Friday, Oct.13, the Tijuana Xolos played their 12th game of the Liga MX Apertura 2017 tournament.
The Aztec Canines hosted Veracruz at the Estadio Caliente in what was expected to be a very winnable game for the border city team. Club Tijuana had not won in three consecutive games before this match, coming off two consecutive losses, the latest result being a 3-0 loss against Monarcas Morelia. The game did not turn out to be as easy as many people had expected as Veracruz gave a tremendous fight at the Mictlan to make for a very intense and hard-fought encounter.
Eduardo Coudet abandoned his tactics that he had previously used before the international break and went with a 4-4-2 formation to start the game. Emanuel Aguilera was not available for this match as he had picked up a red card in Xolos’ previous match against Monarcas Morelia. “Chacho” mentioned in his post-game press conference that the decision to switch from a 5-3-2 to a 4-4-2 was based on Xolos’ rival rather than the absence of Aguilera. Coudet said, “They use one striker, Menendez. We were going to have two centre-backs left over”.
Gibran Lajud played in net with Juan Carlos Nunez, Juan Carlos Valenzuela, Alejandro Donatti, and Damian Perez making up the defense. In the midfield, Luis Angel Mendoza and Ignacio Malcorra played out on the wings while Joe Corona and Damian Musto played in the heart of the pitch. The strike partnership was an exciting one with Gustavo Bou and Miller Bolanos up top. Another odd decision from Coudet was leaving out Matias Aguirregaray and starting veteran Juan Carlos Nunez in his place. Coudet said, “He was going to cover Daniel Villalva one-on-one” on the decision to start Nunez. Aguirregaray does get caught off because of his upbeat, hard-pressing style of play, and the move seemed tactically correct.
The first half was a bland display by both teams as neither side seemed to be pushing to generate any type of offense. There were some opportunities, but none seemed to amount to anything as Veracruz closed more and more spaces as the clock ran down. The match was scoreless after the first 45 minutes and Los Tiburones seemed to have the scoreline on lock. Daniel Villalva was causing several problems for Juan Carlos Nunez because of Villalva’s pace compared to Nunez. This earned the Mexican defender a yellow card in the 41st minute of the game that caused “Chacho” to remove him from the game at the half. Coudet was looking for a more offensive style of play and inclusively moved Joe Corona out to the right-wing and Luis Angel Mendoza to a more central role to try to generate opportunities.
Arguably the clearest opportunity of the game fell in the 55th minute. Gustavo Bou provided Miller Bolanos with an assist inside the penalty area. The Ecuadorian would take advantage of the chance and put the ball just wide to the right of Veracruz’s net. Veracruz manager Jose Cardozo clearly wanted to kill the game as he subbed on centre-back Jose Rivas for winger Adrian Luna in the 57th minute. Eduardo Coudet was trying to do the opposite as the Argentine subbed off Joe Corona for Juan Manuel Iturbe in the 63rd minute. From the 64th minute to the 65th minute, a string of tackles provoked referee Jorge Isaac Rojas to give out five yellow cards in the span of a minute. This included Veracruz’s Diego Chavez’s second yellow of the game that left Jose Cardozo’s side with a man down. Los Tiburones Rojos continued to try to lock down the game as Jose Cardozo replaced attacking midfielder Leandro Velasquez with a more defensive-minded midfielder, Christian Valdez, in the 68th minute.
Nothing seemed to work for Eduardo Coudet towards the final few minutes of the game as the Xolos pushed all men forward and Veracruz defended with all of its men. The final 20 minutes of the game were very intense as it was clear “Chacho” wanted the three points from the game. The final substitution for Coudet was taking off Luis Angel Mendoza for Juan Martin Lucero. Almost no player on the pitch had a clear role as Damian Musto was shifting from the midfield to a centre-back role, Malcorra seemed to be playing as a defensive midfielder at times, Bou played as a left-mid, and Alejandro Donatti played as a striker. The order was lost for Club Tijuana as all of Coudet’s men desperately searched for the goal that would give them the three points from the game.
That goal never came as Jorge Isaac Rojas blew the final whistle and Veracruz maintained its 0-0 draw that it seemed to be aiming for since the start of the second half. The home crowd responded with boos and jeers after the game in what seemed to be more like losing two points rather than gaining a point for the Xolos at the Estadio Caliente. The game was very worrying as Club Tijuana seemed out-of-order since the start of the match with the 4-4-2 formation. Eduardo Coudet also made it clear that the 5-3-2 formation, which has worked out well for the team, is not set in stone, and he is willing to experiment based on his rival. Clearly, the only formation that has allowed each player to play to their full potentials and get results is the 5-3-2, and it is not wise for Coudet to abandon his tactics, especially at this stage of the season.
Coudet said, “The objective is still to make the playoffs” in his post-game press conference, but there is a hard road ahead for the Xolos as four of the last five games of the season for the border city side are away from home. This was a very winnable game, and one where the Xolos should have easily walked away with the three points, especially with the home-field advantage and the man advantage for most of the second half.