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The defending champions will start their playoff journey against Santos Laguna. Pachuca, who finished fifth in the league season, are the strongest of the playoff teams if we go by league rank, and Santos Laguna are the worst by the same metric.
That should leave no doubt about who the favorite is heading into this match. Pachuca are overwhelming favorites, so the odds aren’t the most rewarding. Pachuca’s fifth-place finish in the league might be considered a disappointment by some of their fans, but this doesn’t consider how busy their schedule has been.
Some of the draws and losses this season were undoubtedly due to the midweek CONCACAF Champions League fixtures. Pachuca aren’t in the CONCACAF Champions League anymore, so all their focus will be on the Liga MX season and defending their crown. They’ll be too strong and well-prepared for any challenges Santos Laguna send their way.
Another reason Pachuca are firm favorites heading into this tie is the overall and recent head-to-head record. They’ve won 10, lost six, drawn 12 of their 28 matches to Santos Laguna, and won three of their last five matches.
Pachuca also won the last league meeting between the two sides 4-1 last month. Cristian Arango got on the scoresheet in the ninth minute before Santos Laguna’s Javier Marcelo Correa leveled the scores 10 minutes later.
Pachuca went 2-1 up in the 31st minute after Santos Laguna’s Doria put the ball into his own net. Pachuca went up a level in the second-half, with Aviles Hurtado making it 3-1 two minutes into the second-half and Israel Luna cementing the three points with a second-half stoppage time goal to make it 4-1.
Pachuca had 55% of the possession and took 15 shots on target compared to Santos Laguna’s 12. Pachuca thoroughly deserved the three points.
Pachuca capped off the regular season with a 1-0 over Queretaro. It was a quiet end to a busy league campaign for Pachuca. Cristian Arango’s 26th-minute strike from the penalty spot was enough to separate the two sides.
This wasn’t a 1-0 game, with both sides having plenty of chances to score from open play. Queratro took 12 shots on goal, with six on target, and Pachuca took 20 on goal, with seven on target; neither side was clinical on the day.
Pachuca had 57% of the possession and did enough on the day to earn all three points, but the lack of composure in front of goal will be a slight worry heading into the match against Santos Laguna.
Pachuca have been one of the most free-flowing teams this season, with 32 goals in 17 games. However, the defense hasn’t been up to par – they’ve conceded 24 goals this season. This was most evident in the 4-1 loss to Atlas a little over two weeks ago.
They have been a bit better defensively since the 4-1 loss to Atlas, but this has taken a toll on their attacking players. They have struggled to find a balance between the two, and this could be a factor in their attempts to defend their crown. In the playoffs, teams are ruthless when it comes to exposing a team’s weakness, and teams will undoubtedly look to exploit Pachuca’s defensive weaknesses.
The match against Santos Laguna should be a bit easier, however. Santos Laguna have been shambolic defensively all season, so all Pachuca need to do is create a few chances, and they’ll certainly find the back of the net. Santos Laguna have an attacking approach, but they’re not the sort of team that’ll alarm Pachuca much.
The final game of the league season didn’t do anything to change Santos Laguna’s fortunes this season. The 3-2 loss to Cruz Azul was their eighth of the season. Cruz Azul took the lead in the 31st minute thanks to Augusto Lotti before Rodrigo Huescas made it 2-0 10 minutes later.
When Uriel Antuna made it 3-0 in the 64th minute, it looked like the game was wrapped up, but Santos Laguna showed some spirit in the final minutes of the game. Diego Javier Medina Vazquez scored Santos Laguna’s first goal of the day in the 87th minute, and Javier Marcelo Correa scored their second six minutes later.
It was too late for Santos Laguna, but that never die attitude will be essential in the playoffs because the quality isn’t there at the moment. Cruz Azul took 13 shots on goal and had 61% of the possession, but Santos Laguna took 18 shots. They were allowed to take so many shots because Cruz Azul took their foot off the gas for large parts of the second-half, but 18 shots is impressive, regardless of that.
Santos Laguna have conceded 37 goals in the league this season; only last-placed Mazatlan have conceded more. Manager Pablo Repetto needs to take some accountability for their defensive shambles this season. He’s fortunate to still be in the job. If Queretaro’s coefficient wasn’t so low, they wouldn’t be in the playoffs, but they are, and he needs to take advantage of this good fortune.
There’s no doubt that Santos Laguna have something to offer in attack, and he needs to maximize the attacking talent in the team. The team just isn’t capable of parking the bus and hitting on the break, so they need to hope for a fast start and rely on Pachuca fumbling on the big occasion. This is never the best strategy heading into a big tie, but Santos Laguna don’t have too many alternatives.
The issue is that the poor defensive scheme has a cumulative effect on the rest of the team, so it’ll be interesting to see how Santos Laguna approach the tie. They’ll need a little miracle to win this tie, which is reflected in their odds.
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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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