Here are your five conclusions from the Quarterfinals of the 2018 Liga MX Apertura.
Cruz Azul outclass Querétaro
Slowly but surely, La Máquina keep chugging along. On Saturday, they moved one step closer to their final objective by beating Querétaro 3-1 on aggregate.
Ultimately, this was the case of just one team being better than the other. Querétaro’s best attempts of tactically outmatching Cruz Azul proved futile, and there was never any doubt Pedro Caixinha’s men were the better team.
At the end, credit has to go to Rafael Puente Jr. for bringing Querétaro back to a Liguilla in only his first six months on the job. As for Cruz Azul, tougher tests lie ahead.
Defending champions Santos Laguna crash out to Monterrey
We know for a fact that there will be a new champion in Liga MX after last season’s winner, Santos Laguna, crashed out on Saturday at the hands of Monterrey. Two defeats for the Guerreros, including a 2-0 fall at home, means it will be the Rayados who move on to the Semifinals.
Indeed, it was never going to be easy for Santos following the departure of several key players and later their championship-winning coach, but Monterrey were clearly the more convincing side at both sides of the ball. Rogelio Funes Mori was obviously key, scoring arguably one of the goals of the season in the First Leg, but it was also Monterrey’s defense that held steady when Santos piled on the pressure early in the Second Leg.
All in all, it was a complete performance from Monterrey in the Quarterfinals, and with Rogelio Funes Mori getting hot, you’d argue they are starting their ascendancy just at the right moment.
Favorites Tigres ousted by Pumas
If defense wins championships, then we know why Tigres won’t be winning the title this season. Though Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti’s side finished the regular season with the best defense in all of Liga MX, they failed to address the same mistakes throughout the campaign. Mistakes which ended up costing them in the long run, especially when it came to defending their box. This is a Tigres team that conceded three set-piece goals against Club América in Week 12 and didn’t learn their lesson ahead of the Liguilla.
This, of course, was no fault of Pumas who was brilliant in defending Andre-Pierre Gignac, basically nullifying the Frenchman across both legs. In particular, center back Alejandro Arribas had two of his best performances with a Pumas jersey on and was key in keeping the Tigres legend quiet.
As Pumas now march on to the Semifinals, Tigres have a lot of questions to ask themselves for next season. Perhaps it is time to start investing in new defenders and stop wasting so much money on new attackers every season?
Club América survive a scare
Club América’s Quarterfinal tie versus Toluca served as the perfect epitome of Las Águilas’s 2018 Liga MX Apertura. It is not that América don’t get the job done, it is that they don’t do it very convincingly.
On Sunday, América struggled to put away a 10-man Toluca side after they appeared to have taken a defining 3-0 lead. Whether it was overconfidence or not, Toluca came within one goal of taking down Las Águilas before falling 5-4 on aggregate.
América’s season has been full of games like this one in which they got their desired result, but only after allowing their opponent certain advantages.
Evidently it is working for Las Águilas who have now gone a total of 13 straight Liga MX matches without a defeat and find themselves just two games away from another Liga MX Final.
Semifinals could prove unpredictable
And so, the Semifinals will be played between Cruz Azul vs. Monterrey and Club América vs. Pumas UNAM.
In the case of the Cruz Azul, it will be interesting to see how they handle a better Liguilla opponent than Querétaro. Last time both of these teams met was in the Copa MX final, but Monterrey were missing a number of key players.
Meanwhile, stylistically the other Semifinal pins two teams with very similar styles of play. América and Pumas have made a living out of having a more direct approach to their game, and like their regular season match which ended 2-2, this might make for an interesting 180 minutes between these two rivals.