Here are your five conclusions from the Semifinals of the 2018 Liga MX Apertura.
Cruz Azul overcome First Leg deficit to reach Liga MX Final
After a poor away result and performance at the Estadio BBVA Bancomer, Cruz Azul were able to overcome a missed first half penalty to claim a 1-0 win at the Estadio Azteca and clinch their place in the 2018 Liga MX Apertura Final. Monterrey had led the tie 1-0, and although Cruz Azul only went through because of the higher seed rule, the win felt deserved for La Máquina.
More than anything, Saturday’s return leg was another reminder that it also takes a certain amount of mental fortitude to make it this far. Cruz Azul were nearly the architects of their own downfall in the First Leg, but coach Pedro Caixinha was able to change part of his game plan and get his team to mentally adjust in time for the Second Leg. In particular, the addition of Milton Caraglio to the starting XI was a welcomed one, and when so often other forwards would have folded under the pressure of a missed penalty, he was able to recuperate and score the eventual winner.
And that’s exactly what has made Cruz Azul such an appealing side throughout this tournament. It’s not just their ability to tactically adjust to win games, but mentally, “cruzazulear” is no longer a term in their daily vocabulary.
Monterrey fail to take advantage
Monterrey entered the Second Leg needing just a goal to force Cruz Azul into scoring three. The fact that they couldn’t net just once at the Estadio Azteca should be seen as an opportunity lost for the Rayados. Monterrey certainly showed they can compete against the top sides in Mexico, but they are going to need to learn to take advantage of situations like these if they want to win the title next year.
Moreover, Monterrey has failed to establish a strong backbone like that of their rivals. Of course, injuries were a concern all season, and that could be a reason why we never saw the Rayados fully unleashed in this Apertura. That said, Diego Alonso will, no doubt, be given the funds to solidify his squad during the offseason, and we should expect Monterrey to be contenders once again next season.
Club América embarras Pumas
Pumas UNAM were ruthlessly dispatched by rivals Club América, losing 6-1 on Sunday as the Universitarios were humiliated at the Estadio Azteca.
There is no hiding place here for Pumas and their coach David Patiño. Losing to your biggest rival at this stage of the competition is bad enough, but losing 6-1 is just an utter embarrassment.
Ultimately, Pumas had chances in the First Leg to make this tie uncomfortable for América, but they lacked the killer instinct Las Águilas so clearly didn’t.
While finishing third and making it all the way to the Semifinals looks impressive for a side with very little resources like Pumas, this tie perhaps proved that there is a pressing need for change at the manager position.
Marchesin has been one of the stars in this Liguilla
Alfredo Saldivar has all the makings of a reasonably talented goalkeeper in Liga MX, but his recklessness in this series proved why teams like América opt to spend big money on really talented goalkeepers.
Having seen América’s performances in this Liguilla, nearly everybody would agree that Agustin Marchesin has been sensational for Las Águilas. Beyond being an excellent shot-stopper and despite battling a number of nagging injuries throughout the Playoffs, he has been a calming influence at the back.
Admittedly, it takes more than a good goalie to win games, and his protection in front of him has been equally excellent. Bruno Valdez and Emanuel Aguilera are two of the most solid center backs in all of Liga MX, with the former also scoring goals on a number of key occasions.
A lot of the build up ahead of the Liga MX final will be about how América finished the regular season as the best offense, but make no mistake, their real strength might be in their defense. In Agustin Marchesin and the players around him, América have a solid foundation that is hard to beat.
Cruz Azul will have to fight against history
It’s said that some teams just find a way of winning, and Club América is one of those teams. At least where Cruz Azul are concerned, they know that very well after losing their last Liga MX Final to Las Águilas in heartbreaking fashion.
But what is done is done, and Cruz Azul looked to have finally put past disappointments behind them. It’s part of the reason of why this Liga MX Final is so fascinating. It really is now or never for La Máquina. Club América is like Cruz Azul’s final boss in a season-long journey for redemption. They have a genuine chance to rewrite history or fall victim to their old habits. Who’s ready?