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León-Pumas: Three Takeaways

Here are my three takeaways from León’s convincing 2-0 win over high-flying Pumas.

Leon v Pumas UNAM - Torneo Guard1anes 2020 Liga MX Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images

1. León the Frontrunner for Guard1anes 2020 Title

This past Saturday marked the two-year anniversary of Nacho Ambriz’s first day in charge of Los Esmeraldas. The ex-América and Necaxa tactician has proved a perfect fit for the Bajío-based outfit, who have gone from strength to strength since the beginning of the Clausura 2019. They finished that campaign as superlíder with a whopping 41 points and collected 33 more on the way to placing second in the Apertura 2019 regular season.

Yet, León have shrunk under the bright lights of the liguilla, with disappointing eliminations at the hands of Tigres and Morelia, leaving Liga MX’s great entertainers without a trophy to show for their exploits. Nevertheless, Monday’s destruction of Pumas was indicative of a team firing on all cylinders. The third time could be the charm for Ambriz and company in this postseason.

In comparison with past iterations, this León side is not as sharp in front of goal. They have found the back of the net on only 14 occasions so far, putting them behind the likes of mid-table scrappers Puebla and Toluca. The production of J.J. Macías has not been replaced since the young striker left after the Apertura 2019, with nominal successor Emmanuel Gigliotti not nearly as ruthless.

While they might lack punch up front, Los Esmeraldas make up for that with a complete understanding of Ambriz’s complex system. The constant interchanging of positions, which is seen most nearly with right-back-cum-number 10 Fernando Navarro, makes León an extremely difficult assignment for opposing defenses. Each individual understands exactly where they need to be at all times, and that total harmony between coach and players should bear fruit in the season’s decisive stages.

2. Deserved Defeat Should Not Detract From Special Season for Pumas

This visit to the Estadio León always had the potential to mark the end of Los Universitarios unforeseen unbeaten start. The only other time the capital club had gone their first ten games without a loss was the Clausura 2011.

That tournament saw Pumas lift their seventh, and last, league crown. The intervening years, bar a trip to the Apertura 2015 Final, have been difficult as the gap in spending power between them and the country’s financial heavyweights widened.

Pumas have the 12th-most valuable squad in the division according to Transfermarkt, and their hopes for a playoff push this campaign were not helped by turmoil on the touchline. Míchel’s sudden departure before the curtain raiser against Querétaro left the Mexico City giants in the lurch, but Andrés Lillini has done a remarkable job in his stead, first on an interim basis and then as a permanent hire.

There is no shame in losing to the juggernaut that is León, and Pumas have already guaranteed at least a repechaje place with six matches to spare. That represents a triumph for Lillini and his charges, who have this historic club punching well above their weight.

3. Talavera Goes from Hero to Zero

On his 400th Liga MX appearance, Pumas’ star summer signing promised to take center stage under the Nou Camp lights. The Mexican international netminder turned 38 last Friday and was looking to celebrate in style by continuing his sensational form between the sticks.

The former Toluca keeper has made more stops than anyone else so far this campaign, and he was at the top of his game during the first half against Los Esmeraldas. “Tala” shone with a host of eye-catching interventions, including a memorable kick save on Gigliotti in the 37th minute.

Yet, the veteran left his team with ten men shortly before halftime after tripping up home winger Ángel Mena in the box. The offense did not seem worthy of a second yellow card, but Talavera was ultimately at fault for his sending off as he received his first booking for talking back to César Ramos.

The animosity between goalkeeper and referee extends back to 2018, when Ramos gave Talavera his marching orders during a meeting between Toluca and Chivas. Yet, the Jalisco-bred goalie should not have let history repeat itself, especially considering his status as one of the leaders in the Pumas dressing room.