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Odds taken from Bet365.
Pick: Atlas to win. (+260)
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This is arguably the most exciting game of the first round of the playoffs. Cruz Azul and Atlas’ league positions reflect how little separates the two sides, and they’re both heading into this game with some momentum on their side. Cruz Azul won their last game of the regular season against Santos Laguna to confirm an eighth place, and Atlas were in good form before their 0-0 draw against San Luis.
Unlike most of the other playoff ties, where there is a clear favorite, this game doesn’t have an outright favorite. Cruz Azul have the more favorable odds, but there’s not a strong enough case to suggest they’re a better team than Atlas as things stand, especially given Atlas’ recent form.
Atlas’ more rewarding odds make them a tempting pick and for good reason. They’ve beaten some top-eight sides recently and smashed lower-league sides. They aren’t the team from 2021, but they’re getting there again.
The two sides haven't faced each other plenty of times. In the 12 matches they’ve contested, Atlas have won six, lost four, and drawn two. In fact, the two sides haven't played since 2020. During their last meeting, Atlas won 2-1. It was the first game of the Liga MX season that year, so there’s really not a lot we can take from this game.
Cruz Azul opened the scoring through Elias Hernandez in the 16th minute. Jeremy Marquez did the same for Atlas just before the half-time whistle, but before that, Cruz Azul’s Orbelin Penida was sent off in the 30th minute to change the trajectory of the tie.
Atlas kept knocking on the door for the winner, and Ignacio Jeraldino ended the game as the hero with an 87th-minute strike. Atlas might have a small psychological edge heading into the tie because of their superior head-to-head record and this win, but they’ll need a lot more to beat a decent Cruz Azul side.
Cruz Azul returned to winning ways with a 3-2 win against struggling Santos Laguna. Cruz Azul’s excellent start to the game set them up for the victory. Cruz Azul took the lead in the 31st minute through Augusto Lotti before Rodrigo Huescas made it 2-0 10 minutes later.
Uriel Antuna made it 3-0 in the 64th minute, and it looked like the three points were confirmed, but Santos Laguna showed some fight towards the end to make things a bit tense. Diego Javier Medina Vazquez found the back of the net in the 87th minute, and Javier Marcelo Correa scored six minutes later to make it 3-2. Santos Laguna didn’t have enough time to score an equalizer, so Cruz Azul earned all three points.
Cruz Azul can’t be this lax in the playoffs because better teams will take advantage of lapses in concentration. Cruz Azul took 13 shots on goal and had 61% of the possession, but Santos Laguna took 18 shots.
Cruz Azul’s attack has been misfiring all season, but they showed some potency in the last game, which will serve them well just before the playoffs. Despite scoring three goals in the last match, they’ve scored just 21 goals all season, which is a small return for a team that’s in the top eight.
They actually created fewer chances than Santos Laguna but won the game. Things have gone inversely for them most of this season, so they’ll be happy to see things revert to the mean. Atlas are in great form in recent games, so Cruz Azul can’t give them any second chances.
Cruz Azul have also got home advantage, which is a significant advantage in knockout ties like this. Regardless of Atlas' recent form, this is their game to lose.
Atlas underwhelmed in their final game of the season with a 0-0 draw against San Luis. This was a poor result because they were expected to smash San Luis because of their recent results. In the end, Atlas were fortunate to come out of the 90 minutes with a point.
Atlas’ Julio Firch was the man responsible for their drop-off. He was sent off in the 38th minute, so San Luis, naturally, dominated the rest of the game. Atlas conceded 24 shots on goal and had just 38% of the possession. To be fair to Atlas, they did well to come out of the game with a clean sheet and a point, considering the circumstances.
Atlas will need to do much better if they want to win this tie against Cruz Azul. Any manner of indiscipline will be punished.
Atlas’ little debacle against San Luis shouldn’t detract from their recent form. Cruz Azul will be wary of Atlas in this sort of form. Atlas haven’t lost a match in their last five league outings.
In recent weeks, they’ve won matches against Puebla, Pachuca, and Necaxa, which is no easy task. They even drew 3-3 to a strong Guadalajara side. Cruz Azul are in the same bracket as some of these teams, so it should be a cracking tie.
It’s hard to know if this season is a success or failure. Atlas were 17th on the Liga MX table last season and won the league consecutively just before last season’s disaster. Fan expectations have risen, so they’ll expect a win tomorrow, but it won’t be easy – especially because they’re going into this tie as the away side.
Atlas’ forwards have been in excellent form recently – the team has scored 27 goals recently with many of their high-scoring games coming later in the season. Based on recent form, Atlas aren’t just capable of getting better of Cruz Azul; they’re capable of beating anyone in the league.
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Teams: Cruz Azul vs Atlas
Location: Estadio Azteca
Time: Saturday, May 6 at 5:00 pm EST onwards
How to watch: Univision networks TUDN and UniMas, ESPN Deportes, Telemundo, and Fox Deportes
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With an interest in strategy and mathematics, applying that to sports writing was the natural progression. A writer at night and the founder of a gaming company, Nikhil’s previous experience includes working with ESPN for five years. His specialization includes soccer, basketball, tennis, and esports betting. Email: [email protected]More info on Nikhil Kalro
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