Pumas UNAM have begun the season in a way not many expected. After a poor showing in the preseason tournament Copa por México, barely garnering two points, they haven’t had much of a challenge in their first three regular season matchups, but have somehow managed to make these games extremely interesting and at times have even seemed intent on giving the games away. Despite that, they have yet to lose a game, having won two and drawn one.
In Week 1, after taking two different leads vs. an extremely limited Querétaro side, a childish own goal followed by a botched free-kick wall which allowed the ball to cruise right into the goal, Pumas were in serious self-destruction mode. Fortunately for them, an innocent defensive coverage failure by Gallos’ defenders allowed for them to regain a 3-2 lead and never saw Gallos come close to score again. The following week, facing another one of the weakest teams in the league in Atlas, they managed to give away another 1-0 lead, as a harmless attempt on goal by Malcorra was strangely covered and ended up deflecting straight into goal. Atlas then could’ve won the game had they seized their opportunities. In the dying minutes of the match, however, a lucky deflection off of Atlas’ captain Lorenzo Reyes gave Dinneno the open header to give his team another win.
All of this leading up to last weekend’s performance back home vs. FC Juáfrez who were down to nine men in the 42nd minute of the match. Pumas were able to grab a lead, but managed to once again give it away on a free kick executed perfectly by Maximiliano Olivera. They came away with a draw even after having a two-man advantage for over half of the match. A team who tries to attack but shows no clarity, and who has shown to have one of the most error-prone defenses in the entire league will finally face its first real test tonight, when they play host to Rayados at 10 ET (9 CT).
Mohamed’s squad have had problems of their own. Having defeated Toluca in Week 1 by a final of 3-1, many fans were happy with what they saw, as Monterrey dominated the action and proved how talented and quality-filled the team is. And even in the first half of their Week 2 matchup vs. León, Rayados let many clear opportunities slip by (no pun intended) in the soaked pitch of ‘La Fiera.’ The second half, however, was a totally different story, as that lackluster side Rayados have been known for at times reappeared and the game culminated in a wonder strike by Luis Montes to hand Rayados their first loss of the season. In their Week 3 matchup at home vs. Santos, after another promising start, the team deflated after about 25 minutes into the match and became their zombie version once again until the 67th minute, when Janssen was subbed in. A lucky bounce left Daniel Parra the ball to put in the back of the net, and Monterrey squeezed out a draw.
While one team has an attitude adjustment problem, another team is not close to good enough.
What do Pumas need to do to win? Two things; First, play with intensity all game long. Jump on pass routes, anticipate plays, guard Rayados players closely. When Monterrey displays this kind of laziness on the pitch against intense teams, they usually end up losing the game. It’s only logical; Second, don’t make defensive mistakes. Actually focus on not making a defensive error. This subject has been so bad that it can start to become a mental issue if they don’t take care of it quickly. Have an error-free game, get it out of your head, and move on.
What do Rayados need to do to win? Simple. Put Vincent Janssen in the game. This team had the entire life sucked out of them for the first 22 minutes of the second half, and didn’t make one single offensive approach on goal. Once the Dutch all-star was put in, the offense came alive and we began to see that Rayados offensive magic that we’ve grown to love. COVID after-effects and all, Janssen is the best player on that team right now, and has the offensive prowess to take not only the offense, but the team in general to the next level. He’s shown it both with great offensive decision-making as well as great heads-up defensive awareness.
PREDICTION: There’s no way Pumas wins this match. Their mistakes and lack of quality are just too much for them to overcome such a talented team like Rayados. However, Mohamed has been pretty stubborn when it comes to moving his favorites in favor of benefitting the team. While Janssen has shown clear superiority over all other offensive players, Mohamed refuses to give him a starting spot. If he decides not to use him or not to use him enough, Pumas are capable of coming away with a draw in this one. I have Rayados winning by one.