castillo in the box. After the break, Castillo scored his second goal since joining from Chilean side Universidad Catolica this winter after a low Gallardo cross took a bounce that Castillo was able to direct in.

Pumas didn't stop there, continuing to get forward and scoring a go-ahead goal thanks to excellent individual play by Barrera.

Bryan Rabello put things out of reach late with a stunning goal (more on that later in the Goal of the Week section) to put an exclamation point Pumas' comeback.

“They controlled things at the start, being as they scored very early, but I think the team had patience," Rabello said. "We knew how to manage the game and thankfully we were able to get the victory.”

In manager Paco Palencia's second tournament, Pumas now have nine points and sit in second. Castillo looks to be one of the winter's better signings, and the team is functioning well. An aging central defense is still a liability, but the team showed Sunday it has grit and can score. It could be a nice Clausura for the Mexico City side.


PACHUCA CAN BE HELD

For the second weekend in a row, Pachuca failed to score. Sure, Tuzos extended their long home unbeaten streak at the Estadio Hidalgo by keeping Toluca off the board, but the fact that it's two weeks running without a goal may raise concern that losing attacking midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro to Chivas during the offseason was a bigger blow than initially feared. 

Pachuca has scored just two goals apart from Hirving Lozano's hat trick in a 4-2 Round 1 win over Leon. This from a team that scored a league-leading 36 goals in the Apertura and had 31 in the tournament before that, going on to win the title that year behind a dynamic attack. 

It won't last. Between Lozano, Erick Gutierrez, Jonathan Urretaviscaya, Franco Jara and defenders coming up on set pieces, there are too many threats to keep Pachuca from scoring for a long stretch. But this weekend was confirmation that teams aside from nemesis Necaxa can keep Pachuca's high-powered attack from charging up.


CHIAPAS A STRANGELY LIVELY SIDE

We predicted there could be an upset Sunday, and even we were stunned to see reigning champion Tigres, fresh off a 4-2 romp over Club America in a title-game rematch, fall 1-0 to Chiapas. It's the second win in a row for the traditional doormats, a side that has trouble even paying its players much less getting them all to believe in the same idea recently. It puts us in the unfamiliar season of having Jaguares in the Liguilla positions but powerhouses like Tigres and America, plus playoff sides last tournament like Necaxa and Leon on the outside looking in. All that despite that fact that Chiapas has one fewer match than most teams in the league after their curtain-raiser against America was delayed because of Las Aguilas' busy schedule the month prior.

Ismael Sosa had an uncharacteristically poor match for Tigres. While perhaps not his most egregious error, the one that will be remembered is when the Argentine winger lost the ball on the play that led to Luis "Quick" Mendoza getting in on goalkeeper Enrique Palos after splitting the center backs. It wasn't just Sosa that was misfiring, though. Tigres ended the contest with five shots on target, while Chiapas had just one. How many games would end in a different result were they decided by shots on target instead of goals? Many, but goals are what matter. And what matters to coach Sergio Bueno and Chiapas is that they're just three points away from matching last tournament's total during an abysmal campaign that saw the team finish last.


AMERICA STILL NOT CLICKING

There are two ways to look at Club America's win over Veracruz. On the one hand, the team is off and running, new signing Cecilio Dominguez opened his account with a goal in his debut and Las Aguilas fought off a pesky Veracruz team that has taken down two Liga MX sides already this season. That, if you need it spelled out, is the optimist's view.

Realistically, the America attack still isn't clicking without Rubens Sambueza steering the ship. Veterans like  Oribe Peralta and Dawrin Quintero, along with last tournament's standouts Renato Ibarra and Silvio Romero have to be better — and help the 22-year-old Dominguez integrate beyond his individual moments Saturday.

Eduardo "Lalo" Herrera let America off the hook with a bad miss in the first 45 minutes, but otherwise the strength of the team was at the back. That may be how La Volpe sees things playing out. It might not be a bad strategy, but Las Aguilas have too much invested up top to be this inconsistent in front of goal.


GOAL OF THE WEEK

Bryan Rabello has been an interesting case. Despite not scoring since April of 2016 both Santos manager Chepo de la Torre and Pumas boss Paco Palencia continued to give him starting roles week after week. Perhaps he's been hitting stunners like this week's Goal of the Week in training.

In addition to this golazo, Rabello has showed potential as behind Nicolas Castillo, so perhaps we'll be seeing the Chilean in this spot more often.


WEEKEND WHIMSY

Santos had a promotional night centered around national pride and unity, and this rocking brass band featuring some serious xylophone (or similar instrument) action played the national anthem at the 16th minute of the second half to commemorate Sept. 16, Mexican independence day, as the crowd sang along. 

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