Cruz Azul are at full steam ahead; Atlas finally breaks goal drought
The international break brings a temporary halt to proceedings in Liga MX, but it's been an exciting weekend in Mexico's top division. Here are ten talking points from round eight of games in the 2018 Apertura:
1. Cruz Azul, Alvarado continue to impress
The pitch inside the Estadio Azteca may be in an embarrassing state, but Cruz Azul's fortunes continue to soar.
La Maquina overcame Veracruz 4-1 in the famous stadium on Saturday in what turned out to be a comfortable win over spirited opposition.
Again, Cruz Azul's counter-attacking prowess was on display and 19-year-old Roberto Alvarado shone with a sublime goal -- even if it shouldn't strictly have counted (see below) -- and an assist.
While Veracruz is far from the strongest team in Liga MX, the fact Cruz Azul heads into the international break undefeated on 20 points from eight games and with only three goals conceded represents an outstanding achievement for Pedro Caixinha's team.
2. Breathing space for Pumas' Patino, Tijuana's Cocca
Saturday's game against Leon looked to be slipping away from Pumas. When neither a penalty nor a red card was given after William Tesillo clearly handled the ball on the line in the 10th minute and then Luis Montes put Leon into the lead seconds later, the excuses appeared ready-made.
But Pumas fought and ended a four-game winless streak with a 2-1 victory in Estadio Leon.
"We are with David Patino until the end," said Pumas' Martin Rodriguez after the game. And that's exactly what the players showed on the pitch, ending any speculation about Patino leaving, at least for now.
The other manager thanking his lucky stars that his team won was Tijuana's Diego Cocca. Xolos haven't actually been as bad as a six-match winless run would suggest, but the Argentine coach would've breathed a sigh of relief when Miler Bolanos netted late to hand Tijuana a 1-0 win over Necaxa, who is now five games without a win.
3. VAR can't come soon enough
Video Assistant Referee is set to be tested in weeks 13 and 14 of the Apertura, with the aim of getting its use certified so that it can be used in the playoffs.
Once again, this was a week full of officiating complaints and getting VAR in can't come quickly enough.
In the Cruz Azul-Veracruz game, the ball had crossed the line by a long way when Edgar Mendez sprinted down the wing to set up Cruz Azul's opener, while Veracruz's penalty should not have been called.
In other matches, Tesillo stopped Pumas scoring with his hand.
All those incidents were easy to spot on replay and VARs implementation should help Liga MX officials earn back some trust from the average fan.
4. Lopez shows promise in Pachuca's win over Chivas
Pablo Lopez, 20, started for Pachuca in place of new PSV Eindhoven signing Erick Gutierrez and scored in Tuzos' 3-1 win over Chivas on Saturday. Replacing midfielder Gutierrez won't be easy and Lopez isn't a like-for-like choice, but Pachuca looks set to once again to turn to youth as it rebuilds from a sale.
On the field, Pako Ayestaran's hand is starting to show, with Pachuca set up to be solid in a 4-5-1 and pounce on Chivas' mistakes.
"The team has clearly understood what we're looking for, we've defended like beasts and when we've had offensive transitions we've done them [well]," said the Spaniard afterwards.
It's now five games undefeated for Pachuca, with Chivas' run of three wins coming to an end thanks to some dreadful defensive errors.
5. Puebla upsets Monterrey
Enrique Meza's side showed pluck and quality in coming from 1-0 behind to defeat Monterrey 2-1.
Uruguayan Christan Tabo and his pace was the catalyst, with the former Atlas player netting the equalizer before Canadian international Lucas Cavallini swept in a very late winner.
Veteran Meza doesn't have the strongest squad at his disposal this season, but the win lifts La Franja to within three points of the playoffs.
6. Atlas continue to cause concern
Atlas coach Gerardo Espinoza had every right to reel off the fact his team is the youngest in Liga MX and has five Mexico Under-21 internationals. Those facts are praiseworthy. But it was too obvious against Tigres on Saturday that it was men against boys.
Atlas scored their first goal of the season via Andres Andrade in the 2nd minute against Tigres to end a run of 810 minutes without a goal. The reaction on social media was naturally huge.
But after that Tigres peppered the Atlas goal and won 3-1, with the home side having 14 shots on target.
It's not even the halfway stage of the regular season and Atlas are already out of the playoff reckoning.
7. Queretaro clicking into gear
The performance of the weekend belongs to Queretaro, who defeated Morelia 4-1 away.
Monarcas have earned respect over the last few years, but simply couldn't deal with two-goal Camilo Sanvezzo.
Rafa Puente's side is looking like something of a dark horse, with Sanvezzo hitting form and the likes of (former) Mexico international Javier Guemez and Hiram Mier showing why they were once talked of so highly.
And then there is the emergence of 17-year-old central midfielder Marcel Ruiz, who looks quite special. The Mexican-Cuban recorded two assists and had a pass completion rate of 90 percent in a mature display.
Californian Jonathan Suarez, who assisted on Queretaro's third and almost scored with an exquisite chip, is another youngster to keep an eye on at Gallos Blancos.
8. Sambueza boosts Toluca
Toluca has looked significantly weaker without Rubens Sambueza in recent weeks, but when the 34-year-old came off the bench in the second half after a period out with injury, it was little surprise that he should be the one to knock in the winning goal on Sunday against Santos Laguna.
It almost seems like Sambueza gets better with age and he was a handful for Santos.
Sambueza has created 3.87 chances per 90 minutes this season and his return, coupled with the fact the win lifted Toluca into the playoff spots, puts a more positive spin on what the second half of the season could have in store for the Diablos Rojos.
9. America victory puts pressure on Palencia at Lobos BUAP
A 2-0 win for Club America on the road to Lobos BUAP was expected. It's what follows for Lobos BUAP that will be interesting.
"Paco" Palencia's side has now lost four consecutive games and is last in the relegation table once again. The former Mexico international's job appears to be safe, but there's a lot of work to do in the international break if he is to stay on over the long term.
10. Salinas claims U.S. national team possibility
Toluca right-back Rodrigo Salinas is so annoyed at not getting called up for Mexico that he's threatening to play for the United States, or at least that's what he was saying ahead of Sunday's game.
It was a strange claim for someone who is 29 years old and has bounced around Liga MX and established himself as a solid defender.
Salinas said in a news conference that a lot of people don't know that his wife is a "gringa" and his kids are "gringos."
"I'm looking elsewhere to be able to achieve my dream of wearing the shirt of a national team. I'm 100 percent Mexican, I'm very proud [of that], but you always have your goals."
Aside from getting the right papers and all that becoming a U.S. citizen would entail for Salinas, it probably wasn't the best message to win over either national team.