Game: Cruz Azul Fútbol Club A.C. vs. Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente
Date: Saturday, January 26th
Time: 6:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 p.m. Central, 3:00 p.m. Pacific, 10:00 p.m. UTC
Venue: Estadio Azteca (Ciudad de México, CDMX)
Referees: REF: Oscar Mejia Garcia, AR1: Pablo Israel Hernández Luna, AR2: Juan Carlos Salinas Salinas, 4TH: Fernando Hernandez Gomez
All-time record: Cruz Azul holds the all-time record, having won six matches to Tijuana’s two in Liga MX play. The clubs have also drawn seven times. Cruz Azul also knocked Xolos out of the 2018 Copa MX Apertura tournament in the Round of 16. In their last match, the sides drew 1-1 at Estadio Caliente. This will be the first time the sides have met in Estadio Azteca, as all of the prior games were played at the old Estadio Azul.
With both teams fresh off of their first win of the season, Cruz Azul (1W 1D 1L) hosts Tijuana (1W 0D 2L) in the early game on Saturday at Estadio Azteca. Cruz Azul stunned Tigres UANL (1W 1D 1L) at El Volcán last week in their best performance of the season. Eliás Hernández converted a penalty in the 32nd minute, but it was the ability of the defense to shut down Tigres’ potent offense that secured all three points for La Maquina.
Cruz Azul lives and dies by their defense under manager Pedro Caixinha, having given up just two goals in their three games. In those three games, their opponents managed a paltry eight shots on goal. Xolos fans will see a familiar face in Cruz Azul’s defense - two time Xolos defender Pablo Aguilar anchors the back line much like he did in his stints in Tijuana.
The flip side to Caixinha’s devotion to defense has been their lack of offensive creativity. Cruz Azul has scored just two goals this season, with Hernández having both. It’s not for lack of talent however, with Hernández pairing with Uruguayan Martín Cauteruccio in the final third with backups Orbelín Pineda and (another) ex-Xolos Milton Caraglio available off of the bench.
Cruz Azul’s defensive posture means that Tijuana will be under even more stress than normal to produce offensively if they’re going to get a result. While Gustavo “Pantera” Bou’s return last week against arch-rival León (0W 2D 1L) was punctuated with a fantastic goal by the Argentine, it was Tijuana’s first goal since November of last year. Manager Oscar Pareja will most likely look to tinker some with the offense, perhaps throwing newcomer Ariel Nahuelpán or tenured strikers Juan Martín Lucero or Erick “Cubo” Torres into the mix.
Xolos looked markedly better with Bou up front, and this confidence radiated through all areas of the squad. Gibran Lajud had a monster game, making seven saves to earn a shutout as well as the Liga MX English Player of the Week award. The rest of the defensive unit will need to follow suit, as Cruz Azul’s offensive unit is at least in theory more capable of turning it on than León’s.
It won’t be an easy match for either team, and any points will most likely be hard won. In a short season, this is the sort of match that can make or break a team’s Liguilla aspirations.