Chivas and Puebla square off in Liga MX match with Liguilla implications
MEXICO CITY -- Chivas and Puebla meet up on Sunday at Estadio Cuauhtemoc, in what's bound to become a match where one team could potentially prolong its Liguilla hopes, while the other could see them dashed.
In its last two Liga MX games against Monterrey and Pumas, Chivas played some of its best football under the supervision of Argentine head coach, Matias Almeyda. Puebla and Chivas started the season involved in the relegation, but on Sunday with the relegation race behind their backs, both teams will be eyeing a place in next month's Liguilla. Here are five storylines to look for during the battle in Puebla:
1. Puebla vs. Chivas, battle for a playoffs spot
The 2016 Clausura standings are extremely tight with teams breathing down each other's necks. At this stage home losses against direct opponents could prove to be costly. Puebla and Chivas are tied in the table with 15 points. Chivas is currently in 10th place, while Puebla is in 11th. What's worth noting is that the current fourth place team, Cruz Azul, only has a four point lead to the current 12th place team, which is Pumas, who also has 15 points.
If Puebla falls at home against Chivas, its playoff chances will be severely hurt. But if Puebla snatches the win, it will put Chivas in a tough spot. After its visit to Puebla, Chivas will play against Atlas, Pachuca, Dorados and Santos. Both Pachuca and Santos are still directly involved in playoff hunt.
2. Chivas has third best defense in the Clausura
Led by center-backs Jair Pereira and Carlos Salcedo, Chivas has the third best defense in the Clausura. However, in only two of its 12 Liga MX games, Los Rojiblancos have finished with a shutout (against Queretaro and Pumas). The most goals the team has conceded in a single game has been two. Coming into Sunday's game, Puebla has only netted three times in its last five games, which should play to Chivas' advantage. Chivas will arrive in Puebla enjoying its best offensive moment of 2016. Right when Chivas' defense and offense are coordinating at a high level at the same time, key games are ahead, with the game at Puebla being the first one.
3. Puebla will try to get out of its current slump
Los Camoteros' last Liga MX win happened on Feb. 21 against Dorados. Since then Puebla has played out three 1-1 draws, one 0-0 draw against Tigres, and a 2-0 loss against ninth-placed Morelia. With the relegation race no longer a worry for the club, Puebla must come to Estadio Cuauhtemoc and play the game against Chivas like a final. If it wants to be one of the top eight teams come next month, it must win against Chivas and end its five-game winless streak.
4. Matias Alustiza, Christian "Hobbit" Bermudez back
According to head coach Pablo Marini, Puebla's captain Matias Alustiza and Christian "Hobbit" Bermudez are scheduled to start next Sunday. Alustiza didn't make the trip to Morelia due to the sudden death of his newborn daughter.
Bermudez missed the last match against Morelia because of a red card in Week 11 in Puebla's home game versus Tigres. The return of both players to Marini's XI is fundamental because between the two, they have scored seven of the club's 15 goals in the Clausura.
5. Will "Chofis-mania" continue in Puebla?
Javier Eduardo "Chofis" Lopez has scored three goals in 59 minutes during his last two Liga MX appearances. The "Chofis-mania" in Guadalajara is real, while Almeyda has not only acted as his coach but as his main bodyguard. Almeyda has made it one of his main priorities to protect Lopez from getting lost as fame begins to knock on his door. Even though "Chofis" Lopez made his Chivas debut back on Feb. 24, 2013, it's until now in 2016 when he is stealing the show, especially after his brace against Monterrey and Messi-esque goal against Pumas.
Against Puebla, it's likely he will come off the bench as has been the case in Monterrey and Guadalajara. Almeyda has been able to see that at the moment is better for Lopez to come off the bench as the 21-year-old begins to make a name for himself in Liga MX, and in one of Mexico's most historic and followed clubs.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.