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Monterrey were undoubtedly the best team in the league this season, but form tends to go out of the window in the playoffs. No one expected Santos Laguna to get the better of defending champions Pachuca in the last round, but they’re in the quarterfinals now – this is just how knockout rounds tend to play out.
Monterrey are a different proposition to Pachuca, but they have a patchy record against Santos Laguna, which will be covered in the next section. Pachuca have been inconsistent all season and were surprise winners last season; Monterrey, however, have shown little to no fragility this season, but one of the instances where it did show up was in a loss to Santos Laguna. Santos Laguna needed a lot of luck in the win against Monterrey and against Pachuca in the last round; that sort of good fortune isn’t going to last forever.
Santos Laguna have done well to get this far, but Monterrey are the safest bet of all the quarterfinal matches. Monterrey are also playing at home; it’s hard to envision them losing twice to an inferior opponent in the same season.
Monterrey have a superior head-to-head record, but it’s pretty tight. They’ve won 10, drawn 10, and lost eight of their 27 games against Santos Laguna. Santos Laguna won 4-3 in the league last season and 2-1 this season.
Both matches were dramatic in their own way. Santos Laguna’s 2-1 win occurred just last month. Rogelio Funes Mori gave Monterrey the lead in the 20th minute, but Juan Brunetta scored the equalizer just three minutes later.
Funes Mori was then sent off in the 40th minute, and Santos Laguna’s Lucas Gonzalez got his marching orders just before the half-time whistle to add another twist to the tie. It looked like the tie would end as a draw, but Santos Laguna’s Harold Preciado had other ideas and scored a winner four minutes into second-half stoppage time to give Santos Laguna the three points.
Santos Laguna seem to thrive under chaotic circumstances; Monterrey will have to keep that to the minimum if they want to qualify for the semifinals. Monterrey dominated the fixture with 20 shots on goal and 62% of the possession, but it didn’t matter in the end, as Santos Laguna were more clinical. Santos Laguna did something similar against Pachuca in the playoff match last week, so Monterrey needs to be wary.
Monterrey’s 4-1 win over Pumas UNAM in their final league match of the season typified their season. Arturo Gonzalez gave them the lead two minutes in before Rogelio Funes Mori scored a first-half hat-trick (17’, 22’, and 27’) to ensure that the rest of the match would be a breeze.
UNAM scored a goal through Gustavo Prete just before the half-time whistle, but the game was over long before that. Monterrey were dominant all-game with 17 shots on goal and 52% of the possession. They took their foot off the gas towards the end, which was acceptable, considering they wanted to ensure that no players got injured before the playoffs.
Monterrey have done almost everything right so far this season. Last season, a first-leg collapse against Pachuca in the semifinals killed their hopes of a championship. It was a cruel lesson but one they would’ve learned a lot from.
This season, they have to take the next step by qualifying for the finals and winning the tournament. Last season, the likes of Club America went into the playoffs as the favorites but not by much; however, there’s little doubt as to who the favorites are this time around. Monterrey ended the league season six points ahead of Club America. They also conceded just 14 goals while scoring 35.
This is the only team that has found the balance between attack and defense this season. They won’t have a better opportunity to win the league.
The playoffs are the best part of the Liga MX season, and Santos Laguna’s win over Pachuca in a penalty shootout proved why this is the case. No one saw this result coming, not even Santos Laguna’s most ardent fans.
It was also the most dramatic of games – ending 4-4 at full-time. Christian Arango gave Pachuca a fast start with a goal from the penalty spot in the 7th minute, but Santos Laguna leveled the scores just four minutes later through Harold Preciado. Robert de la Rosa made it 2-1 to Pachuca three minutes before Felix Torres made it 2-2 in the 26th minute.
Pachuca went into the second-half with a 3-2 lead thanks to Romario Ibara’s 43rd-minute strike. It was an enthralling first-half, with both teams taking an attacking approach. The lead didn’t last long as Raul Lopez made it 3-3 seven minutes into the second-half.
Erick Sanchez thought he’d won the game for Pachuca with a strike two minutes into the 90, but Doria had other ideas by making it 4-4 just before the final whistle. Every time Pachuca went up, Santos Laguna had an answer.
In the penalty shootout, Paulino de la Fuenta and Gustavo Cabral missed their spot kicks, while Santos Laguna scored all of theirs to cap off a memorable game. It was one of the best games of the season and in recent years. Santos Laguna showed great pride and spirit – something they’ll need in abundance against Monterrey.
Santos Laguna will enter this tie as massive underdogs, which will suit them just right. They ended the league season in 13th place – nobody expected them to get this far. Their defense isn’t the best, as was evident in the last match, but they have some clinical players like Harold Preciado.
Santos Laguna have also been a bit of a bogey team for Monterrey recently, so they need to take advantage of this. Monterrey will be a bit nervous because of the expectations surrounding them. Santos Laguna have none of those expectations but everything to play for. It should be a cracking contest.
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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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