It's back to the league!
In Europe, there's much rejoicing. In the Americas, it's far less clear cut. Perhaps the return of Liga MX can salve the pain of Mexico finishing out with a frustrating defeat against Honduras, or maybe you couldn't wait for the break to end to see Club America, Monterrey, Tigres or Chivas in action again. Well, maybe not the last one. Just kidding, Chivas fans! We'll get to you in a few moments.
First, let's start with the Match of the Week as we always do:
Match of the Week ... Tigres vs. Leon
You may not remember, but aside from leader Monterrey, the two hottest teams in Liga MX are Leon and Tigres, and they meet Saturday at the Nou Camp. Tigres' last defeat was way back in Jornada 4, while Leon has won four in a row under new coach Gustavo Diaz.
Obviously, something has to give. Leon's attack has been rolling along with Mauro Boselli now leading the league in goals thanks in part to his strong chemistry with Elias Hernandez. How they work against a Tigres defense that may have been living on its reputation but now is living up to it with clean sheets in its two most recent matches will be the most fascinating part of this contest.
Also interesting is how Leon's defense holds up. You really have to go back to Rafa Marquez and the bicampeon team to find a Leon team that has been solid at the back. Diaz has things looking much more solid, but he'll have used the international break to find a formula to keep shots off goalkeeper William Yarbrough. Tigres' star-studded attack will heavily test that plan.
It's a big weekend for ... Alan Pulido
Chivas fans have put a lot of hope in Alan Pulido. Both portions of the team have been poor, but if Chivas actually were able to keep the ball in the final third and find the back of the net, maybe they could make a late surge to the playoffs. Chivas face Morelia this weekend and failing once again to win at the Estadio Chivas, where for some reason they haven't won yet this year in six attempts, will seal their fate.
Pulido trained with the full team during the international break and is now fit after the clavicle injury he suffered with the national team in the summer. Chivas likely will need to score goals against a Monarcas team that has been finding the back of the net often with Raul Ruidiaz and Diego Valdes. Even worse, Jair Pereira remains out with osteitis pubis, essentially a pelvic inflammation.
Even if Chivas fail to make the playoffs and don't repeat as Copa MX champion, coach Matias Almeyda seems to be feeling less worried than he probably should for a man who is coaching Chivas.
"My suitcases are well stored in my house. I've got four years on my contract. I'm the same person I was the first day I arrived here," Almeyda said. "I'm not changing the person I am because of a result that goes our way or one that goes against us. I've continued being the same person in success or in defeat and that's how I'm going to be."
Keep an eye on ... the Clasico Joven
For the last time, a Clasico Joven is taking place in the Estadio Azul. With Cruz Azul set to leave the central Mexico City venue at the end of the Clausura and potentially crashing on America's couch at the Azteca in the future, this may be farewell to the Azul for Las Aguilas. It should be a hell of a send-off.
The Mexico City clubs have just four losses between them. Three of those belong to America, but Miguel Herrera's men have been far better at actually winning games and sit third with 20 points, two ahead of La Maquina. In contrast to most teams, Cruz Azul has been playing a more conservative style at home and letting loose more on the road. And this weekend's game is setting up not to be the most beautiful, even if it is dramatic.
"Like everybody knows, Cruz Azul has a streak of several clasicos without winning. It's true that we'd like to win the game controlling the ball, but you have to win the Clasico any way possible," said Cruz Azul's Edgar Mendez, who will experience the crosstown rivalry for the first time after joining the club this summer.
Cruz Azul may find success in the middle where America will be without Guido Rodriguez after the midfielder's kick on Rubens Sambueza before the international break. Fans will hope for a Clasico worthy of sending off the stadium.
Quote of the Week
"I think it’s a beautiful thing not to lose. Sometimes, when you lose, it can hit hard and lead to a losing streak. I don’t even like to lose a kickaround, so it’s great to keep this up. When we’re playing, we’re thinking about not losing because it’s great to stay undefeated." - Carlos Sanchez, Monterrey M
Monterrey is back at home this weekend against struggling Pachuca. Diego Alonso will hope to have Tuzos ready to hand Rayados their first loss, but Carlos Sanchez laughed off the, "It would be good to lose before the playoffs!" narrative this week.