The Liga MX kicks off the Clausura 2019 season at Puebla’s Estadio Cuauhtémoc on Friday night as the Camoteros host the Apertura 2018 regular-season champs Cruz Azul.
Cruz Azul rode its No. 1 seed to the Liga MX Final against América but came up short again, stretching its streak of futility to 21 years. The Cementeros are desperate to end their drought and will be going all out to claim a high seed again this season.
Puebla has much more moderate aspirations. The Camoteros aim to finish in the top half of the table so as to keep relegation concerns at arm’s length at least another year.
Apertura 2018 result
Cruz Azul 3, Puebla 0
The Cementeros ran circles around Puebla at Estadio Azteca in the season opener on July 21, 2018, but they couldn’t find the net until Andrés Rentería opened the scoring in minute 81. A questionable penalty followed in injury time – which Milton Caraglio converted – then newcomer Elías Hernández fired home a spectacular clincher at 90+4 and the score almost seemed unfair.
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Cruz Azul had invested heavily over the summer and they simply outlasted Puebla, easing to victory on their superior talent alone. They showed the offensive shortcomings that would haunt them during the playoffs, but the Camoteros were no match.
Cruz Azul asserted their authority back in Estadio Azteca after a 22-year dalliance with Estadio Azul. The Cementeros would go on to an undefeated season at home (8-1-0) only to lose in the Gran Final to América. Puebla, meanwhile, struggled to a 2-2-5 season on the road, missing out on the playoffs by 6 points.
Loroña – Zamora – Arreola – Angulo
Robles – Espericueta – Zavala – Chumacero
Cavallini – Micolta
An average Puebla team basically stood pat, with rumors that leading scorer Lucas Cavallini might be auctioned off to restock the club’s coffers. But the Argentine striker is still with the team. It’s time for 24-year-old midfielder Jonathan Espericueta to fulfill his potential and seize the playmaker role that coach Enrique Meza has been looking to fill. Goalie Nicola Vikonis can likely expect another busy season, but he performed well under pressure often last season. Meza could opt for newly acquired Matías Alustiza in place of 29-year-old Colombian forward Félix Micolta.
Cruz Azul: 4-4-2
Madueña – Domínguez – Aguilar – Aldrete
Hernández – Pineda – Marcone – Alvarado
Rodríguez – Cauteruccio/Caraglio
With the addition of Jonathan Rodríguez, coach Caixinha looks to play with a second attacker, though J-Rod could be stationed as a secondary forward, morphing the tactical alignment into the 4-5-1 so often used by the Cementeros last season. Orbelín Pineda joins from Chivas and he will play alongside bulldog midfielder Javier Marcone in the center but in a more advanced role. This could give Elías Hernández and Roberto Alvarado more space on the wings. The battle for lead striker between Martín Cauteruccio and Milton Caraglio might go on all season. Caraglio could be utilized in a forward post role (a la Julio Furch at Santos, though he lacks the technical skills) and as a target for Rodríguez to execute the give-and-go into space.
Puebla: Jonathan Espericueta was the Silver Ball winner for the 2011 Under-17 World Cup champions but he has yet to perform to that level in Liga MX where he first struggled to find playing time with the Tigres before being sent to Ascenso MX Atlético San Luis. I think “Ojitos” Meza gives him every chance to prove he belongs. He faces a stern test against the best defense of the Apertura 2018.
Cruz Azul: Orbelín Pineda should thrive in the Cementero attack alongside Marcone who will pick up the defensive slack. Pineda will look for the quick transition and could find space around the box to test his mid-range accuracy.
Puebla needs points to remain clear of the relegation zone and a home opener at the Estadio Cuauhtémoc makes it critical to get points. Coach Meza was not given any new toys in the transfer market, so he’ll emphasize defense. Cruz Azul was rather effective against the counterattack last season, so Puebla will likely find scoring chances hard to find. The Cementeros addressed their most pressing needs during the early stages of the transfer window and they’ll be eager to erase the foul taste of the 2-0 loss to América in the Final.