Junior v Pereira
As manager Juan Cruz Real again totters on the edge of another sacking, Junior face Pereira in their imperious home of Barranquilla knowing anything but a win will seal his fate. All week Real has had to bat off suggestions that he could be axed should Junior fail to win this game. As always, he’s come out blaming everyone but himself for his team’s sticky run of form. Yet Cruz knows that a home match against one of the weaker teams in the league couldn’t have worked more in his favour and he will surely survive for now. Yet given the amount of money Junior have splashed on transfers and the humongous salaries of their star players – easily the highest in the league – Junior should be doing much better. Junior’s midfield alone is an embarrassment of riches. At least five of their midfielders would walk straight into any other team in the division. The problem Real has had has been finding the right balance and knowing when and who to rotate. Last week’s defeat to local rivals Union Magdalena again set the media frothing at the mouth with Junior president Alejandro Arteta being equally unimpressed. “We wanted to win last week, and we didn’t even take a point,” he grumbled. “But I have nothing new to tell you about Juan Cruz Real.”
At home though, Junior are rarely matched. The atmosphere, the weather, the humidity, their ardent fans; there’s something special about the Metropolitano and it’s no real surprise that Colombia also choose to play their home games here. Only once this season has a team achieved a higher xG than Junior and even then, it was only by a meagre 0.04. With Pereira missing young defender Carlos Garces who had a transfer-deadline-day medical in Russia midweek before the deal fell through because Pereira failed to send the right papers, Junior should have plenty of joy ploughing through Pereira’s back three that includes two creaking defenders well past their best (Correa aged 38, Ramirez at 34). Junior should win easily here. But it won’t take the heat off their prickly manager Juan Cruz Real.
Independiente Medellín vs América de Cali
Few expected much from America at the start of the season. Under a transfer embargo, the club may be one of Colombia’s biggest and most historic sides. But their current squad is a mixed bag that was thought not strong or deep enough to challenge for the title. Yet they’ve surprised many. And the reason for that is their wily Costa Rican coach Alexander Guimaraes.
The key to the coach’s success has been his sturdy defence. America have conceded just two goals in their last six games. You have to go back to last season to find America conceding more than once. Only once has a team racked up an xG of more than one goal in matches against America this season. They may lack the spark in midfield to get the very best out of ageing striker Adrian Ramos, but when you go into a game knowing that a goal will probably win it for you, it’s no wonder why America are riding so high in the table.
Medellín come into this game after a rollercoaster of a week. Fresh from putting four goals past local rivals Nacional in just 45 minutes in the Medellín derby last weekend, they then raced into a two-goal lead in their Colombian Cup semi-final midweek against Millonarios. Yet despite having a man extra for a full half, they flopped to a 2-2 draw and thus crashed out of the cup. Rookie manager David Gonzalez has earned praise for the fresh approach he’s implemented at the club this season and for their attacking play. But he’s still got a lot to learn in his game management, in knowing how to close out matches. This game should be a close game with America keeping it extremely tight at the back like they always do. The smart money should look to unders.
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