Santos Laguna and Monterrey will face off in the quarterfinals of the Apertura 2018 Liguilla, and to get some perspective on the match-up, here is a Q&A between Pete Schlenker and Eugene Rupinski, who cover Monterrey and Santos Laguna, respectively, for FMF State of Mind.
Pete Schlenker: Besides Julio Furch and Jonathan Rodriguez, who should Monterrey fans look out for on Santos?
Eugene Rupinksi: While Furch and Rodríguez have been terrorizing Liga MX defenses all season, it’s been the play of the wings that have often aided and abetted the smash-and-grab scoring runs. Brian Lozano and Jesús Isijara make smart runs to draw defenders and are adept at hitting an onrushing attacker in stride with a pass. They’re also willing to do the defensive dirty work to win balls back or allow the rest of the team to get back in front of a counter.
PS: Santos’ home form has been outstanding this year, how big of an advantage will it be in the quarterfinals?
ER: It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that if Monterrey can beat Santos at home they can win the series. Santos went undefeated at home in the Apertura, and lost only once during the calendar year, back on April 22nd to Pumas. Estadio Corona TSM has been an absolute fortress, and the home fans have without a doubt been a big part of Santos’ success in their own building.
PS: How have Santos managed to replace their entire coaching staff plus Clausura 2018 top goal scorer Djaniny without seeming to miss a beat?
ER: Losing Djaniny was tough, but he was paired with Furch last season and “Cabecito” Rodríguez came in both as a late game sub and when Djaniny was out injured. Santos knew Cabecito was capable of producing and had good chemistry with Furch, so while Djaniny was special they knew they’d be in decent shape. It was a bit of a different dynamic when Robert Siboldi left earlier in the season. Salvador Reyes had managed in Liga MX before, but with Siboldi’s sudden departure no one quite knew what to expect from Reyes. He came in and worked within the framework that Siboldi had in place, not making any drastic changes to the team and system that had lifted the title months before. Huge credit to him for recognizing that what Santos had was capable of performing so well - and executing on that plan.
PS: Predict the score.
ER: 1-1 draw
ER: It wasn’t too long ago that Monterrey was beating everyone rather easily. This season however they have flown under the radar, quietly taking fifth place. Are they as dangerous as the teams from the past couple of seasons?
PS: Injuries would be the short answer, but that’s not all of the issues with the team right now. Under the former manager Antonio Mohamed, who was recently fired from his new job in Spain at Celta Vigo, Monterrey played a direct style with the wingers, usually players like Dorlan Pabón or Avilés Hurtado, taking the ball at their feet, using their speed to streak past defenders, and dribbling into dangerous areas and getting the ball into the box for Rogelio Funes Mori to get his chances on net.
However, new manager Diego Alonso seems to favor a more possession-based style with the team looking to have Rodolfo Pizarro as the number 10 or enganche position behind the striker leading the attack. The two styles have clashed, and it doesn’t seem like the team really knows which way they are supposed to play. Early on, the defense seemed to be counted on to keep a clean sheet, but with injuries and fatigue, they’ve looked rather mortal lately as well.
ER: Monterrey has struggled with injuries all year. Who’s out, who’s in, and who’s banged up?
PS: Jonathan Urretaviscaya is out for the season, along with Alfonso González. Hurtado has been in and out of the lineup and, honestly, doesn’t look 100% at all. Jonathan Gonzalez has also been out of the lineup recently, and is questionable to play in the series. Jose Basanta was also out earlier in the season with an injury, and he hasn’t been as reliable as he has been in years past, although it could just be father time finally catching up the to captain.
The team has had injuries to almost comically large number of players this season, but the team right now is about as healthy as it’s been since week one. Most importantly for Monterrey, Funes Mori is fit and Monterrey has looked very different when he’s been in the team.
ER: A cursory look at the lineup against Atlas shows no real weaknesses. What should Santos do in order to win?
PS: Keep Funes Mori off the scoresheet and push Pabón out wide to where he thinks he has to win the game all by himself. The team works best when Funes Mori is camped out in the other team’s box and the team tries to supply him with decent crosses and passes. As we saw against Atlas, Funes Mori can make even the most experienced defenders look silly. If he’s on his game, controlling the supply to him is the only way to keep him contained.
Pabón has the tendency to try and do everything himself, especially if he gets frustrated or the team is struggling. He can work magic with the ball at his feet, but not if he’s triple-teamed, which tends to happen if he tries to take the ball out of his own half and dribble past the entire opposing side and shoot.
Also, despite all of the firepower in the side, the team’s leading scorer for the Apertura 2018 was central defender Nico Sanchez, and not just because he takes penalties. Monterrey is very, very good at scoring from set pieces, and giving up a lot of corners will eventually lead to a Monterrey goal.
ER: Predicted lineup and score.
PS: Lineup: Marcelo Barovera; Stefan Medina, Jose Basanta, César Montes, Nico Sanchez, Jesús Gallardo; Eric Cantu, Jesus Molina; Rodolfo Pizarro, Dorlan Pabón; Rogelio Funes Mori.
Score: 2-1 Santos victory.