Pachuca visits Cruz Azul coming off an impressive victory last week, but the Tuzos have been horrible on the road this season.
Last season’s Super Leaders might have finally rediscovered their form, but Cruz Azul does not have an easy path to the playoffs. The Cementeros have won 2 in a row after a 2-3-3 start, moving up to 10th after falling as low as 14th.
Cruz Azul has not time to rest on any perceived laurels as Pachuca pays a visit to Estadio Azteca on Saturday afternoon. And road games against Monterrey and América soon follow.
Adding insult to injury, this week the Cementeros learned that winger Elías Hernández (last season’s leading scorer and still the leading scorer this season despite appearing in only 6 games) will miss the rest of the Clausura with a knee injury.
However, Cruz Azul gets to face a terrible road team as it goes for 3 straight wins. Pachuca has gone 0-2-3 away from home this season, compiling an ugly 2 goals scored, 13 goals against differential. Even so, the Tuzos find themselves in 4th place because they have not dropped a single point at home. Unless they get comfortable in their away jerseys real soon, the Tuzos might not be in contention for a top playoff seeding.
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Atlas 0, Cruz Azul 2
Newcomer Yoshimar Yotún put on a show, getting a highlight-reel goal early in the second half and providing the assist for the first by Julio César Domínguez as Cruz Azul won quite easily. Midfielder Orbelín Pineda also appeared more self-assured. The Cementeros as a team were more precise on offense than they have been much of the season, getting 8 shots on goal.
Pachuca 4, Tijuana 0
The Tuzos simply steamrolled Tijuana and could have (perhaps should have) scored 10 goals. And that is no exaggeration. Pachuca dominated this game from start to finish with midfielder Edwin Cardona playing the starring role. The Colombian international scored twice and added an assist, directing an offense that literally ran rampant. Víctor Guzmán squandered several chances to get on the scoreboard, still struggling to find the net this season.
Cruz Azul: 4-2-3-1
Domínguez – Lichnofsky – Aguilar – Aldrete
Salas – Baca
Alvarado – Pineda – Yotun
This line-up is more speculative than a prediction. Coach Pedro Caixinha seems to prefer a tall striker, but I believe the mercurial Jonathan Rodríguez would make the Cruz Azul offense more dynamic. Caixinha typically subs for offense and forwards Martín Cauteruccio, Edgar Méndez and Milton Caraglio are all available.
López – Barreiro – Murillo – Hernández
Guzmán – Hernández
Aguirre – Cardona – Ulloa
This formation morphs easily into a 4-4-2 with Leo Ullo joining Franco Jara up front and the remaining midfielders shaping into a box/diamond variation. Last week, Raúl López wreaked havoc on the left side of the Xolos defense and his battle with Adrián Aldrete could determine this match. Coach Martín Palermo has a star-studded bench to call upon, led by Ismael Sosa, Pablo López and Angelo Sagal.
Cruz Azul: Midfielder Roberto Alvarado got an invitation to next week’s national team camp but he has not been in great form this season. The 21-year-old has a great chance to carve out a spot on Team Mexico’s roster, but he needs to get his game going. Saturday’s match against Pachuca is a good place to start.
Pachuca: Víctor Guzmán was a revelation throughout the Apertura 2018 season, even winning plaudits for his performances with El Tri in the fall. But “El Pocho” has been hit-and-miss this season, but last week he showed flashes of his potential. His movement and decision-making was virtually flawless against Tijuana. Now he needs to work on his finishing.
The preseason roster changes the Cementeros looked very good on paper, but have not impressed on the field. Last week showed a hint of what might evolve and Cruz Azul must step up the results now as the tougher part of its schedule is on the immediate horizon.
It’s not a good bet to assume that Pachuca will again lay an egg away from home, but the drop-off in performance on the road has been dramatic.
I expect Cruz Azul to play it cautious, wary of Pachuca’s explosiveness. If midfielders Rafa Baca and Javier Salas stand up to Cardona, Erick Aguirre and Guzmán, I think the Cementeros can manage the game at Fortress Azteca.