Chivas' search for a Matias Almeyda anniversary present highlights Week 9
The Liga MX's Apertura 2016 moves over the halfway point in round nine of matches over Mexican independence weekend.
Here's what to look out for as the race to reach the playoffs starts to heat up:
Chivas looking for statement after one year of Matias Almeyda
Chivas coach Matias Almeyda came in on Sept. 15, 2015 and wasted no time in stating that his mission was to "awaken the giant," which was actually in relegation trouble at that point.
Fast forward a year and Chivas go into Saturday's match away against Toluca in seventh position in the Liga MX's overly complicated relegation table (worked out on a points-per-games-played ratio over the past six short seasons) and fourth in the Apertura standings.
The atmosphere and outlook at the club has been turned around and Chivas can now be considered a serious title challenger.
Saturday's game will be anything but easy, however, in the makeshift Estadio Alberto "Chivo" Cordoba and with kickoff at 4 p.m. local time. Toluca has also been improving of late under rookie coach Hernan Cristante and is unbeaten in its last eight games in all competitions.
Almeyda will have to decide how much of a role striker Alan Pulido will have after he netted his first goal for the club on Wednesday in the 2-2 draw against Chiapas in the Copa MX. It'll also be interesting to see if the team decides to back off a little in its high pressing game, bearing in mind Toluca is higher up even than Mexico City and away teams can suffer because of the altitude.
Expect youngsters Michael Perez and Eduardo Lopez to keep their places ahead of big signings Carlos "Gullit" Pena and Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez as Almeyda seeks to celebrate his anniversary in style.
Herrera's Tijuana face test at Pachuca
Miguel Herrera's Club Tijuana has been making waves this Apertura and heads into the weekend top of the Liga MX table.
The draw on the road to Monterrey last Saturday can be considered a decent point, even if Los Rayados have struggled of late, but the trip to Estadio Hidalgo to face the reigning Liga MX champion one week on is an even more difficult proposition.
The feeling is that Xolos have punched above their weight so far this season, but that reading negates the significant close-season signings -- of which Aviles Hurtado and Guido Rodriguez have been the best -- as well as the influence of Herrera, who didn't turn into a bad manager the day he swung a punch at a commentator in Philadelphia and was expelled from the national team.
If there is one criticism of Tijuana this season, it is that Mexican players are given minimal opportunities, with the starting team often made up of 10 foreign-born players, including up to seven Argentines.
Pachuca provides a contrast. And future -- or current -- Mexico national team players Raul Lopez, Hirving Lozano, Victor Guzman, Erick Aguirre and Erick Gutierrez are all in line for minutes for a side looking to get back on track after losing 1-0 away to Veracruz last Friday.
With both sides naturally attacking, Pachuca against Club Tijuana has all the ingredients to be the best game of the weekend.
Can Cruz Azul react to Clasico Joven collapse?
One team in need of a pick-me-up -- to put it mildly -- is Cruz Azul. La Maquina was cruising at 3-0 up against Club America last Saturday at home, but managed to lose 4-3. It made Cruz Azul the subject of jokes all week.
Tomas Boy's job as head coach could be on the line if Cruz Azul can't summon a performance and positive result against a Chiapas side that is bottom of the league, fired coach Jose Cardozo on Tuesday and reinstated him on Wednesday after players fought in his corner.
In essence, Saturday's clash in Estadio Victor Manuel Reyna pits two clubs that are currently struggling for credibility.
Much more was expected of Cruz Azul this season after signing Chilean duo Enzo Roco and Fransico Silva, and Argentines Jonathan Cristaldo and Julian Velazquez. There was even hope La Maquina could mount a title challenge.
Chiapas, on the other hand, were supposed to be sold ahead of the Apertura, but when that fell through, the owners -- who have regularly failed to pay players on time -- scrambled together a squad, which hasn't clicked so far.
Another match to keep an eye on in terms of teams being in poor form is Queretaro against Monterrey. Victor Manuel Vucetich's Queretaro is without a win in five Liga MX matches and Antonio Mohamed's Monterrey badly needs a reaction after crashing out of the CONCACAF Champions League in embarrassing fashion midweek against Panama's Arabe Unido.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.