Game: Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente vs. Club Puebla
Date: Friday, January 26th
Time: 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 9:00 p.m. Central, 7:00 p.m. Pacific, 2:00 a.m. UTC
Venue: Estadio Caliente (Tijuana, B.C.)
Referees: REF: José Alfredo Peñaloza Soto, AR1: Israel Valenciano Torres, AR2: Jose de Jesus Baños Caballero, 4TH: Alejandro Funk Villafañe
All-time record: Tijuana has won four against Puebla, including a 6-2 win when they last faced off at Estadio Caliente in the 2017 Clausura. Puebla has won five, and the clubs have drawn four times.
What a difference a season makes. After three games in the Apertura, Tijuana was in free fall. They’d lost all three games, conceding six goals along the way. In the Clausura, Xolos have won one and drawn two. They’ve also not conceded a goal in 2018, which is a credit to a renewed focus on defense.
Perhaps no player in Liga MX has been more important to their team in the first three week of the season than Pablo Aguilar. Returning to Tijuana during the offseason after three full years with Club América, Aguilar has been a strong, steady presence on the back line along with Juan Carlos “Topo” Valenzuela, Damián Pérez, and a resurgent Michael Orozco.
Offensively Xolos have been less effective than they were last season, scoring only one goal so far this season. They’ll be showing a bit of a different look this week as right winger Juan Iturbe will be out for the rest of the Clausura with a ruptured cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Expected to replace Iturbe is Luis “Quick” Mendoza, who had two goals and three assists in twelve appearances in the Apertura. Quick not only adds speed but vision and guile along the right side. It will also remain to be seen if Gustavo “Pantera” Bou is available for selection this week. Pantera missed the match against Monterrey with a nagging injury.
Puebla (2W 0D 1L) has started the Clausura strong, with wins over Tigres and Veracruz. They’ve scored four goals in the three games, all from different players. Lucas Cavallini and Hugo Rodríguez were the goalscorers against lowly Veracruz last week, with Brayan Angulo and Francisco Acuña scoring in the opener against Tigres.
Goalkeeper Moises Muñoz and the Puebla defense have allowed just one goal in each of their three games.
In the match against Veracruz, Los Tiburones were able to work the middle of the pitch and create some good chances going forward. Look for the central midfielders to play a critical role for Xolos, be it Damián Musto, Miller Bolaños, Luis Chávez, or anyone else from deep lying defensive mids to the attacking central midfielders.
Defensively, Xolos will need to watch for plays from the outside headed centrally. The Puebla full backs and wingers love to try and hit big targets like Cavallini and either let them finish or get the ball off to smaller targets like Omar Fernández and Acuña.