Cruz Azul face big test vs. Monterrey, Lobos battle Tigres, Pachuca vs. Xolos
It's the second game this week for teams in Liga MX's Apertura. Our writers look at some of the key storylines heading into an exciting weekend.
A mighty test for Cruz Azul
Stats sometimes aren't difficult to manipulate in order to fit a certain argument. For example, it's true that Cruz Azul has won just once in its last five Liga MX matches. Surely it is time for La Maquina to panic? But then others would point to Cruz Azul's undefeated run that now stretches back 13 games in all competitions to April 16.
So just how good is Cruz Azul in the 2017 Apertura? Has Paco Jemez really got a team that had become the butt of Liga MX jokes on an upward trajectory and in contention for the title? Saturday's showdown in Estadio Azul against Monterrey will certainly offer a litmus test of Cruz Azul's present.
"Right now we are in a fantastic situation," Jemez said after Wednesday's 1-1 draw away at Necaxa. "From my point of view we are playing very good football; we want to bring joy and have fun in what we are doing."
It'll be difficult for Cruz Azul to express itself against a Monterrey team that has been dominant so far in Liga MX -- winning five of six, scoring 14 goals and conceding just three -- but third-place La Maquina will also pose a threat to Rayados.
"The team has gained maturity from a full season working in the same way ... and that can be seen," Jemez said. "We're coming up against the leader, the team that is showing that it is the best, but I've always said that playing at our level and competing we will be a dignified opponent for anyone."
Cruz Azul will seek to force the game and press high up, as Jemez-coached teams tend to do. But Monterrey is Liga MX's best counterattacking unit and may be able to exploit the space in behind the Cruz Azul defense. It promises to be a fascinating battle of two different styles and in-form sides. -- Tom Marshall
Can minnows Lobos BUAP keep up?
Lobos BUAP earned a last-minute point in their visit to Atlas, a point that was huge considering that they had lost their last two games. But now comes a massive test against Tigres, who were able to frustrate Club America at Estadio Azteca and steal a point.
What's worth noting about this clash that will take place in Tigres' Estadio Universitario is the strong Tigres presence on Lobos' current roster. Julian Quinones, Luis Advincula, Alfonso Tamay and Luis Quinones are all on loan from Tigres and playing a strong part in Rafael Puente's team. Monterrey's Peruvian midfielder, Pedro Aquino, is also on loan at Lobos.
Julian Quinones is one of the league's top goal scorers, with five, and he has stated that if he scores on Saturday, he will not celebrate the goal. After Wednesday's game against America, several of the questions lingering are simple. Will Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti start Enner Valencia after he scored both of Tigres' goals at Azteca? Or will he continue with the attacking trio of Andre-Pierre Gignac, Edu Vargas and Ismael Sosa?
Although Lobos has had a phenomenal start to the season, a win at Tigres' El Volcan would be a huge shocker. Yet a draw wouldn't be surprising considering that a club like Queretaro was able to snatch a 1-1 draw there a couple of weeks ago. -- Nayib Moran
Xolos and Pachuca is must-see TV
The resurgent Xolos face off against a Pachuca team that also stumbled out of the gate only to find their legs in the past couple of games. Keisuke Honda will likely grab his first Liga MX start this weekend, and the Japan international legend will likely make an impression, too.
Expect Tijuana's new signing, Juan Iturbe, to maybe sit this one out as he adapts to the Mexican game, but other teams in the league are officially on notice, especially with Tijuana reportedly closing in on South American star, Miller Bolanos, to beef up their attack. In the near future, expect an offensive trident of Gustavo Bou, Bolanos and Iturbe to terrorize opposing defenses.
Pachuca, on the other hand, boasts a young core of talented Mexican players, including the red-hot Victor Guzman, who has scored four goals in the past two games. Erick Gutierrez is likely to one day follow the footsteps of Hirving Lozano, Jurgen Damm and Rodolfo Pizarro, former Pachuca players who have netted the club sizable transfer fees.
All in all, it looks to be an exciting, open-ended game in Tijuana to kick off the weekend slate of Liga MX matches. -- Eric Gomez