It might have been the definition of “winning ugly”, but Pumas will not care about the manner in which they triumphed on Sunday. Had they not taken three points against Los Choriceros, the home side would have fallen out of the top four for the first time since late August. That would have sent alarm bells ringing around CU after what has been a brilliant campaign under rookie manager Andrés Lillini, but instead his charges can continue to breathe in the rarefied air of the automatic liguilla slots. Yet, attacking improvements are a must if Pumas hope to lift an eighth league title at the end of the season.
Although it may seem odd to suggest that the division’s best offense must get better, the goals have dried up for Los Universitarios in recent weeks. Their goals per game ratio over the last four matches (1) is half what they were averaging over the first ten contests (2) and although first half red cards were a mitigating factor against León and Necaxa, Pumas had all eleven men on the field for the entirety of Sunday afternoon’s insipid display.
Instead of a numerical disadvantage, the main issue against Toluca was a lack of supply to star striker Juan Dinenno. The Argentine has been lethal ever since moving to Mexico in January, but he was on the periphery at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario. The normally bright Favio Álvarez was ineffective as the link between a workmanlike midfield and the former Deportivo Cali hit man, which left the hosts to abuse the long distance shot in an effort to test visiting goalkeeper Luis García.
Dinenno’s quiet showing made the absence of fellow forward Carlos González all the more noticeable. The Paraguayan predator’s aerial prowess and mobility make him the ideal foil for “Dinegol” in Lillini’s preferred 4-4-2 formation, with Pumas able to hit crosses or launch long balls in search of their talented tandem when their short passing combinations are not working.
Playing direct towards their terrific twosome is a great plan B, but Pumas must rediscover their collective attacking spark in order to pose a consistent threat in the liguilla. Getting Juan Iturbe back on track would be a huge boost, with the mercurial winger capable of breaking games open with his exciting blend of tricky dribbling and creative passing.
If the ex-Roma hero cannot be coaxed back into top form, recently arrived Uruguayan Facundo Waller provides a solid alternative. The 23-year old came off the bench to set up the decisive 1-0, and his ability to retain possession makes him an appealing option.
Whether Waller or Iturbe are chosen on the left, Lillini can rest easy in the knowledge that he has forged a side willing to fight for each other through thick and thin. That team spirit will be crucial come playoff time, but it is not enough on its own to guarantee success. There will be more difficult tests ahead, and Dinenno and González will not always have all the answers. In order to not flunk the final exam, Pumas need their other attackers to start hitting the books.