The best Liga MX game of the weekend kicks off Matchday 17 as league-leading Cruz Azul visits a Morelia team that controls its own playoff destiny.
You could argue that the Pumas-Santos match offers better quality but both have already qualified for the Liguilla whereas Morelia needs a win to punch its playoff ticket and Cruz Azul clinches the Liga MX top seed with a tie.
Kickoff is Friday at 7 p.m. (local time) at Morelia’s Estadio José María Morelos.
Morelia has won 4 of its past 5 to surge into the lead for the No. 8 seed and could actually claim the 6th seed with a win and some help. Cruz Azul has been nearly perfect at home but only so-so on the road so the Cementeros will battle for the point that clinches home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Morelia: 3-2 win at Tijuana
Miguel Sansores scored the winner in minute 84 – his second of the match – as the Monarcas moved into position to grab the 8th and final playoff berth after the two teams above them lost the night before. Morelia struggled on defense without captain Gabriel Achilier who was serving a 1-game suspension, but they made up for it by controlling tempo and playing a patient, possession-style attack.
Cruz Azul: 2-1 win vs Lobos BUAP
Martín Cauteruccio and José Madueña scored late first-half goals to overcome a 1-0 deficit and the Cementeros shut down the visitors the second half to maintain their undefeated record at Estadio Azteca. Cruz Azul held the visiting Lobos to only 2 shots on goal and hogged possession (60%) while firing 22 shots at Lobos keeper José Antonio Rodríguez who made 7 saves. They looked more dangerous on offense than they have in a long time, finishing plays well and if not for Pepe Toño’s brilliance in goal, this game could have been a rout.
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Guzmán – Achilier – Loeschbar – Vegas
Vilchis – Millar – Rocha – Flores
Sansores – Ferreira
With Achilier back in central defense, Morelia will feel more comfortable moving their lines forward and pressing farther up the field. Sansores and Sebastián Ferreira have grown comfortable working off each other while Rodolfo Vilchis and Rodrigo Millar will look to jump into attack mode more quickly.
Cruz Azul: 4-4-2
Madueña – Domínguez – Aguilar – Aldrete
Hernández – Marcone – Baca – Alvarado
Méndez – Cauteruccio
Adrián Aldrete is back at left fullback after a 1-game suspension and his participation on offense along with the emergence of José Madueña at right fullback makes Cruz Azul much more dangerous in attack. The fullbacks can venture forward knowing that Iván Marcone and Rafa Baca will harass any Monarcas players who push into Cementero territory.
Morelia: Goalie Sebastián Sosa must be strong in front of net because Cruz Azul does not give up many goals and a shut-out might be necessary for playoff qualification. Sosa has 3 shut-outs on the season.
Cruz Azul: Edgar Méndez has shown some life in recent weeks and he’ll want to prove that he deserves to start in the Liguilla. Milton Caraglia is back after a lengthy injury absence, but Cauteruccio has picked up a few knocks the past month. Méndez has the chance to show he is indispensable.
After a two-week lay-off both teams are well-rested and mostly healthy. Cruz Azul midfielder Javier Salas will be unavailable due to injury and it would not be a surprise if Coach Pedro Caixinha gives Caraglio a run out instead of Cauteruccio to insure the latter’s health going into the playoffs.
Neither team will give an inch, though the Cementeros will surely play for the tie if late-game circumstances allow. Morelia will throw players forward to get a winner because a tie – though mathematically enough to get into the playoffs – might not do it since Morelia has a -1 goal differential.
I see the scrappy Monarcas getting a goal, but that won’t be enough against the Cementeros.