Liga MX will have a new champion by the end of the weekend. How do we see it all playing out?
You can go back and look at the last few previews I’ve done for America this Liguilla and see how down I’ve been on them. They are, in my mind, the most talented team in Liga MX and often play a very timid, very conservative style that allows their opponent to stay in games.
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Then Sunday, December 9th happened. America scored early as they usually do, and we were all prepared to watch them invite pressure, but apparently Carlos Gonzalez’s goal came too early, because Las Aguilas turned it on and blasted Pumas from that moment on.
This was the America many of us have been dying to see all season. The game we have believed this Aguilas team is capable of finally happened in the biggest match of their season. If Piojo takes that match as an indication of his club’s true potential, perhaps we’ll see similar tactics against Cruz Azul.
Cruz Azul is no Pumas, though. They are much better defensively, though they lack the offensive threat of Pumas. Cruz Azul advanced out of the semifinal by being the higher seed, so, for many, they haven’t proven themselves to be the favorites. Perhaps it is a bit of “what have you done for me lately” or a short attention span, but it’s hard to look at the paths of these two teams and think they come in with the same momentum.
If Renato Ibarra, Diego Lainez, and Mateus Uribe can use their skill to get the best out of Roger Martinez, coupled with the continued success of Bruno Valdez and Ema Aguilera on set pieces, this may not be in doubt. We’ve seen that America can produce some frustrating results, though, so don’t go betting the house on these predictions.
In any case, I expect that the first leg will end in a 1-1 draw. Similar to the 0-0 draw we saw in the regular season, I think both teams will try to play stiff defense and avoid giving the other side much room to work.
The second leg, however, will be an exciting affair that will see America lift the trophy as Liga MX Apertura 2018 champs, with a 3-1 victory.
The league’s best defense and No. 1 seed (Cruz Azul) takes on the best Liga MX offense and No. 2 seed (América) in a Final that will be played exclusively in Estadio Azteca.
Cruz Azul is built to win 1-0, with a stalwart back 4, a pit bull in front of them and a goalie playing lights out behind them. América, on the other hand, plays with the attitude “You score on us and we’ll put 3 past your goalie (or 4, or 5 … or 6).”
Although the Aguilas are prone to giving up goals – 1 per game in 17 regular-season matches and 6 goals in 4 playoff games – they are a tough, physical team. Cruz Azul struggles to generate offense and are over-reliant on Elías Hernández and Roberto Alvarado, but they can spring into attack quickly and will battle in the box.
This will be an intense, physical series with key battles on the wings (Hernández and Edgar Méndez for Cruz Azul vs. Paul Aguilar and Jorge Sánchez/Luis Reyes for América) and in midfield where América’s Guido Rodríguez and Cruz Azul’s Iván Marcone harass opposing players mercilessly.
A low-scoring series likely favors Cruz Azul while América will want a frantic pace. An early lead for América could result in a wide-open affair and shell-shocked goalies.
If all things remain equal (no injuries or red cards that skewer the second leg), I see Cruz Azul ending its 21-year title drought in a close, low-scoring series.