Game: Toluca vs Tijuana Xolos
When: Sunday, May 12, 2018
Where: Estadio Nemesio Diez, Toluca, Mexico
Time: 10:00 A.M. PST
TV: Univision Deportes
The Tijuana Xolos pulled off an upset to get past Monterrey in the quarterfinals of the Liga MX Clausura 2018 and are now trying to do the same thing against Toluca in the semifinals.
Club Tijuana came away with a 2-1 win against the scarlet side in the first leg of the series at the Estadio Caliente. The Aztec Canines will now head to hell to play Los Diablos Rojos at noon local time, where the scorching heat hits, and the altitude of the city unbalances the visiting players. The Xolos were the better team in the first leg, with less possession, but with more total shots than their opponent. Diego Cocca’s team did much more with the ball than the visiting Devils and really looked like the protagonist. If it were not for a late goal by Fernando Uribe, this series would be all but over heading into the second leg. Cocca used the same lineup he had been using, with the exception of the inclusion of Luis Chavez, who was replacing the suspended Ignacio Rivero. Rivero will be available for this second leg, but it is still unclear if he will play because of Chavez’s solid showing.
Cocca will likely field a very similar lineup, but may switch up his tactics heading into the Nemesio Diez.
The Argentine manager has been a lot more defensive in road games this entire year and it would not be surprising at all to see this stay consistent. Cocca may even go for a five-man backline to try and maintain his lead to reach the Liga MX final. The backline and goalkeeper Gibran Lajud are more than capable of succeeding with this playing style as they were the best defense in the tournament with just 12 goals conceded. The Xoloitzcuintles can qualify with any win or draw and can inclusively sneak into the final with a loss, where they score two goals or more and only lose by a one-goal margin. Everything is in the Border City Dogs’ favor to reach their second Liga MX final in franchise history, but they will need to play a steady game this Sunday.
Toluca struggled to break down the Xolos’ defense in the first leg and also became frustrated with the physical play on the field.
There were 45 total fouls and nine yellow cards between both teams in that first leg and it does seem like it will continue in this second leg. A good indicator of this was the scuffle both teams had after the final whistle that involved both managers. There is bad blood between these two sides and it should carry on in this second leg, to make for an exciting clash. Toluca still has life in this series, with a late goal scored by Fernando Uribe at the Estadio Caliente that made this a workable 2-1 scoreline for Hernan Cristante’s team.
Los Diablos Rojos had their moments in the initial encounter of this series, but were outplayed by the Aztec Canines. Still, this Toluca team finished in first place in the regular season and clearly did something right to achieve that feat. The backline has proven to be inconsistent at times, but the midfield and attack can be very promising. The home team needs a win, but must also limit Xolos on the scoreboard, which makes this a much more difficult task.
Players to Watch
Juan Martin Lucero
Juan Martin Lucero was the clear standout player in the first leg of this series as he scored both goals that sealed Club Tijuana’s victory. Both of the Argentine’s goals were amazing finishes and he has been a player that seems to show up in important situations. In terms of the Xolos’ biggest threat inside of the penalty area, “El Gato” is the man. The 26-year-old forward has good height, a decent physical presence, good positioning, great jumping, and a sense for goal that make him lethal in front of net.
In the first leg, Rubens Sambueza did not have the best performance, but he was still clearly one of Toluca’s most noticeable players. The Argentine midfielder stirred the pot and riled up a few of Xolos’ players, as he is accustomed to doing. Sambueza is a playmaker, but he is also an enforcer, and he clearly showed that at the Estadio Caliente. “Sambu” can be a key difference maker in any match, but especially in these types of high-stakes affairs.
Club Tijuana is undefeated against Toluca in two games this season so far. The border city side defeated Los Escarlatas 1-0 in the final week of the regular season that ended a nine-game winning streak for Toluca. Now, the Xolos have a 2-1 lead heading into the second leg of this semifinal matchup and will be motivated to reach the final after being labeled as the underdogs. EVT predicts a 1-1 scoreline that will ensure that the Xoloitzcuintles a spot in the Clausura 2018 final to face Santos Laguna, most likely.