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It all comes down to this in the Liga MX finals.
On Thursday, we’ll see Santos host Cruz Azul in the first of two legs in the championship round of the 2021 Clausura season.
Cruz Azul have more firepower within their squad, but as seen in recent midweek games, manager Juan Reynoso doesn’t take too many chances when he is dealt with a busy schedule.
As for Santos, when needed, they often rely on their organized roster (and their gifted goalkeeper) to keep things calm in low-scoring affairs.
|Although it should prove to be an entertaining first match of the Liga MX finals, expect this to feel like a game of tactical chess.|
|Santos Laguna vs Cruz Azul Information|
|Teams||Santos Laguna vs Cruz Azul|
|Location||Estadio Corona (Torreon, Mexico)|
|Time||Thursday, May 27th at 10:00 pm ET|
|How to Watch||FS2|
And then there were two.
After weeks and months of regular season matches — and a few playoff rounds — the 2021 Clausura tournament is now set to crown the next Liga MX champion this week.
Will it be Santos?
Often seen as dark horses in modern Liga MX history, Santos regularly finds a great balance of youth and experience in their teams that typically earn playoff appearances.
The current Clausura has been no different, and under the guidance of the lively Guillermo Almada, Santos have now looked like an incredibly energetic and motivated squad.
Or, on the other end of the pitch, will it be Cruz Azul who ultimately clinch the trophy?
Despite being synonymous with bad luck in the Mexican soccer world, Cruz Azul have somehow avoided countless costly mistakes that would have usually set them back.
With a number of some of the very best names in Liga MX within their ranks, it’s also no wonder why Cruz Azul waltzed into the playoff scenario as the #1 seed.
That said, don’t expect them to hit the ground running in Thursday’s first leg.
It has been criticized in their midweek games earlier this season and twice in the current playoff run, and yet, it has been enough to carry Cruz Azul to the finals.
During busy runs that feature two games in a short space of time, Reynoso has a propensity for benching some of his most talented starters during the midweek matches.
Along with resting some of his most skillful options in those Tuesday-Thursday periods, the manager also prefers a more pragmatic approach.
There have undoubtedly been some close calls due to this, but it has worked.
And as for Thursday, it wouldn’t be much of a shock if he once again aims for a low-scoring tie.
What if Reynoso decided to catch Santos off-guard? With an expectation that Reynoso will take it easy during the first leg, a clever idea could be going all out in the first 90 minutes.
That’s where Carlos Acevedo steps in.
Widely touted as the goalkeeper of the season, the 25-year-old Mexican is one of the big reasons why Santos are now fighting for another title.
Acevedo has been lights out for Santos, and despite the appearance of a couple of odd mistakes in a game or two since April, he has only allowed three goals in his last six starts.
The long-haired captain has been brilliant to watch, and with his reflexes seemingly improving with each performance, he’ll likely be a wall once again this Thursday.
Looking over at Cruz Azul’s frontline, they haven’t exactly been convincing in recent weeks either.
They kicked off their playoff run with a 2-1 loss to Toluca in their first quarterfinal leg, and in the semis, they scraped by with a 0-0 draw and a narrow 1-0 win over Pachuca.
In fact, in five of their last six matches, they haven’t scored more than once in a game.
Granted, that one outlier was a 3-1 win over Toluca in the second leg of the quarters, but as mentioned earlier, they clearly saved their energy for the weekend match and not the mid-week encounter.
Freelance writer Cesar Hernandez is a specialist in all things American and Mexican soccer. He has written for ESPN FC, The Athletic, The Guardian, FourFourTwo, VICE Sports and several other publications. Along with writing and previous radio appearances on the BBC, talkSPORT and SiriusXM FC, Cesar is also a member of the Mexican Soccer Show podcast. Email: [email protected]More info on Cesar Hernandez
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