How long can Tijuana’s control of Liga MX last?
This is a similar question brought up last year when Xolos unexpectedly took charge of the Apertura competition. Although Tijuana was immediately knocked out of the first round of the playoffs, there was still plenty to be proud of with the team’s surprising first place finish in the regular season.
When Xolos lost Gabriel Hauche, Federico Vilar and Dayro Moreno over the winter, the idea of another superb tournament appeared unlikely. In fact, some might say that it would be absurd to imagine another successful run without the aforementioned key players.
Yet, after five weeks into the 2017 Clausura season, there is no doubt that Tijuana is the hottest team in Mexico. With four wins in a row, and twelve goals under their belt, Xolos have rocketed back up to first place in the league standings.
Looking ahead to this Friday, if Tijuana is able to secure a win at home, the bordertown club would guarantee itself another week at first place.
Will Necaxa be able to stop them?
Los Rayos are plummeting down just as fast as Xolos’ recent rise. The once scrappy and aggressive squad that sneaked into the playoffs last season is now a shadow of its former self.
Necaxa, like Xolos, shocked teams with their surprise victories in late 2016. As opposed to Tijuana’s attack-friendly style, Los Rayos would stubbornly sit back and frustrate the opposition. This then led to narrow wins and draws that carried them to the playoffs.
Now, Liga MX clubs seem to have figured out Necaxa in the Clausura. Los Rayos have lost three of their first five matches and are sitting near the bottom of the league table.
Another key factor for their slump is the absence of Edson Puch.
The Chilean, who led the squad with nine goals in the previous tournament, has recently made the return from injury after being gone for nearly a full month. Without Puch leading the attack, Necaxa has collected a meager total of three goals in the current competition.
At time of writing, the Chilean appears to be fit for Friday’s game, but it’s questionable if he will still need to shake off some more rust before finding the back of the net.
Key to success for Xolos: Take advantage of set pieces
No other Liga MX side has allowed more free kicks or corners this season than Necaxa. Tijuana fans should have their fingers crossed that manager Miguel Herrera has already recognized this and prepared his squad accordingly during training this week.
Xolos player to watch: Ignacio Malcorra and Joe Corona
I’m cheating by selecting two players here, but every time Xolos have a corner or free kick, either Malcorra or Corona step up to take it. Given that Necaxa will provide a wealth of options for the right-footed Corona or the left-footed Malcorra, either one will be vital for Tijuana on Friday night. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to assume that one of these midfielders will walk away with an assist.
Predicted score: Xolos 3-1 Necaxa