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This is arguably the biggest game of the week. Cruz Azul have everything to lose, with just one regular season game left this season. They’re currently in eighth place in Liga MX, with Atlas the most likely to take their playoff spot if they don’t win this tie.
Atlas are a point behind Cruz Azul, with a far superior goal difference, so if Atlas win their final match of the season and Cruz Azul fail to win theirs, Atlas will qualify for the playoffs. Atlas are in excellent form and aren’t the only team that makes the chasing pack – Cruz Azul’s opponents, Santos Laguna, are just two points behind, and a win could see them qualify for the playoffs.
Cruz Azul have everything in their favor, from the home advantage to the lead. Their recent form has been an issue, and it feels like they’re crumbling under the pressure. They’ve not won a league match in their last three ties, so we think this might end in a draw, with neither team getting the desired result. A draw also had rewarding odds, so the temptation to pick this result is valid, with neither team looking convincing in recent weeks.
Nothing is separating the two sides as far as head-to-head records are concerned. Both sides have won 12 matches each and drawn five. Santos Laguna have got the edge in recent meetings, winning the last two matches between the two sides.
In fact, when the two sides met in August 2022, Santos Laguna hammered Cruz Azul 4-0. Javier Marcelo Correa gave the home side the league in the 18th minute before going for the kill in the second half. Hugo Rodriguez (48’), Eduardo Aguirre (52’), and Carlos Orrantia (57’) took Cruz Azul apart in a 10-minute period that guaranteed the three points.
There was no doubt regarding who the better team was in this tie. Santos Laguna took 17 shots, with nine on target, compared to Cruz Azul’s 12, with one on target. They slowed down after going for 4-0 up, which is only natural. They’ll have a psychological edge heading into the tie, but Santos Laguna are a far cry from the team that finished in third place in the regular season last season.
Cruz Azul suffered a major setback in their playoff hopes with a 2-1 loss to in-form Guadalajara last weekend. They didn’t play too badly but lost their composure toward the end and even had Ramiro Funes Moris sent off towards the end of the tie.
Uriel Antuna opened the account with a 37th-minute strike, and they took the lead into half-time. The second-half was a different story as Guadalajara showed the form that’s taken them to third place on the league table.
Victor Guzman kicked things off with a 53rd-minute strike before Ronaldo Cisneros joined him to make it 2-1. Funes Mori’s red card confirmed the three points for Guadalajara if it wasn’t already.
Cruz Azul were competitive throughout the game – they took 14 shots on goal like Guadalajara, but the latter were more clinical, and they got a real lift from the home crowd after scoring their first goal. Cruz Azul have it all to do in the next game.
Cruz Azul need to win at all costs in the next game. It doesn’t matter how they go about it as long as they get all three points. If they get the three points, they don’t have to worry about what the chasing pack does; it’s in their hand.
One of Cruz Azul’s issues this season has been the forward line. Like the last game against Guadalajara, they created enough chances to score a second but weren’t clinical enough. They’ve scored just 18 goals this season, which is fewer goals scored than 14th-placed Puebla.
They need to start this game on the front foot so that they aren’t reminded of their struggles in attack. This shouldn’t be a problem as they’ll have most of the Azteca backing them. The longer the game goes on with them scoreless, the more Santos Laguna will feel like they could get all three points and enter the playoffs.
Santos Laguna’s poor form continued with a 2-0 loss to Queretaro on the weekend. They haven’t won a game in their last five matches and lost their last three league games. They almost left this game with a point, but two goals towards the end of the game crushed any hopes of that.
Kevin Escamilla scored five minutes into second-half stoppage time, and Ettson Ayon scored two minutes later to leave Santos Laguna completely crushed by the end of the tie. Santos Laguna did enough to get something out of the game, with 45% of the possession and 13 shots on goal compared to Queretaro’s 11, but it wasn’t to be.
Santos Laguna’s attack was one of the better features of their play this season, but it has been letting them down in recent weeks and didn’t show up in this game either.
Santos Laguna have conceded 34 goals in the league this season, which is the second-worst defensive record in the league. Their disintegration this season has been quite drastic; they were third on the league table last season but now need favors from other sides to enter the playoffs.
Even if they win this tie, their odds of entering the playoffs aren’t great, which isn’t ideal. This game is one last shot at redemption for Santos Laguna. Cruz Azul haven’t been in the best form, but they’ve performed better than Santos Laguna this season and are playing at home, so it’s hard to see Santos Laguna get more than a draw in this tie. This feels like their last game of a disappointing season.
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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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