The Liga MX quarterfinals feature a Clásico Joven, a rematch of the Apertura 2018 final won by América.
And so we meet again. Another Junior Classic in the playoffs. These two Mexico City teams squared off in the Apertura 2018 final with América defeating Cruz Azul with a smothering defensive effort. The Cementeros failed to score against the Aguilas in three games last season and their April 14 match ended in a 0-0 draw.
América is going for the double this season after winning the Copa MX, so Cruz Azul would like nothing better than to ruin coach Miguel Herrera’s dream season. That would be karmic payback since Cruz Azul was aiming for the double last season only to see América deny them.
Cruz Azul has not won a Liga MX title in nearly 22 years and the drought is an anvil around their necks. Coach Pedro Caixinha struggled to establish a style this season (Cruz Azul seemed to be suffering from a letdown in January) and his job was on the line on Matchdays 8 and 9, but then the Cementeros turned it around and closed out the season with a 10-game unbeaten streak to climb from 14th place to 4th.
More from Viva Liga MX
- Guillermo Ochoa is out 4-6 weeks
- The Clásico Regiomontano is Heating Up
- Pumas: In Search of Regaining a Top Spot
- Why the United States Is Set to Overtake Mexico on the World Stage
- Erick Gutierrez is out once again
América had an inconsistent season primarily due to injuries (and perhaps complacency?), but flashed their intimidating, physical style often enough to cruise into the playoffs as the 5th seed. The shenanigans on the sidelines could also be entertaining.
Veracruz 0, América 2
Playing against the league’s worst team, the Aguilas basically stretched their legs and focused on avoiding injury. Captain Oribe Peralta returned to the field after early-season foot surgery and Nico Castillo showed he is nearly back in form after missing a few weeks (he scored the second goal). Roger Martínez also found the net.
Cruz Azul 1, Morelia 1
Kind of an odd one … the Cementeros played to win (coach Pedro Caixinha brought in striker Martín Cauteruccio for defender Julio César Domínguez late on), but the intensity was not well-focused. A win would have seen them climb into third place. Morelia took the lead in minute 23 and top scorer Milton Caraglio (11 goals) knocked home a penalty kick for the equalizer.
Clausura 2019 result
América 0, Cruz Azul 0
Three of the last three Junior Classics have ended in a 0-0 draw and this was no different. Hard-fought, physical and intense (36 fouls called), but nobody found the net. The Aguilas held the Cementeros to only 5 shots and only 2 reached goalie Agustín Marchesín. América did not have better luck, getting only 2 of their 8 shots on net. The result left América in 6th place and Cruz Azul in 7th.
Aguilar – Valdez – Aguilera – Sánchez
Álvarez – Rodríguez
Ibarra – Uribe – Ibarguen
Edson Álvarez took a knock against Veracruz but was at training sessions. Coach Miguel Herrera might opt to use a second striker (Martínez or Peralta) in place of Mateus Uribe. Guido Rodríguez has been a stud again this season and he will be key against the Cementeros.
Cruz Azul: 4-3-3
Domínguez – Aguilar – Lichnovsky – Aldrete
Alvarado – Baca – Yotun
Méndez – Caraglio – Pineda
The way Roberto Alvarado and Orbelín Pineda move around the field, this formation often seems more like a 4-1-4-1 with Rafa Baca acting as holding midfielder and Milton Caraglio as the lone striker. Pablo Aguilar and Igor Lichnovsky must be ready for a physical match because Nico Castillo is a handful as are Bruno Valdez and Emanuel Aguilera on free kick situations.
América: Striker Nico Castillo was brought in to score goals and he delivered when he was healthy. Now is the time for him to earn his money. If he can demand attention from the central defenders, he’ll open up space for Andrés Ibarguen and Renato Ibarra and that will cause problems for Cruz Azul.
Cruz Azul: Midfielder Rafa Baca must provide cover for the central defense tandem and against América that requires speed and physicality. Baca is known for neither, but he is a clever player and must be error-free with regard to positioning and anticipation. He also must play a mistake-free game when transitioning to offense because the Aguilas can kill you on the counter.
My heart says Cruz Azul but my head says América. The Aguilas are battle-tested, resilient and insistent, while the Cementeros occasionally lose focus, especially against América. The key for Cruz Azul will be patience mixed with persistence. They can’t allow an early setback to unsettle them. América’s midfield can overpower anybody and Cruz Azul will have to avoid clashes and make América chase (not an easy task). This should be a classic match-up.