We're back to domestic play this weekend after a successful FIFA window for the Mexico (and United States) national team.
After a strange month that saw referees on strike and long penalties handed down to a number of players for behavior off the field, let's hope that April brings us just as much excitement but for on-field rather than off-field actions.
With that wish out of the way, let's get into the chatter ahead of Round 12 of the Liga MX Clausura:
It's a big weekend for...Herrera-lessTijuana
OK, first off, a confession. I think we - the media and fans of the sport - put a little too much importance on managers getting suspended. Tijuana will be missing coach Miguel Herrera for the next five weeks because of a shouting match with a fan and continued verbal abuse of referees. But it's not like the team doesn't know what Herrera's tactical plan is. Unlike other sports popular in North America, like American football or basketball, soccer requires relatively few in-match tweaksfrom the bench.
That said, Xolos haven't done a great job carrying out what Herrera wants in recent weeks, falling to Pachuca and drawing with Santos in the typically reliable atmosphereof the Estadio Caliente. Now, Xolos are back on the road facing Atlas, a team that has lost just once at home this season. That defeat came against Chivas, a crosstown rival that used to play in the Estadio Jalisco, creating an atmosphere that was more like a neutral stadium than the typical cauldronthatbacksAtlas.
"We want to regain our defensive solidness," Tijuana defender Juan Carlos "Topo" Valenzuela said. "The team was strong in defense in the previous tournament and this let us win or not lose games.
"We've had these two weeks to improve and correct a lot of things, and one of those things is getting stronger in defense."
Xolos need to get things right at the back to beat Los Zorros.Echoes of the 2015 Clausura, when Tijuanaran out to first place in the table then failed to make the postseason, are ringing a little too loudly for comfort. A win against feisty Atlas would be a boost.
Don't miss... Club America vs. Monterrey
Despite three consecutive results, including an inspiring 3-2 win against Pumas before the international break, Club America still sits outside the playoff positions. Las Aguilas areat the Estadio Azteca this weekend for a home game, but Antonio Moahmed'sMonterrey isn't exactly the opponent they'd want to see coming.
Rayados are in excellent form, having lost just once this calendar year. With that said, the listless loss in Tijuana proves Monterrey isn't totally unbeatable, especially not on the road in a difficult atmosphere.
"I think we want to get forward the whole game, try to be in control of the game," America forward Silvio Romero said. "We know we're facing a great opponent and we have to show that we want to be in the Liguilla places."
It should be a quality game. America seemsto be finally finding a lineup that works, even if it happened by accident. Oribe Peralta and SilvioRomero are more comfortable up top with each other, and 16-year-old Diego Lainez isn't out of place. For Mohamed's men,Edwin Cardona's return from the wilderness and Rogelio Funes Mori rediscovering his scoring form has made Monterrey into a bona fide title contender. For that, it earns our matchup of the week designation.
Keep an eye on... the relegation battle
If the season ended today (not really all that out of the question with how strange some things have gone this year), Veracruz would go down. The Tiburones Rojoskick off the weekend Friday against Cruz Azul, a grande that for now looks to be safe from the drop despite a bloodthirsty press and rival fans desperately wanting La Maquinato fall into the danger zone.
But it will be tough for Morelia, sitting in the penultimate position, to get much separation even if Veracruz falls. Monarcas are at home against Chivas, the team sitting atop the table and one that has won four of its last five. For their part, though, Monarcas are undefeated in their last three league games and may end up in the postseason if they can stave off relegation. The defensive consistency from the start of last tournament may have returned but the club will face a real test against Matias Almeyda'smulti-pronged attack.
Above those two teams, Chiapas and Puebla also will be sweating. Jaguares welcome Pumas this weekend with Puebla off to face Pachuca, which hasn't lost at the Estadio Hidalgo in 28 consecutive matches.
Quote of the Week
"He's an important player, the top scorer, but nobody is irreplaceable. There are players who can help,"Pumas midfielder Javier Cortes on forward Nicolas Castillo
With a trip to Chiapas coming up, Pumas could be without forward Nicolas Castillo. The Chilean forward took a knock on his right ankle on international duty and, combined with the travel, is questionable for Saturday's contest. But Cortes points out there are other options, while his teammateBryan Rabello reminded reporters that Castillo was also in question before the America game and scored a double.
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